“My dad was killed when I was four, ” female Detroit rapper Dej Loaf said yesterday afternoon. “So me and my two brothers moved, my grandma stepped up, because my mom sort of had a breakdown. But we all moved back with my mom a few years later. After that, I trained myself to not do things that were bad.”
It worked. Dej Loaf is rich at age 23. Not that it changes her outlook: “I’ve been rich. Mentally I was always there. I just didn’t have it liquid.” And now she is ready to spend liquid capital on her mother. “She’s coming up tomorrow!”
Dej Loaf erupted onto the viral spectrum with the sinewy good time anthem “Try Me” (now at 3 million views). A major label deal closed this month.
It was media day at Columbia Records. Her new employer outbid rivals, closing a “substantial deal” according to staff. We were in a large leather couch-wrapped room. We were so high up the Sony Tower—Phillip Johnson’s old AT&T Building, a neo-classical postmodernist boner—that the other midtown skyscrapers were our peers. On the walls, photos of old music stars (Tony Benntt, Leonard Cohen, Babs) stared down at us.
I sat next to Dej’s brother, a lovely cross-dresser named Desa, who works with Dej on looks and hair and everything else. The brother-sister duo both have ambisexual style, though Dej denied she’s a lesbian. They’d just stopped at the VFILES store. “We got the artist discount!” Desa said.
Dej Loaf is the latest young female Midwest practitioner of trap-rap, similar to Katie Got Bandz and Sasha Go Hard from Chicago. Female rap is finally a growing genre, and Detroit has its first big rap signee since the Eminem days. “I kept a notebook at 19 and stayed with a pen and a pad, then computers, whatever,” Dej explained of her writing methods.
Detroit is always a contender for America’s murder capital. And Dej lived in the cut. “I stayed in the projects. On the East Side. It was crazy. Just imagine the things—I was there from 7 to 18…” she pauses, looking out the window. Over there at Citi’s slant-roof tower are more crooks than probably lived in her project, I note. And behind that, the Lispsick Building, Bernie Maddoff HQ, home of the biggest theft in history. Dej laughs, “Criminals are everywhere I guess. I don’t know about New York, I need to see the part that’s not busy. I’ve just been tired here!”
After we spoke, during a photo shoot, a white male VP in his mid-40s wearing a Prada Sport windbreaker came by to welcome Dej Loaf to the familia. The Kreyshawn song with the “Gucci Gucci Louie Prada” hook is in my head. Having heard Dej’s mixtapes, I know she can record a major label debut that sells more than Krey’s failed effort. If you doubt me, go see her tonight at Santos at a CMJ showcase.
Photo by Elliot Brown.