Shoot Your Shot: The Year in DeJ Loaf

On the Detroit native's 2016 output.
By    September 16, 2016

You should see Nitish Pahwa‘s closet.

On her breakthrough single, “Try Me,” Detroit native DeJ Loaf taunted nearly everyone, from label executives to parking officers to closet architects. She spun her 15 minutes of fame (afforded by an Instagram shoutout from a famous Canadian) into a national profile, a XXL Freshman placement, and a deal with Columbia. Yet unlike other industry Hail Marys and hype-machine scraps—remember Trinidad Jame$?—DeJ Loaf has forged a continuous, albeit still budding career, and distinguished herself as one of rap’s most exciting young talents.

Although it’s been more than a year since her last major label release—the EP #AndSeeThatsTheThing, which produced another hit with “Back Up”—it’s been far from a quiet 2016 for the loafers enthusiast. This year has seen has the scattered releases of a new mixtape, various features, a new single, and a string of SoundCloud loosies, ranging from R&B renditions to mixtape-style beat jacks. None of these garnered the rabid frenzy inspired by earlier work, but for fans and those paying close attention, they all exhibit the mark of a consistently interesting artist. Even though the prospect of a major label LP remains a tease, her prolific output this year shows considerable promise.

DeJ kicked off her creative year in March with “Off the Top,” a morbid track that skips back and forth between aggressive and dreamlike. It’s an apt setting for her understated verses on childhood, the violence in Detroit, and friends both fake and passed.

Just a few weeks later, she dropped the mixtape All Jokes Aside. The tape was announced alongside a revealing press release, written in Dej’s voice:

There comes a time in a girl’s life, where she becomes a young woman. It’s called growth, it’s called maturity, it’s called living life to the full potential and being true to who you are. That’s what I represent. I feel good about everything that I am doing right now, because it is what I want to do. Not what anyone else wants me to do; it’s what I want to do. I’m in charge. I run my show. It feels damn good.”

All Jokes Aside explicates this self-assured maturity. The entire tape is DeJ alone, except for a surprise guest appearance from No Limit legend Silkk The Shocker. Revivalist ploys aside, All Jokes Aside is a series of blunt proclamations about her hard work, her dedication, her success, and her continued trailblazing. The various tracks (“Keep Going”, “I’m Gon’ Win”, “Die 4 It”) work to establish her place and confirm she’s not going anywhere but further up. All Jokes Aside is not as bouncy or casually enjoyable as either #AndSeeThatsTheThing or her breakthrough mixtape Sell Sole, but that’s exactly the point. Any remaining shreds of doubt or hearsay about DeJ Loaf’s position in the game are thereby done away with. She realizes how skilled she is, she knows where she started from and what it took to get here, and she wants you to know she isn’t going to stop, or settle for anything less than her own terms.

This brash confidence is representative of Loaf’s entire mantra and has been present from the beginning. “Try Me” assumed a triple-dog-dare-you approach, balancing its malice with playground-style taunting. It was bold enough to conclude the second verse with “And I ain’t signin’ to no label, bitch I’m independent.” Ironically, of course, this would be the song that got DeJ her Columbia deal. But as she stated back in 2014, even that was done by her watch; she was swarmed with label offers and went with the one most considerate of her creative vision. The personality she exudes in her music, the kind that makes sure she gets what she wants, appears to be an authentic self-illustration.

Perhaps this is how, almost two years signed and still no album out, she seems to be going about her process at her own whim. After All Jokes Aside, DeJ Loaf stayed relatively quiet–aside from a few features–until August. Halfway through the month, she released the single “Miami,” a sensitive love song in the vein of previous tracks “Butterflies,” “Me U & Hennessey,” and her feature on beau Lil Durk’s “My Beyoncé.” A couple of weeks after, she released a “Dejmix” of “Phone Down,” a track from Erykah Badu’s recent But You Cain’t Use My Phone. The track gave DeJ an opportunity to solely show off her unique crooning abilities, normally used in conjunction with her fierce rapping. On September 5th, she uploaded the song “Snakes” to her SoundCloud, with an exciting caption “New Sounds from DeJ Loaf (Album Coming Soon)”. The track waxes inspirational over the beat of Felly’s “Chicago Nights,” continuing the grinding, self-assured themes of All Jokes Aside.

DeJ Loaf is one of the current scene’s most intriguing rappers, a striking original who imprints her music with unabashed poise and jumps almost effortlessly between warmth and hard-hearted ire. A new album from her, while a long time in the coming, would be a welcome addition to the year’s series of excellent releases. One hopes DeJ Loaf’s erratic, yet quality output as of late is indicative of more exciting things to come.