Published Feb 04, 2015Wearing a hot pink Bape jacket, Dej Loaf is the focal point of a dim hotel room filled with some of her I Been Gettin' Money entourage, PR people and cameras. Yet despite the hectic environment, she's chilling on the sofa, laughing about an email sent from her manager about an upcoming feature. I ask her for details. "You'll know when you know," she says, as laid back as her flow suggests.
In quick succession, Dej Loaf went from relative obscurity, working as a custodian at a Chrysler plant in Detroit's industrial area, to landing features with breakout Rich Gang artist Young Thug, singing the hook on Eminem's posse cut "Detroit vs. Everybody" and having her breakout smash "Try Me" cross over onto mainstream radio. And she just became labelmates with Beyoncé, Pharrell and T.I. through a deal with Columbia Records.
Big successes. But to Dej Loaf, it's business as usual. "I don't really think about that," she says, laughing. Catching so many flights, she joyously beams about "finally having a passport," while joking that she thinks about Aaliyah every time she's on a flight.
This stop, however, was a four-hour drive from her home in Detroit to Toronto, to play the Kool Haus alongside headliner Fabolous. But despite the brief stay at home, she says she's been frequently staying in New York to record for her upcoming album. "Right now, this is my mixtape tour," she says, adding that 2015 is a year she wants to both drop an album, and play a role in a film. "I want to do it all."
Released in late October, her Sell Sole mixtape commanded attention with an effortlessly cool, but powerful flow. In it, Dej delivers bars about Detroit-style hardened reality checks, all wrapped in the warm delivery that has become something of a trademark. "I really speak on everything that's going on. I really am just looking out the window and writing down everything I see," she says of her gritty lyrics. "Nothing's fabricated or phony."
In November, as an homage to the glitzy swagger of Detroit's Motown past, Dej Loaf came onto 106 & Park's set in a pristine, all-white fur coat she thrifted in New York. "I wanted to do that, have a real Detroit feel. You know, the Cartier glasses, the mink," she said, laughing. "That's a Detroit thing, so I wanted to work with it."
Indeed, her image has been an especially polarizing move to the boys club stronghold of hip-hop, who often expect women to fall in line with the misogynistic undercurrent that runs through the genre. But not only is she aware of it, she's carving something of a unique lane.
"When Lil Kim was coming in the game she wore sexy clothes. But it worked for her. She got it and became one of the best. Same for Nicki Minaj," says Dej, but she feels no pressure. "I don't really think about it too much. I wake up, put on what I wanna wear. And it works out for me."
A noted fan of Drake, who early on Instagrammed her lyrics from "Try Me," she says she wants to work with him. "I like the whole OVO camp." With her upcoming album, and a squadron of rappers co-signing and remixing her artistry, Dej is almost effortlessly becoming one of 2015's biggest new artists to watch.