DijahSB's Heartfelt Words Are Making the Rap World — and Twitter — a Better Place

"Everybody has different ways of navigating the world. I just feel like [being vulnerable is] my way of navigating things."
DijahSB's Heartfelt Words Are Making the Rap World — and Twitter — a Better Place
Photo: Marius Jadion
If DijahSB's music won't make them a star, their Twitter presence might. The rapper is an absolute fiend on the polarizing social media website, going in on politics, pop culture, the goings-on in their hometown of Toronto, their mental health and well-being — whatever it is, you can be sure that DijahSB has something to say on it, keeping their thousands of followers entertained on an hourly basis.

"As a kid, I always knew that I was gonna grow up to be an entertainer, because I was always entertaining. Always the class clown, or like, the person in the friend group that was the funniest. I guess that translated to the Twitter," they say to Exclaim! over the phone. "I just talk about whatever it is the topic of the day, or whatever's going on, and kind of flip it in my own [way]."

But it's deeper than that. "I use comedy as a way to cope," they admit. "I think that's what makes a lot of people on Twitter kind of popular. They use whatever it is that's going on at the time — it's fucked up but you make it into a joke, and it's just easier to consume that kind of content when things are really fucked. That's where people kind of relate to me a lot and want to kind of follow me and see what I'm talking about."

You can hear it in their music, too, a steady stream of vulnerable hip-hop tracks where braggadocious rhymes sit snugly alongside heartfelt admissions about mental health struggles and wanting to do right by those who love them. Like many rappers, DijahSB isn't hesitant to boast about their achievements — but what sets them apart is their willingness to admit when they need help.

"Everybody has different ways of navigating the world. I just feel like [being vulnerable is] my way of navigating things. And also, seeing the response from people and how much it means for people for me to be this [person who] talks about some of the things that are kind of taboo. It gives me that confidence to continue, even though I do have other people that feel like it's a detriment to me, or whatever it is that they feel I shouldn't be sharing."

Struggles — and how they cope with them — are all over Dijah's pair of 2020 releases, 2020 the Album and follow-up EP Girls Give Me Anxiety. The albums go deep on both the causes, including financial and relationship woes, and the effects, which Dijah puts in blunt terms on "Mama Said": "I can't take my life, my mama would be so sad."

Head Above the Waters, their latest record, is a step forward in all directions. A tight and breezy eight-track song cycle, Dijah sidesteps their earlier lyrical and emotional specificity to instead replicate their formula for mental wellness — plenty of gratitude, cutting oneself a lot of slack, and being honest about one's intentions.

Feel-good dance-alongs like "Throw That Back" ("My girl like an old record how she throw that back") and "Overtime" (with a buttery R&B hook courtesy of Chris Castello) sit nicely next to more downtempo, introspective tracks. It's all anchored by the album's namesake lyric, which makes appearances on three of the album's eight songs, a concise mantra to stay afloat during turbulent times, inspired by a lyric from Jay Electronica's "Dear Moleskine": "I'm just a sleepwalking robot that's outta gear / I stick my nose out the water to the sky for air." 

The album's lyrical cohesion is furthered by the choice of beats, with the first five tracks produced by longtime collaborator Cheap Limousine and the final three helmed by international star Harrison. Funk and jazz-flecked instrumentation are woven together into a sonic salve, a warm selection of uplifting sounds that fit together as part of the album's whole while also ensuring plenty of standout moments along the album's 24 minutes, like Stefan Naylor's piano solo on "Way Too Many Ways" or the chopped-up guitar licks on "Throw That Back."

As far as instrumental influences go, Dijah says, "Mick Jenkins is a big one, Kaytranada and Masego. They'll have some nice instrumentals that will make you want to dance and stuff but then they'll still talk about, like, some cool shit."

That "cool shit" is DijahSB's signature lyrical intimacy — their thoughts and feelings cut up into powerful soundbites and splayed on top of the beats. Album standout "Way Too Many Ways" pairs Cheap Limousine's funk bass with Naylor's plaintive keys while Dijah delivers bar after bar about their mental health and facing their fears: "I'm moving with a little more intention / People gravitate towards me now because I know depression / I be talking bout the harder parts that no one mentions / I overcame the feeling, but I get visits often."
 
Says Dijah, "I've just seen the reaction from people that feel as though they need somebody that can say things that they are feeling but are too afraid to say, or just need somebody that they relate to. People have been encouraging me to continue to be myself. And I figure that, if I put as much into the universe as I can, there's not really much that anybody can say to me back because I've already said all the things that I know about myself."

Though Dijah says that they've received some pushback about their choice to be so vulnerable in their music, they say they try not to let it bother them. "I really see it as projection, to be honest," they say, "because a lot of people are afraid to be vulnerable. And a lot of people see vulnerability as a weakness. And I'd much rather advocate for the people that see that vulnerability as a strength, than to focus on the people that are pissed off that I want to talk about, like 'things that should be kept to yourself,' apparently."

Whether in their music or on the timeline, DijahSB's vulnerability is making space for others to feel the same.