Chicago is cold and isolating. It is not a city for most people, but the people who choose or were chosen by this gem on the lake are hardwired to rise above their limitations. This is a city of singular talents, stars who have had to hustle from an early age but are equipped with an innate intelligence to rise above the rest, both locally and nationally. And Dreezy (born Seandrea Sledge) might just be the next in line to do so.
Our interview is running behind as Dreezy, 20, looks for parking and rather than meet her when and where she might be most comfortable, we instead meet at night in the high-rise offices of the Daniels Entertainment Group in Chicago’s uber-wealthy Gold Coast, a far cry from her origins on the South Side of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Owned by Regina Daniels, a former publicist of the late Whitney Houston and the Pied Piper of R&B, R. Kelly, perhaps the offices are a symbolic representation of Dreezy’s potential for crossover and mainstream success.
She is truly a star in the making. It is a dreary, drizzly Wednesday and yet despite this, Dreezy arrives as if the weather and the inconveniences of the neighborhood are nothing of note. She is sporting an oversized red and black leather jacket matching the highlights in her layered hair. Large hoop earrings frame her face and her pink tips are adorned with rhinestones. Her look is a mix of contrasts, the feminine with the boyish, the young with the mature.
Her friend and producer, D. Brooks Exclusive (born Wadell Brooks), joins her. Except for one song, Brooks is the sole producer for her first mixtape, Schizo.
Released earlier this year, the work is a deft, sophisticated collection of songs that speak to her lyrical strengths and carry emotional heft. It’s no surprise that she cites Drake and Kanye West as her influences, both of whom have perfected the art of rapper as vulnerable potentate. On the tape’s song "Schizophrenia," she raps, “There’s pain my blood, man I’m trying to deal with it. I think I’m going schizophrenic.”
This pain is palpable and despite her insistence that she keeps a large part of herself guarded (“I don’t be dropping stuff like that. I don’t think I’ve gotten that comfortable yet,” she says), her music is more raw than many of her contemporaries.
“I have some songs and it’ll be about a girl, but it’s really me, and I’ll have it relate to other females but it’ll be subliminal,” she says. And it is this rawness that has garnered her a large number of fans.
Dreezy is a storyteller and world-builder. She began writing poetry at age 7, eventually transitioning to short stories. Her writing typically followed the same premise: a girl grows up, has a lot of problems.
“I was going through a lot of stuff with me and my mama. Just growing up with her and our living situation,” she says.
Her writing became a method of escape. She began by retelling the things she saw on TV with her own embellishments, eventually joining her school’s poetry club and reciting poetry in school assemblies.
“It was just something always in me to do,” she adds. Writing came naturally and continues to be the driving force for her music.
Her parents were not together and she spent a lot of time away from her father. A true homebase was missing. Dreezy grew up on 81st and King Drive, but she also spent time on 91st and Buffalo at her auntie’s house and in the suburbs of Matteson and South Holland with her father.
Despite her affinity for writing, Dreezy’s rapping began as a joke. She wrote and recorded a song called “No Valentine,” set to the beat of Ne-Yo’s “Sexy Love,” about her single status.
“It was weak and my voice was terrible. I wasn’t even trying to sing,” she says. “You want me to rap some of it?” She starts to sing: “I have no love, they won’t hold my hand. I have no love. Will you people understand?” She laughs and shakes her head. “People laughed at my goofy ass, but it was drawing attention to it.”
I think I’m kind of finding my flow now. But when I first started, it was way different. At first I was just rapping slow, saying punchlines.
Later, she recorded another “joke” track but one that she enthusiastically admits “was a better song.”
Her name, too, began as a riff on trends in the rap scene. You know, Yeezy, Weezy, even Chris Breezy.
“I knew I couldn’t use my last name because it’s Sledge, so it’d be ‘Sleazy,’” she says. So instead she built it off of a shortened version of her first name, Seandrea.
Soon, she began joining her male friends in the studio, studying how they worked. It was a far cry from her “home studio”: a webcam and microphone with the recorder that came with the computer.
“It was bogus. Like if I played the songs, you could hear people’s lawnmowers in the background,” she says.
Dreezy’s visits to the studio became something of a competition with the friends who invited her along.
“I think I’m kind of finding my flow now,” she says. “But when I first started, it was way different. At first I was just rapping slow, saying punchlines.”
She met Brooks in January 2013 through KD Young Cocky, whom Brooks was also working with at the time. Her collaborations with Brooks were a jumping-off point, a direct and critical time in her career. KD showed Brooks the video for “Break a Band” (produced by HB on the Track), and Brooks knew immediately that the two should work together.
“That first joint was raw as hell,” Brooks says. Titled “The Real in Me,” the song is a hard-driving and addictive force full of bird cries and a slick, calculating tone that sounds like the rap version of an Ennio Morricone composition.
“Low-key, I knew I wanted to do [her first mixtape], but I kept it to myself,” says Brooks. He adds, “I take a little time to see if you’re serious, how you work, if you can even get along with them to go into a situation like that. I knew from the start that I wanted to work with her right there.”
The majority of her tape was born last summer. Their process was simple.
“We were basically doing it every day, but it was fun,” Brooks says. “We weren’t forcing ourselves. We were doing good, stacking them up.”
All of their music starts from scratch and the beats are formed in tandem with the lyrics at Brooks’ home studio, 87th and Cottage Grove. Some songs are completed within an hour.
“It’s fun,” Brooks says. “It’s not like work.”
Adds Dreezy, “We know how we work with each other. We know we can tell each other like, ‘No, that’s weak. Take that shit out.’ And I’m not gonna get mad because I know what he’s talking about.”
The final product is an eclectic yet well-rounded statement. As an introduction to the rap world, Schizo is an accomplishment of maturity, slickness, and mass appeal. Tracks like “Dreamer Pt 2” speak to Dreezy’s unbridled ambition as well as her desire to escape her occasionally nomadic upbringing. This matches the lyrical drive of earlier tracks like “Dreamer,” “BET’s Hot 16,” and “Easy,” in which she raps, “Hustle hard so my family can live easy.” She speaks of dreaming, of moving up, of ambition. Rap is life or death and she has no other choice but to succeed. It is the sort of work that should translate across fan bases with ease.
In naming the album, she looked at metaphors—coldness, sickness, a general state of uneasiness that overwhelms someone.
“I got the illest flow,” she says. “I sort of built it around sick, being ill. Schizo kind of went with it, all of the songs that ended up being up on the mixtape had different emotions.” The highs of tracks like “Break a Band” and “Zero” contrast with the plundering of drive and insecurities in songs like “Lonely” and “Dreamer Pt 2.” Dreezy is a rapper of multitudes and like many of her more well-known peers, she aims to translate those multitudes to greater success.
Although she has only been in the game for a few years—and has, within the past six months, gained a considerable amount of attention from the media and press—Dreezy is not afraid to situate herself among the best.
The rap world took notice with her remix of Nicki Minaj and Lil Herb’s “Chiraq.” The song seemingly dropped out of nowhere and Dreezy questioned Minaj’s place in speaking about and titling a song after the rampant violence in Chicago.
“It didn’t really make sense to me right away,” she says. After all, who is Minaj to the struggles of Chicago? Dreezy called out the song on Twitter, and someone soon slipped her the music. She headed into Brooks’ studio to record her reply the next day: “I was really born in Chiraq/I done chopped it up with some real niggas and the next day they got whacked.”
Locals like Dreezy are used to rappers latching onto the rising drill stars and feigning allegiance to the city. They’ve also watched the media depict Chicago as a mainland war zone. But for how much attention outsiders give to the violence in the city, few if any have done anything to stop it.
“Over the news, nobody’s out here really helping. People be out here mad when they see how bad it is, but they’re not doing nothing. People just be chilling, like, ‘Oh, here goes another report.’”
Dreezy’s not making a point of criticizing her peers so much as emphasizing her desire to lift up her city. “If people don’t like the word, they need to be changing it. When we come up in the winner circle, we plan on changing it,” she says.
Chicago is cracking right now. I feel like everybody is watching.
Despite the current instability of the region, the city and its artists are still thriving. “Chicago is cracking right now. I feel like everybody is watching,” she says. Notable acts to come out of the city include the legally plagued Chief Keef, Lil Herb, King L, and a slew of female artists including Sasha Go Hard and Katie Got Bandz.
“Any rapper in the industry should be my competition,” Dreezy adds. “Every rapper, every female rapper, every male rapper.”
It is easy to pit women against each other, especially in fields where their numbers are low. But Dreezy is working to combat that stereotyping from the start. For one, her mixtape includes a remix collaboration of “Zero” with Katie Got Bandz and Sasha Go Hard. It’s as if they’ve created a united front, ready to challenge the same media narrative that gets played over and played out again and again.
“Sasha, that’s my girl. Katie cool,” she says. “And all three of us cool with each other.”
After a slow-starting chat, it is that distinction of artists, male vs. female, that fully opens Dreezy up to the conversation. Her eyes are wide and attentive. What starts as one thought leads into anecdotes and a righteous desire to move beyond any perceived limitations.
“It’s like if you’ve got a job at McDonald’s, you gonna want to be the best burger flipper at McDonald’s whether it a boy flipping the burgers or a girl flipping the burgers,” she says. “You gonna want to be the best worker. I feel like that about my music.”
“Female rapper” is a weak and lazy term, a type of visual trope to reduce the output of women in a male-dominated genre of music. But it is not entirely wrong. It is because of that same male dominance that a distinction still occurs. The number of women who are able to achieve the same level of success, notoriety, and acclaim as their male peers is lower than it should be by now.
“I do get it to an extent because some females just suck as rappers,” she begins. However, she adds, “I’ll say it’s not a lot of female rappers that can represent that there are good female rappers.”
Numbers are not in women’s favor. And the severe lack of women means that each prominent woman is often given the burden of uplifting and representing for every nameless, aspiring woman trying to get heard.
Just don’t reduce Dreezy to her sex.
“Basically, if you’re saying you’re just a female rapper and a boy can outrap you, you’re basically saying he’s smarter than you,” she says. “That’s how I be thinking of it. And it’s like, just ’cause you can rap…I can rap good too. I know just as much knowledge as you do. We went to the same school. I can come up with something just as good.”
Besides her aspirations beyond her sex, she also has smaller, though no less grand aspirations beyond her city. Chicago is where she was born and raised, but Dreezy recognizes the fickleness of the contemporary rap fan. Another city can always rise and with that rise bring about more unknown talents ready to break through to the mainstream. She is both a part of the scene and aims to reach outside of it.
“I want people to know where I’m from but have a bigger outlet,” she says. Most recently, those bigger outlets included a collaboration with Common. The fellow Chicago rapper first heard Dreezy on her version of “Chiraq” and asked her to join him during an appearance on local hip-hop station WGCI. The two just made a new song together in L.A. and he will be on her next single, a song that D. Brooks produced. A video was shot in these same offices that once seemed peculiar but now act as another home for her musical ambitions.
Sonically and lyrically, Dreezy sees herself reaching for something beyond the Chicago scene. “I still support my city and everything that’s going on in the city, but I’m just trying to break out of that,” she says. In fact, she is looking to move to L.A., though she’s not sure when. “I feel like I’m already separated to a certain point,” she says. “I’ve got my own sound. I’m talking about a whole different thing.”
Whether that quest for difference elevates her to the likes of other Chicago greats remains to be seen, but she is steady in her rise. Although unsigned as of yet, she has already spoken to or fielded a variety of offers from the big labels (Capitol, Def Jam, Atlantic, etc.).
In the meantime, she will continue to hustle but in her own way. Dreezy is not out on the streets trying to get strangers to listen to her mixtape. But she’s found a better, more immediate platform in the internet. Instagram, Twitter…pretty much any form of social media is her bread and butter and she molds it to her liking. She is adept at using it to build a following, a devoted fan base that already knows and loves her music before she’s reached a level of mainstream or even substantial underground success. Tens of thousands of fans follow her every move like she’s been a star for far longer than the press has given her credit for.
And who’s to say she hasn’t? Currently working with John Monopoly (the former manager of West), Dreezy’s potential far outpaces the limitations of the insular yet nurturing environment of Chicago.
I love my city. Even though it’s bad, it made me who I am.
“I feel like, I love my city,” she says. “Even though it’s bad, it made me who I am. It put me through a struggle. It made me a stronger person overall.”
We take a group photo to be shared on Dreezy’s Instagram. Once posted, the photo garners more than 100 likes within minutes and more than 1,100 likes in a day or so. Earlier in the evening, I asked her about her ubiquitous use of social media, something she described as “almost everything, really.” Her popularity would be extensive for any musician, let alone one who has released only one mixtape. But her rise is calculated and meticulous, just like her music.
“Once you have your name out, it’s really up to you as to whether or not people’ll be attracted to you and your music,” she says. “I’m confident.”