The dust has barely settled from Makonnen’s meteoric rise from Atlanta DIY weirdo to the newest member of the OVO Sound roster, but the power of the almighty Drake co-sign has struck again, this time with Detroit rap-singer Dej Loaf. Since he quoted her intoxicating single “Try Me” in an Instagram post late last week, the song has taken off: it’s been referenced by everyone from Kevin Durant to Ty Dolla $ign, and on Monday, Wiz Khalifa delivered his remix of the track. Whether Drake will release his own remix remains to be seen, but regardless, “Try Me” is poised for “Hot Nigga”-level ubiquity.
For a song with such immediate buzz, “Try Me” is pretty damn weird: its shimmering backdrop (from Detroit producer DDS) softens the edges of Dej’s blunt lyrics, and her Auto-tuned sing-song makes dead-serious lines like “Put the burner to his tummy and make it bubbly” sound like cozy nursery rhymes. It at once evokes the warbly vocal manipulations of post-Future Atlanta, the hypercolor sparkle of Chicago bop, the slurry melodicism of Cincinnati youngsters RahnRahn Splash and Chubb Splash, while also sounding like absolutely nothing else out. But there’s more to Dej than just “Try Me”; her Soundcloud ranges from straightforward spitting to 90’s-style R&B ballads. We spoke to Dej about the crazy trajectory of “Try Me,” life after a Drake co-sign, and the footwear choices that lead to her name.
I’m guessing your week has been pretty insane.
Every day something special has happened. Every day something new keeps happening. It’s crazy.
The Wiz Khalifa remix dropped on Monday. How did that come about?
I met him last week in L.A. My friend Say It Ain’t Tone introduced me to Wiz, they’re good friends, and when I met him he actually knew the song already—not even from them being friends, he just knew it. I was like, Wow. He said he wanted to hop on the song, so I was like, cool! We were in L.A. for about a week, and he did it the next night.
“Try Me” came out a couple months ago, but over the last week it’s been seriously gaining traction. How did it start to spread like that?
I know a few people that having a following in Oakland here in Detroit, like Pablo Skywalkin. So he uploaded a video of him dancing to my song, and I uploaded it to my page. He sent a couple followers my way. Another artist Peezy, he kinda shouted me out on Instagram, sent a couple followers my way. From there, I just kept getting followers, a lot of people just like, "Yo, I like your song," and they kept posting videos, dancing to it and doing all type of crazy stuff. I would re-upload the videos, showing them the love back, and I think they liked the fact that I was doing that, and it made more people wanna do it. From there it just kind of took off, so shout out to Pablo Skywalkin. But everything happens for a reason.
What was it like finding out that Drake was messing with the song?
I was on Twitter a couple days ago and somebody tweeted me: Drake followed you. I was like, What? I didn’t know—I was like, How did you find out? So I checked my followers, seen that he followed me, and was just like, Wow. Later on that night he uploaded a picture on his Instagram saying one of my lyrics, “Love wearing all black, you should see my closet.” He had the city turnt up for me, it was crazy. I don’t even know how he found out about it.
Have you been in touch with him beyond that?
You know, his people reached out to us, and they want to work, so you never know.
How long have you been rapping?
I’ve been rapping since I was like, nine, 10 years old, but taking it seriously since like 2011-2012. In 2012, I put out my first mixtape, called Just Do It, so that’s when I started getting serious.
Based on your Soundcloud, it seems like you have a lot of different styles: there’s more straightforward, hard raps, there’s a ballad, and then “Try Me,” which is totally its own thing.
I’m versatile, I can do it all. I do a lot of songs with melody, that’s my thing. I’m big on melody. So you will hear more singing—I don’t wanna call it singing, because I’m not a “singer,” but I kind of sing my raps. I do have the more hardcore raps, because originally I’m a rapper, but if people like my singing, I guess I’m a rapper and a singer.
Tell me about DDS, the guy who produced “Try Me.”
DDS is from around here, from Ypsilanti, Michigan. He emailed me a bunch of beats a while back, and sent me this particular beat back in April. As soon as I heard it, I did the song, recorded it, and he’s been consistent with me from then on, sending me packs of beats like, check this out. We have a lot of work together, he’s part of the team, IBGM. Shout out to DDS.
What’s the deal with IBGM? And were you once part of another rap group?
Back in like 2009, 2010, I was in a group called G4, but that was a long time ago. My affiliation now is with IBGM, and that’s me, Say It Ain’t Tone, Oba Rowland, DJ Limelightz, Adubb Da Gawd. [Their I Been Gettin’ Money collaborative tape dropped at the beginning of this year.]
It seems like Detroit’s been on the come-up over the past year or so. There’s a lot of good music coming out of there right now.
Yeah, it’s going crazy. I feel like we next up, it’s our time. By the end of this year, it’s over.
Do you ever find it difficult to be a female in the rap game?
I don’t look at it like that; I just look at it like making good music. You can either be good or you can be terrible, and I make good music. I try to relate to the guys and the girls so people don’t get it confused and be like, “She makes music for girls”—I don’t wanna hear that. So I try to make music for everyone to listen to. If you have the talent, it’ll come out, if you don’t, then people won’t listen to it, male or female.
What kind of stuff did you come up listening to?
As a kid I listened to Tupac, E-40, Jay Z of course. But I like Anita Baker, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, people like that. That’s what I grew up listening to. I listened to rap on my own time, but my mom mostly played R&B.
Do you have another project in the works?
Definitely. I have a lot of music right now, so we’re gonna put it together and put out an album or an EP or something for the people, so they don’t just see me as the “Try Me” girl. Because it’s deeper than “Try Me,” my music is actually good and I want people to hear it.
For people who have just heard “Try Me,” what should they check out next?
I would say, go to my Soundcloud, I have some more records on there. “Where The Love At,” produced by Lift Off, that was my last single. It got a couple spins in the city. So that’s me more just rapping, if they want to hear me rap. And my first mixtape, Just Do It, is on my Bandcamp, and that’s me rapping on every single track.
What’s behind the name Dej Loaf?
Shoes! I used to wear a lot of Jordans coming up—Nikes, Jordans, a lot of gym shoes. So when I got to high school, everybody was wearing gym shoes and I was like, you know what, I got my own style, I’m gonna start wearing loafers. I’m gonna stop wearing Jordans and start wearing loafers. So they started calling me Dej Loaf, because my name’s Deja. Now it’s like, I don’t even wear loafers anymore, so it means more than what it started out as. It just is what it is.
So what’s next for you in the near future?
I mean, stay tuned! I feel like it’s my time now. I don’t know, I’m just happy people are paying attention in a positive way. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life and I’m ready to work. So stay tuned.
Meaghan Garvey is an artist and writer, born in Chicago and currently living in Brooklyn. She's on Twitter @moneyworth.