Dej Loaf, Sell Sole

Jayson Greene

By Jayson Greene

on 11.05.14 in Reviews

Dej Loaf, a 23-year-old rapper and singer from Eastside Detroit, is minutes away from stardom. The timeline is slightly dizzying: In late June, she uploaded the airily menacing “Try Me” to SoundCloud. Wiz Khalifa remixed it in mid-September, and later that month Drake quoted a line from the song on Instagram. Now “Try Me” has gotten an official remix, with Ty Dolla $ign and a recently freed Remy Ma. The YouTube video has racked up nearly 5 million views, and the glimmering, otherworldly jingle where Loaf bragged, “I ain’t signin’ to no label / Bitch, I’m independent” has scored her a Columbia Records deal. Oh, and she’s working with Eminem, who gave her a spot on his upcoming Shady XV compilation alongside Detroit legends like Trick Trick and Royce Da 5’9″.

Holding the center of her project with a simple, sure-handed writerly touch

There has been a lot of talk, since her ascent, about the powers of the Drake cosign, and it’s true: In 2014, in whatever form it arrives, it is a retweet from Mt. Olympus. But when listening to Dej Loaf, all talk of Drake recedes to the margins. She has the preternatural firmness and confidence of all born stars and seems visibly unswayed by what goes on around her. “I know what the people want to hear, what the guys want to hear, what the ladies want to hear, the kids, the grandmas. Everybody,” she told simply.

The first voice you hear on her recently re-released mixtape Sell Sole is Birdman’s, a sure sign that you’ve entered the rap stratosphere where Things Get Weird. But Dej, with her silky, mournful voice and steady vocal tone, holds the center of her project. This is her universe, and the bold-faced names lumber through without doing much damage to the vibe. The mood is muted, almost grave, and her writerly touch is sure-handed and simple: “Lost a couple people, ever since then, I’m numb,” she sings on “Blood.” Young Thug detonates a series of human fireworks on the same track, but nothing he offers cuts that deeply. The toy-box synths that make “Try Me” so distant and alluring streak across most of the tracks here, and Dej’s voice dances like a single-celled organism beneath them.

Her default mode is “easily unimpressed”: “I don’t want it with that boy / I’d rather have his daddy,” she sings sweetly on “On My Own.” Her signature outfit — a bathrobe and house slippers — gives an entirely new meaning to “I woke up like dis.” She sounds dead-serious, always, even when spelling out the frank invitation “Me U Hennessy.” The music is weightless, a mix of Chicago-house pianos and fluffy synth pads — “Blood,” stripped down to an instrumental, could play on adult contemporary radio stations. But Dej always seems to be weighing human costs. She is not much for small talk: “I miss my grandma / Why did she have to leave me / I have so much shit to tell her / Man, I still can’t believe it”, she sings on “I Got It.” You can’t get any closer to the point than that.