Move over, “No Flex Zone.” Rap’s adversarial anthem du jour is newcomer Dej Loaf ‘s “Try Me.” The menacing track is primed for stalking through the streets while fending off haters and naysayers, and with lyrics like, “Let a nigga try me, try me. I’ma get his whole muthafuckin’ family /And I ain’t playing with nobody/Fuck around and I’ma catch a body,” people will think twice before they try you.
Like so many things in hip-hop, it was an Instagram shout-out from Drake in September that catapulted the 23-year-old Detroit native born Deja (Loaf comes from her penchant for loafers) into the spotlight. Drake didn’t flip his own remix to “Try Me,” but the kingmaker had spoken. Shout-outs from Kevin Durant and Ty Dolla $ign followed, as well as remixes from the likes of Wiz Khalifa and E-40. Not surprisingly, major labels took notice and Dej soon signed a deal with Columbia Records.
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On October 17, the diminutive rapper made her live New York City debut at Santos Party House as part of Noisey’s CMJ showcase. Playing to a full house that included onstage cameos by Jadakiss, Styles P, Remy Ma, and her own mother, Dej was clearly in awe and humbled by the love from the city.
Your show at Santos was packed. Did you anticipate that level of fervor?
No. I did not know that. I know New York has tough crowds. People came from all over. That was pretty dope. I didn’t know they were gonna come out like that.
New York hip-hop fans are notorious for being critical. Often, we hate our own artists.
You recorded “Try Me” several months before it took off. When did you know the track was special?
I didn’t know it would be. When Drake [Instagrammed it], I was like, “Wow. I’m onto something.” I didn’t know it would expand and change my life.
Have you met Drake yet?
No. We spoke to his people in the beginning. They told us a few things. We might link up pretty soon, but I haven’t talked to Drake myself. I think he’s in New York. He’s been out here for a couple of days.
A Direct Message on Instagram could make that meeting happen.
Yeah. I might do that.
How’s day-to-day life changed for you back home? Do people recognize you at the grocery store?
They’re showing love. I haven’t noticed any haters back at home. When I go to the mall, [people] stop me and take pictures of me. I don’t mind taking them, but wow. I was in there a couple of weeks ago and I was wearing my hat that says, “Dej Loaf” and I forgot I had the hat on. I thought I was disguising myself.
My favorite cameo at Santos was when your mom came onstage. Does she attend your shows?
She has been lately. She’s gotten time to travel with us. I knew this show was gonna be big, so I kind of wanted to bring her out.
What does your mom think of your success?
She’s always been the type of parent like, “Whatever you want to do, do it.” Supportive.
Has she given you any cautionary advice?
Definitely. Stay focused. Make sure I’m eating good. Just that stuff, man.
Have you been eating good while in town? Any place specific?
Um. I think we ate at this spot — what was it called? I forgot, but it was some expensive little spot. They had a lot of seafood.
Nah. Carmine’s. That was good. Yeah.
There’s a perception that females in hip-hop are competitive and we can’t get along. How has the reception been from other female rappers?
It’s been dope. Trina reached out. She said she loves me. It’s all love. I think people put it in a box. People want it to be like that. It doesn’t have to be like that. Real recognize real every single time. Remy Ma could have come left field but she came right. She salute and I salute her. It’s not gonna work any other way. I think people just lead it on by even asking questions like [that]. It’s like, let it go. Let music be music and artists be artists. Don’t box and separate it, because that causes the problems. It’s all love.
Have you fielded that question a lot? Do you wish people wouldn’t compare you to other female rappers?
Nah. Well, yeah. It’s been going on for years. That’s why women don’t get as much exposure as guys. It’s a rivalry or something. Like, they don’t ask guys when they’re interviewing. Do you think? How do you? I guess it’s supposed to be a “man’s game.” If you pay attention to every interview with women, it’s “Is it hard being a female?” No. It’s not. You just have to make good music. Let’s change that. Let’s ask questions about — at the end of the day, we’re all human — so let’s ask questions about being human as opposed to being a woman. It is a difference but musically, if you make good music, you’ll receive the love back.
Do you feel in 2014 the notion that women have it harder in hip-hop is no longer the norm? Some would say that it’s still harder for a female rapper to garner respect.
I mean, people just use that. It’s been going on as years. You use it so much that’s all they’re gonna know: “It’s hard being a female.” I don’t think it’s hard at all. I think if you make good music, people will put back what you put in it. Like, Nicki Minaj: Guys listen to it, girls listen to it. Either it’s wack or you’re making good music.