The reclusive DeJ Loaf
Written by Erick Van Til
Making a name for yourself as an artist has never never easy. Establishing yourself as a female rapper, even in open-minded 2018, is a still few steps short of impossible. Detroit’s Deja Trimble, a reclusive rising star who performs under the moniker DeJ Loaf (a nod to her footwear of choice), is well on her way to doing just that.
After a few years of relative obscurity, a 22-year-old DeJ announced herself with 2014’s Try Me, which attracted Drake’s attention and was subsequently posted on his Instagram, caught fire and peaked at #8 on the US Rap charts, going gold. All of a sudden, everyone wanted a piece. In the four years since, Dej has wasted no time capitalizing. She put out three mixtapes in as many years, collaborated with rap royalty like Eminem, Future, and Lil Wayne and contributed to material from a laundry list of heavyweights including Rich Homie Quan, The Game, E-40, Kid Ink and The Neighbourhood. She opened for Nicki Minaj on her Pinkprint Tour and plans to release her first full-length studio album – this one produced by the Grammy-winning musical genius Detail - later this year. Even with all signs pointing to superstardom, DeJ has remained remarkably low-key about her successes and kept her cards close about what comes next.
Born and raised in Detroit and daughter to a beautician mother and an unemployed father who dealt drugs to pay the bills, DeJ was quiet, insular and withdrawn. She didn’t speak much and when she did she was tense and her voice was rarely louder than a whisper. She read. A lot. And she wrote in her ever-present notebooks. Life was difficult and she was intelligent, muted and needed a means of expression. Her dad’s means of employment led to his murder, which tragically happened in front of his own home. These events were unwelcome and heavy and needed processing. Young Deja began writing young and got a head start on developing a voice to communicate with the world. We are all present-day recipients of the results of that work and the quiet drive that adds to Dej’s mystique and magnetism. People crowd her, fans and media and assorted lookers-on. They have opinions; they have questions. The kind of questions you would never ask someone you cared about in a tastelessly direct manor. And yet they persist and they push for more information, more personal material: sexual orientation, beefs, that kind of thing. Unintentionally, her choice to exercise her right to withhold information has made it that much more salacious.
Impressively, these new pressures have not dented DeJ’s relentlessness. She had maintained a steady stream of work that has involved, been noticed by, or at the behest of some of the genre’s big guns. For what will soon be four years, seven if you count her pre-fame work. It is hard to align this kind of focus with someone who sounded more…introspective than prolific. When she still went by Deja, Ms Dej quit nursing school and did tours as a cashier at a coffee shop and a Dairy Queen. She slacked off as a janitor at a factory that built pickup trucks. It was during the latter stretch that she stepped up her involvement in music and joined the Creative Minds Coalition and so began her journey into full-time professional music. A small but significant event, a reference to one of her songs by Drake through an Instagram post to his 39 (thirty plus nine, friends) million followers, many of whom are well-regarded musicians like Drizzy himself. There were covers and remixes and shoutouts and…attention. Plays. Downloads. Numbers. A contract – with Columbia Records in New York City. Try Me went all the way to #8 on the charts and she was still only 23.
While her hit single may have given her momentum, DeJ has done anything but coast. She got the call-up to join Detroit rap elite for a part on future anthem Detroit vs. Everybody on Eminem’s Shady XV. The next year she was opening for Nicki Minaj. Drake, Eminem, Nicki; a pattern. Next in line? Jay Z? Kanye? A gatekeeper like Rick Rubin? At this point in time, all valid possibilities. She’s relocated from Detroit to Atlanta for career purposes and is within striking distance of the completion of an album studio two years in the making. It’s called Liberation and if the reception of the two currently-released singles off the record - No Fear and Big Ole Boss - are any indication, Liberation is poised to catapult DeJ to even greater heights of fame. No Fear, a catchy and upbeat ode to sincerity (given a boost by a clever video directed by New York City duo rubberband) reached #43 on the American R&B/Hip-Hop charts last year and added another genre to her scope of influence.
DeJ understands that her legacy and longevity in music hinge on her ability to play the business end of the game well. In an interview with Fader, DeJ laid out her thoughts on the commercial aspect of music:
“You gotta be smart in this industry. You gotta play the game…the business is the most important part. Like, the music is cool, but if your business isn’t together, shit can go all bad for you.”
Rubbing shoulders with OG artists like Big Sean and Rick Ross has undoubtedly given DeJ valuable insight into how to capitalize properly on the opportunities laid out in front of her. The experiences of those that have gone before her have shown her the pitfalls to avoid and the kinds of moves she will need to make in order to secure her seat at the table. Her wise decisions to sidestep the speculation around her romantic forays, to communicate with her fan base in restrained bits and pieces (she uses Instagram as her main mechanism of communication) and to continue to develop and improve without losing herself in the process means that she will continue to build strength on strength. Her early successes have given us a glimmer of what is to come. Liberation, when released, will muzzle the holdouts and confirm what everyone who’s anyone has been saying all along: DeJ is smart, stylish, beautiful, ambitious and undeniably talented; the complete superstar package – and she’s only just begun.
Check out her Spotify below