Detroit’s hip-hop community is seeing renewed attention of late, owing in no small part to Eminem’s “Detroit Vs. Everybody,” which features Danny Brown, Big Sean, Royce da 5’9”, Trick Trick, and Dej Loaf repping their hometown on a track with all-star, chart-conquering force.
Dej Loaf’s deadeyed delivery is minimized, however, to a catchy hook on Eminem’s ode to the Motor City, leading some to wonder whether Marshall Mathers had spent time listening to her music beyond “Try Me.” That single — and its hook — doesn’t exactly sound like mainstream material, but the song’s rapid rise on radio has led to unexpected crossover acceptance.
Dej Loaf’s mixtape Sell Sole problematizes the sudden success of “Try Me.” Only three months after the song first appeared on her SoundCloud, Dej signed to Columbia Records, where she’d see everything rapped about on B-side “We Good” become a reality: “Where the fuck these labels at/ They should’ve been called.” Sell Sole has appeal, though not necessarily the kind on “Try Me.” Dej goes beyond the world-weary raps of her previous mixtape, Just Do It, toward something more unsettled. Darkness does battle with lightness. Glee quickly turns to gloom. There are guests — Young Thug shows up on “Blood,” arguably Sell Sole’s highlight, with a livewire riot act of a spot — but Dej is mourning losses: “Ain’t no ‘ho in my blood, been thorough since day one/ Lost a couple people, and since then I been numb.”
This melancholy soon becomes Sell Sole’s calling card. Dej spends little time on self-pity and instead adopts a poker face; she’s assisted with production equally indebted to heavy-lidded cloud rap and bowel-quaking Chicago drill. DDS (who produced “Try Me”) is responsible for much of the sound of Sell Sole, and he ably balances Dej’s stoned nonchalance with both her deep-rooted sadness and undeniable swagger. As a result, Sell Sole represents Dej Loaf at a crucial pivot point between hard-won achievement and unforgotten bereavement. The threat of violence is another thread that’s been weaved from Dej’s early work into this tape. Opener “Bird Call” intimates disastrous endings for Dej’s haters, though it’s to humorous effect (“I’m a dog with this shit/ I pooper-scooper these turds”), while even ostensibly romantic numbers such as “Easy Love” get rough with lines like “put this pussy on your face.”
It may not be Dej Loaf’s debut, but Sell Sole is a mission statement, arrived upon after two years of soul-searching and fighting to be heard in an industry already besotted by attention seekers and “next big things.” Casual fans may only know Dej by “Try Me” — featured on here as a remix with Ty Dolla $ign and Remy Ma — though there’s reason to believe that a jump to the majors will broaden her audience even as she grows less commercial. It’s not hard to imagine Eminem rethinking his decision to relegate Dej Loaf to chorus duty once he gets an earful of these latest earworms. They’re proof that selling your soul isn’t the same as selling out.
Sell Sole is available for download now. Watch Dej Loaf’s national television debut on The Tonight Show below: