Dej Loaf is only 23 and just two years into her career since releasing a debut mixtape in 2012, but she already walks, talks, and dresses like a legend. Case in point, on her first appearance on BET’s long-running video countdown show 106 & Park, she turned up for the interview in a floor-length white mink coat she had bought that same day in New York City. “Being on 106 & Park, one of the biggest shows of my childhood, I knew I had to represent for my city, for Detroit,” she says on the phone from Los Angeles, where she’s recording her debut studio album. “You gotta look right, when you’re doing what you do. Not everyone even makes it that far, so I just did all-white everything, with the Gucci loafer shoes.” Those loafers are an important part of Dej’s story—they’re what inspired Deja Trimble to add “loaf” to her moniker in the first place. “I told myself in the tenth grade I would stop wearing sneakers, Jordans and Nikes, and that I’d start wearing loafers, that I’d wear so many they were gonna call me Dej Loaf,” she says. “And it just stuck—I couldn’t afford loafers when I was growing up, but now I can.”
Where did this newfound shoe budget come from? After the breakout viral success this summer of her song, “Try Me,” she’s recently been signed to Columbia Records, an especially remarkable feat considering how few female rappers have been signed by major labels—though she’s quick to note that she’s putting on for herself as much as her gender. “Female rap isn’t where it should be, because they box it up, label it, call it “female rap.” It’s just music, don’t put female rap in no box,” she says. “We’re all human at the end of the day. I’m just Dej Loaf and the world is going to hear me.”
And she’s right: Dej is in her own lane, and any comparisons to Nicki Minaj or Iggy Azalea come up inevitably short. Her style and flow, a sort of laid-back take that vibrates between rapping and a sing-song-y croon, is more in line with upstarts like ILoveMakonnen and Rae Sremmurd, two acts that have also had viral breakout songs this summer—“Club Goin Up On A Tuesday” by Makonnen and “No Type” by Rae—and are being praised as similarly creative artists that bring a youthful, personal, internet-friendly energy to radio rap. “We all came from the same era, we’re all in the same class,” she says. “They’re just some cool young dudes.”
If this changing of the rap guard seems to be happening fast, Dej has been working towards this for a long time. “I grew up in the projects on the East Side of Detroit and just always loved writing. I started to write when I was nine or ten years old, my own little lyrics, listening to anything I could get my hands on,” she says. “Writing is my favorite part.” She started rapping more officially in high school, and after a brief stint in nursing school at college before dropping out (“My mind wasn’t there,” she says), she put out her first official mixtape in 2012, Just Do It. It was “Try Me” this summer, though, that truly got people’s attention-including Drake’s, who expressed his admiration in a comment he wrote on her Instagram. The song was re-released on her latest free-to-download mixtape, Sell Sole, and has racked up more than 11 million listens on SoundCloud, a phenomenon she attributes to people liking the song’s cockiness. “That song is a fight-everyone wants to feel that type of way. It’s about respecting yourself, and not taking any crap,” she says.