Detroit's newest talent (and Drake co-sign) Dej Loaf talks her upbringing, , and her delightfully murderous viral record.

Interview: 'Try Me' Rapper/Singer Dej Loaf Might Not Be Who You Think She Is

Meet the creator of the trigger-happy hit "Try Me," who captured our heart (and Drake's) by threatening to put a bullet through it

When rapper (singer?) Dej Loaf walks in, you’re not sure what to expect. Yet the chorus of the 23-year-old newbie’s smoldering breakout hit “Try Me”—which boasts of catching bodies and killing entire families—doesn't quite prepare you for the petite, barely five-foot chick with a hushed voice who walks through the door. But that’s what gives her a prized distinction. The Detroit native’s delivery is an oxymoronic blend. Her voice is gentle and warm, while the lyrics to her overnight hit are dangerous and resistant. “Try Me” tip-toes between being threatening and murderous, but its catchy melody captures the ear of delinquents and delightfuls alike. Even Wiz Khalifa and E-40 have caught on, lacing the eerie instrumental with some bars for remixes to show their appreciation (another, with Ty $, is on the way), while Drake has shown some love via IG. Dej stopped by the VIBE office yesterday (Sept. 24) to chop it about growing up in the D, talk her musical beginnings and the real reason you shouldn't “try” her. —Tanay Hudson VIBE: Tell us about your upbringing in Detroit. Dej Loaf: It was crazy. I was always a homebody as a kid. I stayed in the house writing music. I was the good kid in the projects. Single mom. Me and my two brothers. I stayed out of trouble. I could have gotten into all that stuff that was going on, but I stayed in the house. So you were a good kid in a mad city. Exactly. When did you first start writing music? When I was 9 or 10. I started out writing [down] lyrics from other people’s songs. I used to put the CD in and write their lyrics down, then I started writing my own. Do you remember what your first song sounded like? Terrible. [laughs] What were you talking about? Who knows. I used to cuss a lot in my raps when I was little. I used to say anything, listen to everything. It was terrible [laughs]. When did you get serious about music? After high school. I always wanted to do it, I just wasn't in the studio. I was serious after high school. I graduated in 2009. I was in a group for a year and some change. Once I separated from the group I got with CMC. We were like a bunch of artists. I put out my first mixtape in February 2012 called Just Do It. From there it was serious. I had left college and did that. I was always writing. I just put it all together and made the mixtape. Tell me about the group you were in in high school. It was called G4. It was me, Matt G, my best friend Mike, Logic, Wayne. My best friend brought me into the group. They had already started the group—I was the only girl. Why did you guys broke up? We weren't organized. We were just all over the place. It wasn't like we were performing anywhere. We were just doing music. It was actually good music. If we would have had a little help we probably could have popped off. Who knows. Everybody graduated and went their separate ways. How would you define your sound? I like melodies. I’m not afraid to try different flows and put it together. Sing, rap. Everybody says they like my tone of voice.

Your voice is soft and you’re singing some hardcore lyrics on “Try Me.” It’s funny that you say you were the good kid because on the song you sound like you weren’t. When did you begin to... When did I turn gangsta? Yeah. It’s not even about being gangsta. I’m around that all the time, so I can speak on it. Because you were the good kid, do you think people used to try you thinking you wouldn’t do anything? I was always cool. I wasn’t like a lame or anything. I stayed to myself, stayed out of trouble. I was smart. Nobody tried me. I was around it with my brothers, cousins. I was in the house with them. Nobody could try me because I had that circle around me. You said you went to college. What college did you go to? Saginaw Valley State University. It’s an hour and a half away from Detroit. What was your major? Nursing. Did you graduate? No, I did the Kanye. I left because I was bored. I wasn’t on it like how I was with music. If you’re gonna go to school you should be dedicated to it and that’s with anything you do. I was coming home like every weekend and that’s not what college is about. I came home and I wasn’t even supposed to come home for good. It kind of just happened. That’s why people tell you before you go to school don’t come home, just stay at school. How long were in you in school before you left? Like, three semesters. As an upcoming hip hop female artist, how will you be different from Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea? The ones that you named are the ones that are actually good. I’m just going to be me. This is how I rap. I make music for everybody. I got songs. I’m not the “Try Me” girl. Other artists have shown you love by remixing your song. Which are your favorite remixes of “Try Me”? E-40. Just to even have him reach out was big. I grew up listening to his stuff. Who were some of your favorite rappers coming up? I didn’t really have many. I listen to all types of music. Do you have a favorite genre? Jazz. It’s real soothing, calm. On your song you mentioned not wanting to sign to a label. Would you rather stay independent? You never know. If I’m in the right situation then sure. I just want to be with people who care and are in it for the long run, not because “Try Me” is hot. Have you met with any labels? Of course. That’s why I’m out here. [Eds note: She couldn’t disclose which labels she met with.] Since gaining fame, what have you been experiencing lately that is new to you? Traveling, no sleep, planes. I’m used to writing my rhymes in my room. I was definitely going to church every Sunday for months but I’ve been missing church because I haven’t been home. I know you’re a big Drake fan. What was your initial reaction to seeing Drake comment on your Instagram page? It was crazy. People were tweeting me like, “Oh, Drake followed you!” But it was great. Drake is one of the biggest artists in the world. You know you’re getting somewhere when you got people like that are interested in you. He didn’t have to say anything. Is he going to be on a “Try Me” remix? I was hoping he was but I don’t know. We’re gonna do something even if it isn’t “Try Me.” He doesn’t even have to get on there. We can work on something new. Have you been compared to anyone? No not yet. Not even for the sound of your voice? When I first heard your voice it reminded me of Jeremih. Has anyone ever told you that you sounded like him? No. Someone just told me that he was feeling “Try Me.” But no one has ever told me that. You might be the one to make everybody start saying it [laughs]. Could you relate to it? I can. I was also the good kid and people used to think they could try me because I was quiet. People try people everyday, but I see what you’re saying. I wasn’t really coming from that... well, maybe I was. I was walking in the mall one day and these people were looking at me. I was like “what the hell?!” I just went back and wrote the song. How did you chose your name? Did it come from wearing loafers? The idea of wearing loafers. I used to wear a lot of Jordans; everybody wore Jordans. So I was just like, I’m going to switch it up and wear Gucci loafers. One day I was thinking, “Man I’ma wear these and they gon’ start calling me Deja Loaf.” The idea stuck with me since 10th grade. I never started wearing them but I was like the name is cool, even if I don’t wear loafers. Did you have any other rap names? Stuff like Young Dej. Terrible [laughs]. How did you get Deelishis (from Flavor of Love 2) in the “Try Me” video? She’s from the D. She liked the song and she had uploaded a video to it. We reached out to her, went to her house and she did her cameo. She’s cool. Do you have any other talents? I could play ball. I could do a little something. Do you have a favorite team? I don’t have one. I don’t really watch sports anymore. What’s next for you? We’re trying to drop something next month so people know there’s more than just “Try Me.” I’m not sure of the name. A mixtape. Then we might drop an EP.

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25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: Intent On Impact, Kiana Lede Is Ready To Leave Her Mark

After learning The Alphabet Song as a little girl, Kiana Lede would always “get in trouble” for singing during class. “My mom was like, ‘why can't you focus?’” she laughs while reminiscing on her career’s formative years. “I was like, ‘I don’t know! Songs are just playing in my head all the time!’”

Whilst sitting in a shoebox-sized room at Midtown Manhattan’s Moxy Hotel on a humid September day, the now- 21-year-old Arizona-bred R&B songbird, actress and pianist speculates that she “may have had ADD.” However, she settles down after taking off her white cowboy boots and flops down on the ivory-clothed bed, demonstrating that her fiery Aries energy can be contained. Cool as a cucumber, Lede shuffles between chewing on banana candies and blowing smoke rings after taking drags from a pen, all while musing about her journey to becoming a Republic Records signee.

“I just grew up singing and doing musical theater, and reading a lot of books, and playing piano way too much in my room by myself,” she says, pushing her big, curly brown hair out of her face. Her expressive green eyes widen as she grins. “It was my thing. Nobody in my family does music, just me.”

After winning Kidz Bop’s 2011 KIDZ Star USA talent contest at 14 (which her mother secretly entered her into), Lede was signed to RCA Records. She was released from her contract and dropped from the label three years later. However, thanks to guidance and friendship from the Grammy-winning production duo Rice N’ Peas, (who’ve worked with G-Eazy, Trevor Jackson, and Bazzi), she released covers of songs such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” while working to get her groove back. The latter rendition resulted in Republic Record’s Chairman and CEO Monte Lipman flying her out and signing her to his label.

“I got a second chance, which a lot of people don't get,” she reveals. “So I'm really happy that that all happened. I wouldn't be here right now in this room if that didn't happen.”

Thanks to the new opportunity she was given, Lede’s sound has evolved into something she’s proud of—equal parts soul, R&B and bohemian. As evidenced by the aforementioned ensemble, glimmers of each aesthetic can be found when observing her personal style as well. She released her seven-song EP Selfless in July, which features the bedroom-ready “Show Love” and “Fairplay,” which manages to fit in the mainstream R&B vein while also showcasing her goosebump-inducing vocals. The remix of the latter features MC A$AP Ferg. What pleases her most is that it not only garnered a favorable response from fans, but that those listeners found it so relatable.

“As an artist, it's really nerve-wracking for someone who writes about such personal things all the time,” she says. “Just the fact that it is my story… It's good to know that other people know that there's somebody on their side, and they're not the only ones going through it. A lot of people obviously feel this way, and have been through this same thing that I've been through. So I think that's cool.”

Although she moved to various places as a Navy serviceman’s daughter, Lede claims Phoenix as home. This means she hails from the same stomping grounds as rockers Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. However, growing up in a mixed race household gave way to tons of sonic exploration outside of the rock-heavy scene.

“My dad's black, and both of my parents are from the East Coast,” she says of her musical and ethnic upbringing (she’s black, Latina and Native American). “[My parents] listened to a lot of R&B. My mom listened to a lot of SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men. I didn't realize I knew the songs until I got older. I played a charity show with T-Boz, and I was like 'why do I know these songs?'” Lede also says her father was a fan of neo-soul and gangsta rap, but she personally believes the early-2000s was the best time for music.

“[That era] influences a lot of my music subconsciously, and also, singer-songwriter stuff,” she continues. “I listen to a lot of early-2000s music because I played piano most of my life. I listened to Sara Bareilles, John Mayer.”

An open book, Lede details some of her struggles with anxiety and depression with the utmost candor. After being dropped from RCA, her trust in people diminished, and she experienced long bouts of depression after being sexually assaulted by someone in the industry. The track that she feels most deeply about is “One Of Them Days,” which tackles these issues head-on.

“When I'm anxious and depressed, it's really hard to be happy,” Lede says. “Most of the time, I can do it, but there are just some days where I literally can't separate the anxiety, and I can't tell anybody why, because I don't really know why myself… I was feeling very odd that day, didn't even know if I could write a song. Hue [Strother], the guy who I wrote the song with, he was like 'I totally get you. Lots of people go through this.’’’

As we’ve observed in headlines recently, mental health and being honest about life’s trickier situations can help someone going through the same thing, and Lede hopes her music provides encouragement to those who are struggling. As for how she’s learning to push through her mental health roadblocks, she meditates, runs, and is an advocate for therapy, especially in Trump’s America, where harrowing news reports dominate the cycle.

Another hallmark of Kiana Lede’s personality is her bleeding heart for others. She cites women of color, sexual assault victims and the homeless youth specifically as individuals she feels most responsible to help, since she is personally connected to all three. While she’s aiming to create a project that helps homeless youth specifically, she’s working hard this holiday season to ensure that they have a place to stay “at least for the night” after horrific wildfires displaced many individuals in California.

“My passion is really people. Music is just a way that I can get to helping people,” she says with a grin. “Helping people emotionally and physically are both very important. I never want to stop helping people. I feel if other people can respect me, and I can respect myself, then I'll be happy. Happiness is all that we strive for.”

Recently, Lede played her first headlining solo show, a one-night event at The Mint in Los Angeles. While she was thrilled to see that the show sold-out, she was even happier to see the faces of her audience members, who she said ‘looked like [her].’ “Mixed girls, brown girls, black girls, gay boys,” she explains over-the-phone. Even though she wasn’t in person to discuss her latest huge accomplishment, you could hear the pride and joy through her voice.

As for the future of her career, she’s looking forward to more acting roles. You may recognize her from the first season of MTV’s Scream, and after her recent Netflix series All About The Washingtons with legendary MC Rev Run was cancelled, she has been “reading for auditions” and is “negotiating” for a role in a film set to shoot in NYC. While her time with the Run-DMC frontman was brief, she says he taught her about the importance of “not compromising your art for money.”

What Kiana Lede is most excited about, of course, is making music. She hopes to work on a new EP and then release an album after that. The ultimate goal is to fully realize the dreams in her personal and professional life, and she assures she’s just getting started.

“I want to be able to look back on my career and think 'man, I really poured my heart into this music, and made music that mattered, and made music that made people feel a certain way, whether it's bad, good, sad, anxious, whatever it may be.’”

READ MORE: NEXT: H.E.R. Is The Future Of R&B (And Then Some) In Plain Sight

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