DeJ Loaf has hatched a plan to go horseback riding. Pincurls peek out from a small cowgirl hat. She sits in the passenger seat of a black Suburban for the minute drive to Lanier Islands, a cluster of resorts and vacation attractions north of Atlanta. Pulling up to the stables, a small black goat greets us. Our appointed instructor, an attentive and jovial woman in jeans and a tee, introduces DeJ to a pound Welsh pony. To begin, she has DeJ lead the horse around a small pen to build her confidence.
The instructor is a pro at stroking egos, but seems legitimately impressed with her swift grasp of riding. Whenever she asks if DeJ wants to proceed to the next level — onto the dirt trail, and then over near the lake — DeJ accepts, with no signs of panic or anxiety. After a lesson about posture in the saddle, DeJ learns to direct the horse into a quicker trot. At her request, I stand off to the side with her iPhone and capture footage of the ride for Snapchat.
The instructor graciously pauses during picturesque moments to snap photos of DeJ on the Canon. In conversation, she has a habit of clipping sentences into fragments capped with ellipses that sever her thoughts. Were you social? I still work on it, though. DeJ could find commercial and critical success alongside them.
Mostly, she speaks through social media, feeding fans from a distance — a method that offers daily updates inspirational quotes, outfit-of-the-day shots without oversharing. Who does she date? What is she wearing?
People always trying to figure me out. A middle child, DeJ grew up in Detroit, where she lived with her parents, her older sister Des, and her baby brother Cameron at Freedom Place, a block of low-income housing on the westside. DeJ, born Deja Trimble, and Des shared a bunk bed. Their mom, Latrice Hudson, a beautician, had a home-based salon business.
After their father died, DeJ and her siblings moved in with their grandmother Joanne on the northside, in a big yellow house. Joanne assigned them chores and kept an immaculate home. She sold drugs, too. About two years later, the kids moved to the eastside with their mom into the projects of Fairview Manor. She stayed in her books, writing, writing, writing, writing, all day. I get emotional when I see certain things, a little teary-eyed.
When I see fathers with their daughters or just little stuff — it just come out of me. Over the phone from her home in Detroit today, Tranica sounds as much like a Rugrats character as DeJ does, with her soft, childlike voice. She remembers the two of them being inseparable. DeJ says she always won. Tranica recalls DeJ catching fits whenever her mom made her wear their school uniform, a dress. She had a mind of her own. As a measure of how quiet she was, DeJ says she can count on her fingers how many words she spoke at Southeastern High School.
After that, she held typical jobs for an year-old: as a cashier at Tim Hortons, then at the Dairy Queen in a mall in Dearborn. The job made her miserable. The night before our riding excursion, DeJ is feeling seafood, so we drive half an hour to the nearest Pappadeaux, a popular chain, where she orders lobsters the size of her head.
We both get carded for drinks. Throughout the night, several young fans approach our table. After the guy leaves, she vents. These regular intrusions are part of why she prefers to stay in. But for someone so weary of attention, DeJ is consciously moving toward it. After signing to Columbia in , she spent more than a year traveling for appearances and performances before leaving home and settling down with her mother and siblings in Atlanta.
I never want to be caught up, just doing it for a couple blocks. I want the world to see me. The change felt sudden, and so did the growing pressure from fans anticipating an official album. She quickly realized how much work it would take to satisfy them. Now I have thousands of followers on Twitter. From a plum-colored backpack, she pulls out a MacBook wrapped in a light wood grain case.
The laptop is full of songs for Liberated , which has no release date yet but is 90 percent complete, according to her manager. From behind a pair of prescription eyeglasses with blush-colored frames, DeJ sits at a console, making minimal eye contact, her words trapped somewhere between her mind and the glow of LED spotlights. When she first started recording last summer, she says, she was determined to make a classic rap album. I just wanted to rap, like hardcore. I wanted people to take it seriously. I was just so focused on that at first.
Just do you. The songs she plays me are a canny mix of high-spirit, dream-chasing anthems, explicit slow jams, and memoir-like material that finds her singing more than rapping.
DeJ is actively thinking in terms of strategy — which songs to push first, where to shoot her videos, and how she should look. For instance, she plans to drop the untitled song separately from the album, packaged with intense visuals. DeJ has a vision for Liberated , which she insists is fully her own. While recording over the summer, DeJ developed a rapport with those collaborators and credits them with making her more of a perfectionist.
After dinner, she heads back to the studio, where she spends the night by herself, perfecting the Auto-Tuned lullabies and inspirational chants that might one day make her a superstar. But DeJ knows loosening her grip on solitude will get her closer to her goal.
She wants freedom. You gotta let me be me. In the studio, I ask DeJ if they were dating. We were definitely into each other.
We were never, like, an item. With children. Another, more defamatory rumor surfaced, from an aspiring rapper named Aye Redd, who told celebrity website Bossip that DeJ was faking the relationship with Durk. After riding horses, over counterfeit Caribbean food at another chain restaurant, Bahama Breeze, DeJ declines to address Redd. We can talk about dating or whatever. I love people. You know. Like, I love people. This is a common stance among public figures and young people existing in the world.
Life for DeJ now is all about adjustments. Fans can get close, but not too close. People can continue to wonder. Her first album has yet to drop and her mind is already ahead of music. At the studio on the first day we meet, DeJ and her manager stand in front of a laptop and mull over options for a future line of merch.
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