DeJ Loaf On… Diverted Hoop Dreams, Family Matters and Brand Building

February 17, 2015 Interviews, ST023

The following DeJ Loaf interview is an unedited version of a feature from our latest iPad issue. Download it via our free app here.

Photography JIMMY FONTAINE
Interview CHRISTINA LEE

self-titled: You were in Atlanta the other day. What did you think of the city?
Atlanta is pretty dope. That was one of the cities where we had the most fun. At our recent show we had Young Thug and were doing shots with him. I have family in Atlanta, too. It’s pretty nice down there. I love it.

What other cities have you been to recently?
Man, you name it. Everywhere, really—Hartford, Connecticut. Tampa, Florida. Cincinnati. All type of places in New York. Right now we’re headed to Jacksonville, Florida. Different city, different day, so.

You grew up in Detroit. Now that you’ve been traveling, do you see yourself living outside that city?
The only place I can see myself living in outside of Detroit is Miami. You know, I’m not really with the L.A. scene right now. I don’t really feel L.A. as much. Everyone has their dream places to live, like L.A. or just California period, or New York. They’re cool places to work, but I like the vibe of Miami. Florida, period, is nice. The vibe is crazy, but I just said that I’m going to stick to my city and stay in the outskirts of Michigan—not in Detroit, so much—and keep it close to home.

“Most people don’t make it through things like that. You have to look at your mom and it’s like, ‘Wow.'”

What memories do you have of growing up at Fairview Manor Apartments?
Um, just waking up with a basketball in my hand and going to sleep with a basketball with my hand. I was the tomboy of the neighborhood, and the quiet girl. I could play basketball really good, so I spent most of my time just playing basketball and just hanging out with my friends. My best friend stayed next door to me—that’s how I met her. (She’s a year younger than me.) It was dope. I have a lot of family members that stayed in the projects, so it’s like a family thing too. Cookouts. Free lunch at the main office. All types of stuff goes on in Fairview Manor Apartments.

How serious were you about basketball? Did you ever see yourself pursing it as a career?
Definitely, as a child. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was probably a basketball player—WNBA, you know? I was really good growing up. My mom wasn’t as on it as she probably should have been with me. Like I didn’t go to the summer programs and things like that because we didn’t have the funding. I just tried to play street ball. I didn’t go to the AAU competitions and get on those type of teams where you actually get scouted. Once I got into high school, I realized, that oh, I’m not that good. These girls are college-level and I had a JV position, and just being in the tenth grade on JV—I was just used to being so good. I was like, I can’t take these JV positions. So I kind of switched and started doing my music more than basketball. I still play every now and then. I’m not as good as I used to be, but still.

Dej Loaf

You bring up your mom in your music. How would you describe your mom?
Um, she’s a sweetheart. She went through a lot at an early age—when she had kids—so she’s one of the strongest people I know. Just to do what she’s done is crazy, because a lot of people probably would have gave up. She had a brain aneurysm. I don’t know how many years ago; it was a while back. Most people don’t make it through things like that. You have to look at your mom and it’s like, “Wow.” It’s like an art, almost. She could have just crumbled, but she didn’t. She’s still standing, and breathing, and healthy and strong. Her birthday is actually next week.

Oh! What did you get her?
I just bought her a card the other day, and I gave it to her. That’s one of her gifts, so she was really happy about that.

She was a single mom, right?
Yeah, definitely. It was me, my mom and my two brothers. We worked and took care of all the stuff ever since my dad was killed when I was 4. We actually went and stayed with my grandmother after my dad got killed, for I want to say a year to two years, and then we were able to move back from my mom. From that point, that’s when I moved in to Fairview Apartments.

Do you have memories of your dad?
Yeah, definitely. He used to let us play lots of music, like tons of music growing up. E-40. Rakim. All types of music, you know what I mean? Tupac. So I used to sit on his lap rapping along to the lyrics, Those are the memories I have. And I remember the night he was actually killed too.

Really?
Yeah. I was around the corner, and I remember vividly that he got killed around these other apartments we were living across from—Freedom Place.

Was that something you understood at the time?
I mean, I didn’t understand much at 4 years old, but at the time I was like, “Wow, man. No dad. I wish my dad was here.” As time wore on, I definitely noticed—like, “Wow, I don’t have a dad.” But when it first happened, I didn’t know much about it.

People tend to notice how soft-spoken you are. Do you get that from your mother or father?
My dad. My mom, she’s more laid-back. My dad was kind of like, he was pretty much anti; he wasn’t really a people person. He would take care of his business and mind his own business. I’m kind of the same way—chill, laid-back.

What pisses you off, enough to actually get a reaction?
You know what? I’m working on patience. I have no patience; it’s ridiculous. Anything that I have to wait for, I’m just like, I don’t want to wait. I get angry. I’m working on it, but for now I’m impatient. I like things to move at a steady pace. I don’t know, I’m antsy. Other than that, I’m pretty cool.

How did you feel about your career, when you were working on Sell Sole? I sense some impatience in the music.
I always knew that I was good, which made me feel like “Man, when is my time going to come?” That’s not even the original Sell Sole. Sell Sole came out in 2013… I wasn’t in a position to put it out, so I kind of waited. I was down and out. I didn’t know how to put it together the right way. I didn’t have the right tools and right people, to the money just to do it right. I don’t like doing stuff that is low quality. So I was just holding on to everything, until I was able to put it out right. So it turned out to be better than it would have been had I put it out before.

In Just Do It, you say, “I’m surprised I went to college.” Why do you think you lost interest in your studies?
I was the good kid in the projects. You know what I’m saying? I had hopes before, and I didn’t know the process of it. All I knew is how people were saying, “You need money to go to college, and scholarships and things like that.” I ain’t have scholarships and money like that that. After graduating from high school, I was accepted in Saginaw Valley State [University]. I was just like, “Wow, man. I’m going to college.” And I was excited in the beginning. I went for nursing.

When I got there, it was nice. I had met new friends and things like that. Slowly but surely, I just kind of brought it back to what I really wanted to do, which is music. I know I have to wake up for class, but I don’t want to wake up. I was missing my family, and I just started going home every weekend. It is so close to home. It was only about an hour away, so I had started going home every weekend and was like, “Man.” Maybe I should have went out of state or something. Maybe I would have felt it more. But at that time, I was still feeling my music more—like ‘man, I gotta get to this music.’ And so that’s when I went home and made the Just Do It mixtape and went from there.

“I was mute all through high school, you know what I’m saying?”

Exactly how famous do you want to be?
Music is just a foot in the door for me. I want to get into acting, all types of stuff. I want to be legendary, you know? Anything it takes to become a legend and in the game, period, I want to do those things, you know? I’m building a whole brand and everything for my family.

What other sorts of things?
I have this little craving right now for acting. I’ve never acted in my entire life, but I just feel like that is something that I want to try for myself, until I’m great at it.

Favorite actors?
Samuel L. Jackson. I like… what’s her name? Susan Sarandon. Pretty Woman?

That’s a great movie.
You don’t know her name?

Julia Roberts?
Yeah, Julia Roberts. Just to name a few, I mean.

Why acting?
It’s just a challenge. That’s all it is to me. I grew up, like I said, pretty shy. I didn’t want to perform in front of people. I just like a challenge. I got comfortable with my music, and I want to do that with acting, too—see what I can do with that.

Dej Loaf

Just how shy were you?
Really shy. You know, being shy is just not being confident in who you are as a person and afraid of what other people would think. I’d just stay to myself. I wasn’t an outgoing kid. I didn’t say much. I was mute all through high school, you know what I’m saying? When you’re shy, you just sit there. So now I encourage kids: “Smile. It’s okay. Talk. Say what’s on your mind.” I’m all for that, because when I was growing up I held myself back from a lot.

What kids are you talking about? Kids in your neighborhood?
Any kid I run across and I see cover their face and just being shy, I’m like, “Yo, smile. Get your hands out of your face, and stop covering your mouth.” Things like that—any of the shy characteristics that I saw in myself when I w as younger. I try to tell them, “Nah, don’t do that.”

The other day you started an Instagram segment, called #YouKnowWhatINoticed,and you talked about how others were trying to give you advice. What sort of advice were people giving you?
People try to go tell you stuff, and they’re not in your shoes. They don’t see all the footwork that goes into it. Mentally and physically, it’s just a drain. They don’t know what you’ve been through, so people always try to tell you “You know what I would do? I would do that.” You don’t even know the half.

What was the last piece of “advice” you received?
Something about my music—how I should go about it. “If I was you, I would be doing this, all day.” It’s like, no, you wouldn’t. No you wouldn’t, because you don’t have time to do that. That’s what I’ve learned in the process of everything going on. The way things are now, I can’t play with any minute of the day, because I don’t have time. I’m working all day, so any time I get is very valuable. That’s what I mean. I tell people “You don’t know. You don’t have time for family. You don’t have time to do you. There’s no time and peace for you—it’s all work.” That’s why I don’t like when people try to tell me what they would do.

Is there anyone you would turn to for advice?
Everyone thinks different, you know what I’m saying? I get kind of agitated when people give me opinions and things like that.

I’m guessing, then, that when you made Sell Sole, you weren’t listening to anyone else’s music, just what you had going on.
Yeah, I just focus on the real things that’s happening with myself. I listen to myself. I haven’t listened to anyone else’s music in a very long time.

How hopeful do you feel for the future?
Pretty good. I mean, it’s going to be great. My camp’s been working. We’re putting out pretty strong music. Everything I do is going to be good.

Is there anything else you’d like to point out?
No. Just overall, as an artist, everyone knows how I’ve been working all the time and performing every night. My whole IBGM camp is going strong. And we’re out of Detroit, so it’s hard to make it out of that place, to where we can truly take off. So look out for us.

DeJ Loaf signed to Columbia Records soon after releasing her ‘Sell Sole’ mixtape last year. Download it in full here and check out more video clips below…