Gender and Music: DeJ Loaf’s prowess in the male-dominated hip-hop world

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - 6:56pm

Dej Loaf

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Deja Trimble grew up on Detroit’s East Side. Her father fed her a rap diet from a young age, bumping 2Pac and E-40, and as time crept forward, Trumble couldn’t shake her love of the genre. It only grew stronger.

Jumping into the game early, Trimble started rapping around third grade. In her teens, she was the only female member of a local hip-hop ensemble. Influenced by the trials of a challenging childhood and the cultural landscape of Detroit, Trimble parted ways with the group after high school and found herself in the perfect position to step into her current persona as rapper DeJ Loaf.

Loaf, who began releasing music in 2012, has only recently reached the acclaim it seemed she was always destined to achieve. Like many music greats before her, Loaf briefly experimented with college before deciding to focus on her music full time. With remixes featuring Wiz Khalifa, a quote in one of Drake’s Instagram captions and collaborations with fellow Detroiter Big Sean, Loaf’s decision to make music a priority is paying off big time.

Loaf’s notables include “Back Up” and “Try Me,” both of which have been sampled and/or lauded by the genre’s bigwigs. Her lyricism mirrors that of her male counterparts and female mavericks like Nicki Minaj. If one looked only at the lyrics of a track like “Back Up,” the gender of the rapper would be ambiguous, or, following in line with convention of the genre, assumed to be male. On the aforementioned track Loaf slangs, “Don't be blowing up my phone and don't be leaving voice messages / Said I can do you right, I'll do you better than your exes.” She peacocks as a swaggering playboy, but does so without dissing herself or her gender. Her manifestos on sex and relationships aren’t trying to play into gendered expectations, but rather reflect her reality.

Much of this reality has to do with the challenges she faced growing up on the East Side. Documenting the trials of her early life, Loaf further plays with both genre and gender expectations. On another of her notable tracks, “Try Me,” Loaf laments, “I been out my mind since they killed my cousin / Free my cousin Devin, man he just called me.” It’s in lyrics like this that Loaf’s early exposure to greats like 2Pac is especially evident. Her music has the mass appeal of a flashy, cocky persona while still bringing in important social commentary.

Despite her dedication to authenticity, Loaf acknowledges the problematic, homogenous majority of rap listeners. The dominantly male group is an issue for rappers like Loaf in that many listeners don’t give female rappers a chance, assuming that they only address feminine issues or that they can’t spit as hard or fast as the men. In an interview with Billboard, Loaf explained that she takes on this sexism by making music that everyone can relate to — gender won’t stop her. Loaf states, “I make music for guys, girls, babies, grandmas, aunties [and] uncles … [guys are] not gonna ride around in the car listening to certain females. So I try to make music that the guys can ride along too, the girls, you know. Just kind of keep a balance.”

For Loaf, it comes down to making good music. She’s been supported by an upwelling of female fans as well as prominent male rappers like Drake and Big Sean, boasting that those who doubt her are soon to be proven wrong. What makes Loaf such a force to be reckoned with is her ability to dance around gender, especially in a genre that is so traditionally characterized by a very specific type of masculinity. She doesn’t try to tell her story from the perspective of a sister or lover or woman but as a person. This kind of distinction is often overlooked. But, in the case of DeJ Loaf and the rappers to follow, it makes all the difference.