Album Review: DeJ Loaf – Sell Sole II

[Yellow World/BMG; 2020]

“Anybody sleepin’ on me can stay in the bed,” DeJ Loaf snipes on “Obvious”, which comes near the midpoint of her new album, Sell Sole II. It may sound a tad defensive to the uninitiated, but her perspective is more than understandable. It remains a bit of a mystery, at least to this writer, just as to why it’s taken so long. But here we are, near the end of 2020, finally having received the Detroit multi-talent’s debut album.

When “Try Me” arrived in 2014, it seemed anything was possible for the rapper and singer. With her whiplash flow and an uncanny knack for confrontational earworm hooks, she provided a smash hit not just for herself, but for several artists she associated with. Her notoriety grew when T.I. and Jeezy hopped on the remix to her hit, and she even provided the hook for Eminem and co’s regional firestarter, “Detroit vs. Everybody”. 

Surely, the album was right around the corner? Nearly a year passed—nothing. Then she linked up, romantically and sonically, with Lil Durk, leading to “My Beyoncé” in 2015 (it also appeared on his album Lil Durk 2X in 2016), and it seemed she had received her second shot at genuine stardom. Again, nothing. The relationship wound down, and so did her career—at least it seemed that way.

To be fair, she never truly went away, peppering listeners with EPs over the years, as well as linking up with Jacquees for a full-length tape. But we were left to wonder: why hadn’t she dropped already?

All that wondering was finally put to rest when she dropped her debut, a sequel to her breakthrough 2014 mixtape, almost casually, out of nowhere. So, indeed, forgive her dismissal of her detractors. She’s put in enough work, been far patient enough, to have more than earned this moment.

For those fearing the fate that often befalls those who wait too long (“that’s how Ma$e screwed up!”), Sell Sole II is no minor affair, and DeJ certainly did not take all this time to go out with a muted whimper. If anything, it’s shockingly silky, boasting beats so fine-tuned they glide right along with Loaf’s combination of blunt raps and smooth singing. Major guests come through, from new school favorites Lil Uzi Vert, Gunna, and 6lack, to fellow Detroit natives Big Sean and Sada Baby. Even Griselda’s Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, and Boldy James (another fellow Detroiter) lend their talents here Loaf’s debut. Indeed, near every single guest does the project justice, save the eternally cringe-inducing Big Sean (he genuinely utters “I’ve done everything in the D except fuck DeJ Loaf” on her own damn song. Sigh.).

What’s most impressive about the effort is the way Loaf manages to fold her varying guests into her sound, never compromising a cohesive album for the sake of an outlying moment. Even Griselda is thrown outside of their comfort zone, with “Get Money” proving worlds away from their typical boom-bap sound. It’s both exciting and refreshing to hear them over a sleek beat, especially Boldy, who adopts an even deeper, more sinister vocal register for his foreboding verse. It certainly says something that DeJ managed to wrangle both the best rapper of the year (friendly reminder that Boldy James dropped three great projects in 2020) and, arguably, the worst for the same album, and even manages to wake the latter from his seemingly eternal coma.

If there’s anything that sets Loaf apart from her peers, it’s her truly seamless sing-song delivery. It’s the rare hip hop album that can claim to be both “turn up music” and, shall we say, genuinely relaxing. Even as she dishes out threats every other moment, Sell Sole II remains music to ease on back to; in a way it’s most comparable to 21 Savage’s lounge-rap at its best, despite being rather different at its core. Much like DeJ, this is an album that occupies its own space, music to get lost in your head to. It may rarely run and may struggle to fully break through for that very reason, but it does more than enough at its own, proud, steady pace.