This June, Nicki Minaj took the stage at the 2015 BET Awards to accept her trophy for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist. She invited her mother up to accept the award with her—an unexpected gesture from the larger-than-life star. “To BET, thank you for always supporting women in hip-hop,” she said, and then broke her pageant poise with a furrowed brow and a few slow-rolling, carefully chosen words. “Shout out to all the girls nominated. And a special shout out to Dej Loaf.” Applause swelled from the audience. “You’ve been very, very interesting to me. And super forward.” A camera quickly found Dej in her seat, beaming, her own mother at her side.
Minaj’s plug was noteworthy. In the five years since she débuted, with the album “Pink Friday,” we’ve seen a handful of female hopefuls score modest hits or Internet accolades, but Minaj hadn’t offered such praise to a young peer before. What was different about Dej? At twenty-four years old, Dej, who is from Detroit, had produced one of the most surreal and unanticipated rap hits of the year with “Try Me,” which was self-released to the Web and soon championed by the likes of Drake and Wiz Khalifa.