It’s DijahSB’s world — we’re just living in it. The Toronto-based artist, through their music and larger than life infectious personality, has contoured a sound that is both energetic and sobering, grounded by lyrics that are transparent and vulnerable.
Dijah has spoken candidly about mental wellness and has used punchy, witty, and humorous bars through their music to celebrate perseverance, drive, self and community — and their sound wouldn’t be where it is now without it. Collaboration also is integral to Dijah’s artistry: their debut album, 2020 the Album, was sonically crafted by someone they have still yet to meet in person.
“The producer that I scouted out, Cheap Limousine, is from Milan, and I don’t even know what he looks like,” Dijah said. “He’s helped define my entire career because he’s just so good.”
This collaborative spirit has led to other beneficial matchups — from working with Mick Jenkins on Dijah’s Tasty Raps, Vol. 1 EP standout “Here to Dance,” to working with Brazilian rapper Nill on a remix to Dijah’s “New Balance.”
“Brazil loves music,” Dijah said. “They just love great music and they’ll support it, they’ll stream it all the time. I’m blessed that Nill invited me into his own world because he is very established out there and he invited me as a guest.”
These days, Dijah has been inspired by some talent from familiar territory. The artist has always liked Kaytranada, but after listening and diving into his 2019 project Bubba, it unlocked a new type of creative license, which they applied to their latest full-length project, this year’s Head Above the Waters.
“I finally listened to Bubba and it inspired the hell out of me,” they said. “I’ve always been on that kind of wave [sonically]…Bubba created an entire new universe for me to try out and inspired me. Not only did it help me create my album, but it helped me curate a sound that is definitely what is working the most for me.”
For this month’s edition of First Look Friday, we talked to DijahSB about being an artist that fans can feel the most human around, the seeming impossibility of achieving stability, and how their music is used to unite their fans around the world.
I remember when you tweeted that you decided to quit your job to finally pursue music full time. What was the final push for you and navigating weighing the risks? Why this moment opposed to any prior?
The first lockdown was — if you’re a privileged person — kind of cool. Jobs and companies were pretty lax. The company that I was working for was still paying me and I was at home. It allowed me to reflect a lot about what it is I want in life. I was able to [work on music] and still had the means to pay my bills. But then [places began to] open up again. It was just hell. It was so bad, and to be [working] in the retail space genuinely was one of the worst experiences because it’s retail. My mental health was deteriorating and I was just like, “I can’t do this anymore.” I had no idea how I was going to [sustain myself] but I quit. I gave them a week’s notice but then I was like, “I can’t come in anymore. I’m at my capacity. I can’t be here anymore.” I would say it was intuition. Just knowing that my body, mind, and spirit had enough. It was hot, I was pushing it to its limits. When your mind and your soul says enough, then it’s just enough. I feel like that was what my mind and my body was telling me. I had no idea how I was going to become an artist that sustains themselves off of their music, but it worked.
Would you say then that music saved you?
100%. Music definitely saved me because I don’t know what I’d be doing if it wasn’t for this. It’s such a passion of mine — I’m very privileged to have something that actually keeps me going every day. I want to see how it ends up, how far I can go. Not a lot of people have something to drive them every morning, so other than it being therapeutic for me, it’s definitely been a way to express myself.
Kid Cudi is someone that you’ve mentioned who has done similarly for you. In what ways can you speak to that?
He used hip-hop as a way to be vulnerable and let people know how he was feeling, and people related to it. At the capacity that Kid Cudi was doing it, I don’t think there were any artists [doing the same]. So he’s really a big inspiration for me. I want to be exactly what he is to hip-hop and to his fans. Everybody always says, “Kid Cudi saved me” or “Kid Cudi’s music saved me.” It sounds cliché but, legit, how can somebody come in and just lay themselves out like that? It’s so brave to be that vulnerable. People say that vulnerability is not a positive trait. It’s one of the most difficult things to be vulnerable. To just be out there, especially in front of millions and millions of people, telling them your life, telling them about emotions that a lot of people keep to themselves because they’re embarrassed or we’ve been conditioned to. Especially as a Black boy [or man], it’s like you’ve been conditioned to keep those emotions to yourself. S,o when you see a guy like Kid Cudi come in and talk about those emotions and display them in a form of art, not only is it not easy doing that, but it sounds fucking incredible. He’s a talented guy. Obviously, he’s suffered because of it and I’m sure there’s pros and cons. But it’s definitely the route that I want to take because I understand how much it just saves people and how much it’s saved himself. I feel like I’m definitely on the same kind of journey.
What have been some of your favorite interactions with your fans when it comes to you seeing how far your music can reach, and the capabilities of how it’s touched people?
One lady from Russia messaged me on Instagram and asked me for the lyrics to one of my songs because that was the way she learned English. She loved one of my songs and none of the lyrics were there, so she messaged me on Instagram and asked me for the lyrics.
You’ve been performing during this very chaotic time, but the past two years have given artists an opportunity to meditate on how their art or creative practices materialize, change, and transform. What exciting elements have you gotten to re-experience — or even experience — for the first time since you’ve been performing again?
I would say one thing that I did truly miss was the interactions after a show. People are funny. They’ll be in the crowd, they’ll be watching you, they’ll be standing completely still, but then you go home and they Instagram you like, “Oh my god, I had the greatest time, that was so good.” I had never toured, per se, before COVID; I’d only done little shows in Toronto. So when I went on my first leg and I saw the reception after, I understood how things pop off for artists when they’re on the road and how a fan base is genuinely built. When you’re out there, you’re really in front of people, and there’s a difference that it makes versus just releasing music and being online.
What would you say has been your proudest achievement to date?
Being able to get my own apartment, get my own car, and being able to afford those things and not be something where I’m worried every moment if it’s going to go away. Just having stability in my life. Finally building the foundation and being able to schedule my day as I see it, and build my day around what I want to do versus what I know that I’m forced to do — that was always just a dream of mine. Now that I have that, it’s just like, what brilliant, beautiful thing can happen to me now? Because I’ve gotten the one thing that I’ve dreamt of having and felt impossible at some points. So many artists don’t make it this far and it’s kind of surreal to me. You dream of things happening and then they happen. You kind of think, “Holy s**t!” Now I get to dream bigger and take a lot more risks.
What are you looking forward to now?
I’m most looking forward to having the people or the artists that I listen to actually be my peers, and be people that I actually talk to everyday. I’m also looking forward to having a lot more people to engage with — in terms of my fans — and having a lot more people come to me and talk to me about how much my music has helped them. I just look forward to being on a bigger scale in terms of my artistry, and having bigger budgets and executing bigger visions. I built the foundation of smaller things that I thought were impossible to accomplish, and now I’m ready for something bigger.
Sharine Taylor is a Toronto-based music and culture writer and believes plantain is God’s gift to earth.
You can follow her on Twitter here.
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