As we celebrate the 2016 ESSENCE Festival, taking place today through Sunday in New Orleans, artists from our power-packed lineup will sum up their lives—from childhood to stardom—in 10 songs. Next up it’s Dej Loaf, the rapper who released the mixtape All Jokes Aside this year.
1. E-40, “Sprinkle Me”
First song I learned how to rap. My dad used to play a lot of songs. I remember this one vividly.
2. 2Pac, “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch”
Another song I learned as a child, although I probably shouldn’t have been listening to the song. The lyrics were meaningful to me.
3. Erykah Badu, “Next Lifetime”
My grandma used to press out my hair every other morning and burn me. Me and my two brothers had to move with her after my dad had been killed. I remember thinking about this song in hopes that I would see him in the next lifetime.
4. 2Pac, “Dear Mama”
I was 5 or 6 years old, and all I wanted was my mom. She had gone through a lot, dealing with my dad’s death. We were too young to understand, we just went with the flow.
5. Mary J Blige, “No More Drama”
My mom used to play lots of Mary J Blige and do lots of “kitchen hair.” We moved back in with my mom after a year of staying with my grandma. My brothers and I were extremely happy. No more pain! All back together again!
6. India.Arie, “Video”
Living in the projects, I met my best friend. We lived next door to one another. I remember the community had a talent show, and we decided to do a routine to this India.Arie song, while the other girls our age did their routines to more upbeat, explicit records. Back then we would probably be considered the “good girls.”
7. Lil’ Kim “No Matter What They Say”
Around this time my brother had put me onto Lil’ Kim. We were four years apart, so he was always ahead of the game when it came to all of the cool stuff. I grew up a tomboy, and I would get teased for it. I had always been into music and writing. Listening to artists like Lil’ Kim inspired me to rap.By this time I was ready.
8. Aaliyah, “Rock the Boat”
Every girl wanted to be her, and all of the guys wanted to date her. I remember this song vividly. It was around the time she had died. I remember hearing the news about her death and was devastated. This was one of her last big records. She left everyone with the video and had the world “hip-rolling” and “belly-dancing.” In Detroit hip-rolling was a big deal, and of course I never knew how to do it.
9. Jay Z, “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”
Still living in the rough projects, trying to figure out life and live out my dreams, always knowing someday I’d make it out.
10. Kanye West, “Through The Wire”
Everything about this song was insanely crazy. Just when you think it’s all over, It’s not. He made it through, tragedy turned into triumph.