DijahSB Is One Verse Away From Victory
The rapper talks about her long start as an artist, dealing with Toronto's small music industry, and journey to BET's 'Freestyle Friday.'
DijahSB—born Khadijah Payne, 24—is a talented lyricist from Toronto’s hip-hop scene. Her journey to stardom is a familiar tale, the one about an underdog who’s one shot away from victory. In her case, victory being massive success. “It’s crazy. Can’t describe the feeling. Everybody just comin’ out, hailing you up, talking to you, telling you your stuff is dope,” Dijah mused in the teaser for her latest music video, ‘Don’t Push Me.’ “That’s the feeling that makes everything all worth it. Honestly, just keeping pushing. Don’t stop. That’s the only thing. Don’t stop. Just keep pushing.”
The local rapper has been making quiet noise for almost seven years. Initially part of the rap duo Class of 93 with the producer Astro Mega, she went by the name Kzaraw, releasing tracks with other underground emcees like A Harmony,pHoenix Pagliacci, Nyiam, and Trace Motivate before going solo and switching things up. But when you’ve been making the rounds for this long, and witnessed other artists from your city (many of whom have been around for a shorter period of time) reach superstar status, it’s not a surprise Twitter bio says “Everything and Everyone Sucks.” Though it’d be easy to label her one of Toronto’s best and brightest 'skrewface' locals (her track “You Are Not My Mans” does little to shake this), in reality she’s a humble, passionate artist who wants Toronto’s hip-hop community win, especially women. Which, to be frank. is long overdue.
Toronto’s rap scene has been making international waves, but we’ve still got a long way to go, at least from DijahSB’s point-of-view. The rapper talks about the lack of clout in the game, making it as a black artist, and the city being the beacon of good music.
You made it to the #FreestylefridayBET finals based off your video submission. What was going through your head during your session?
BET came to Toronto and it was filmed it at the YouTube space downtown. All I thought about while I was in the booth was making sure I got my bars off. I spent a long time preparing for this. I thought I didn’t do so well at first, because I had to slow down my flow to adjust to the beat I chose. Had it been any other beat I would be way more confident about my performance.
Did you practice your bars before taping?
Yeah. I practiced those bars beforehand. It’s impressive that a lot of people freestyled [off-the-top] but all that leads to is a lot of filler lines—unless you’re Lupe Fiasco or Eminem. If you’re in a competition where bars matter, preparing beforehand is important. I had fun; the winner gets a trip to LA so I’m hoping that’s me.
Do you see yourself breaking out a proper freestyle if you win this competition?
If I get to LA I’ll still have writtens; but it does make me want to be better at freestyling off-the-top. But I do feel like my strength is being prepared beforehand, so I’d much rather do that instead of flopping in front of thousands of people There is a lot more dialogue happening online about severe depression within the black community. If you’re chosen to be on BET’s bigger platform, would you use it to talk about your battles with it? I believe it’s still a competition for who has the best bars; and where the winner gets to perform an original song. If I win I’ll get to perform any song of mine, and all of them pretty much speak about my battle with depression.
How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been rapping professionally since 2011. That was under a different name, though. I have a lot of stuff under the name, [Kzaraw in a rap group] called Class of 93. It was me and my producer, Jermaine “Astro Mega” Clarke. So, I’ve been doing this for a very long time. But as DijahSB I kind of rebranded myself. That’s where my first SoundCloud song [under my new name] was released.
[laughs] I wanted to make a theme for Toronto. When it comes to that song, I didn’t really have anybody in mind. It was more wanting to make something that was catchy, and that people could relate to. I understand that “mans” is a very neutral term, based on where it comes from. Different cities will use it in different ways, but in Toronto, telling someone “you’re not my mans,” is just the most disrespectful thing. I like to match catchy hooks and the content within the verses, so I wanted to have content people could listen to, not just minimal A-B-C raps, right. That was my goal for the song. I had the beat sitting in my email for so long. The hook and beat just kind of came to me.
There’s an aggressiveness to the track. Do you think the ‘do it like a dude’ or oversexualized tropes still apply to women who can rap?
It’s a slippery slope because the oversexualized thing, it’s been done. It’s still being done. To each their own. If that’s what’s gonna get you where you’re going, then it is what it is, right? But in terms of when it comes to women rappers who are not as sexualized, I guess it’s kinda hard. I assume good music is just good music regardless of gender but obviously, that’s not the case. There is that agenda where, unless you’re sexualized it’s kinda hard to breakthrough, but there is a lane for just being dope. I feel like, if you’re really dope at rhyming and you can adhere to what’s new and making people listen, then that barrier of being feminine or masculine should just disappear. I know that’s kind of a fairy-tale that will never actually happen, but I feel like it’s coming back around. I think there’s gonna be an era again where bars and actual lyrics are really appreciated. So, hopefully, in that swing back, female rappers will be more appreciated.
Are you hoping Canadian artists are the ones to bring it back to that?
Yeah! That would be a dream of mine. I feel like everybody from every city will say they have a lot of underrated artists, but in Toronto, we’re so small, but we’re out there. We make really good music. I’m hoping Toronto’s rap community turns it around to where it comes back to bars, lyrics and actual good music being the staple of what’s poppin.’ That’s one thing I’m trying to bring back into rotation when it comes to my music.
Can you talk about a track that’s very personal to you?
On my EP Manic Luxury, I have a track called “Inhale, Exhale.” It was my first track where I went with an experimental sound. It was produced by a guy named produced by Martin Sole, [and had vocals by Tamera Russell and Phoenix Pagliacci]. Martin likes to send me a lot of trap and boom-bap stuff, so when he sent me that it was kind of like a new fresh perspective. On there, I’m kind of thinking of going through anxiety and feeling worthless, when you get to that point of destruction you just gotta kind of breath right. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t take my own advice. When I feel like I’m going into that space, I gotta take my own advice and listen to that track.
Is there a sense of support for black artists in Toronto’s hip-hop scene right now?
I feel like it’s lacking. Obviously, there could be more of it, but I feel like people are trying though. It’s not like it’s just not there and not coming together. I have had a lot of opportunities from the city to perform and to get paid to perform. A lot of people reaching out to me wanting to collaborate but yes, we are still missing that infrastructure that will boost our artists in the music scene. I feel like Toronto is a hip-hop city. I feel like with everything coming into rotation we got off track with pure hip-hop. I remember the saying “hip-hop ain’t dead it lives in the north.” That resonates with me to this day. We need to put more money into the urban scene ‘cuz that’s where the money is. They understand that. They know that’s where the money is too. I’m not too sure why we haven’t grown, but they’re trying. I can see that.
There have been a lot of collectives coming out of Toronto since OVO. Why do you think there hasn’t been a woman emulating what these all-male crews are doing?
When you think about the roots of Toronto hip-hop, it goes back to a female rapper, like Michee Mee. So, it’s kinda weird that Toronto is not grasping at the female hip-hop talent that’s in our city. There’s money there. But, I feel like people in the city don’t’ want to pay attention until something really big happens. It’s very easy to do research to find out who’s doing what in the city. But in terms of my whole persona or perspective, going into the music scene as a rapper in Toronto, I would love that because I know that once the city does get behind you, the support is crazy, know what I mean. I feel like the city is great, in terms of my career and having Toronto on my back, that would be essential for me. I would love that. We’ve already had artists but not a lot of them have been seen though. It would be a great female perspective for Toronto.
What’s next for DijahSB?
I have a music video for ‘Don’t Push Me’ that’s out. And I just linked up with a producer from LA, we’re gonna work on a five-track EP. I feel like, when to comes to expanding, yo, listen, we got a lot of great beatmakers from Toronto, but in terms of expanding and getting my name out there, I feel like I need to expand to different cities that I work in. Maybe New York, a studio in LA, this-and-that then it will expand my name. That’s what I’m about right now.
Safra Ducreay is a writer based in LA. Follow her on Twitter.