For those just getting familiar with DijahSB, the Toronto rapper’s recent success appears to have been overnight. But to DijahSB and their day one fans, this moment is long overdue.
The 27-year-old has been making music for the past nine years – refining their sound and perfecting their skill of crafting honest and quick-witted rhymes. Complex recently named them one of the top 25 Canadian artists to watch in 2021 and NPR listed their single “Throw That Back” in the best new songs you missed in 2021. In the same week Dijah speaks with Urbanology, they are featured on the cover of both Amazon Music’s Elite Rap playlist and Apple Music’s Northern Touch playlist.
Just a week earlier, their recent collaboration with Brazilian DJ NiLL was released titled “Control”. The track features Dijah rapping a catchy hook and verse over a high-tempo, bass-heavy house beat.
The reception for the video, which features Dijah and NiLL portrayed as animated characters, has been substantial and is on its way to being a hit. At the time of writing this, the video has gained nearly 90,000 views on YouTube, and the song over 95,000 streams, after just two weeks. This is the kind of buzz you would hope to have as an indie artist when releasing an album. And DijahSB is doing just that in a little less than two months.
Their upcoming project, Head Above the Waters,is set to be released on April 23. Dijah says it picks up where previous projects 2020 The Album and Girls Give Me Anxiety left off. Fans can expect the same witty, self-aware and transparent raps, but more refined.
“I also wanted to have a bit of a more structured theme when it comes to the album making,” Dijah says. “So I chose … Head Above the Waters [for] when things kind of get rough or you feel like you’re drowning, and you’re being weighed down by the tides or whatever it is that’s got you kind of not allowing you to float.”
Dijah’s love affair with words initially began with an interest in poetry, which then led to them, under the stage name Kzaraw, joining forces with producer Astro Mega to form the rap duo Class of ’93.
“I’ve always had a knack for rhyming,” they say.
Eventually, they went solo and switched up their name to DijahSB, inspired by the popular Nike SB sneakers that they would often wear in high school. Dijah has since gone on to release seven projects including Looking at Space From a Submarine and Dead is The Pessimist in Me, which features the unofficial Toronto wasteman diss track “You Are Not My Mans”.
In 2018, they got to perform on stage with Jay Electronica and were also selected as one of 27 emcees to represent Toronto on BET’s #FreestyleFridayBET YouTube series.
Fast forward to 2019, Dijah signed a distribution deal with AWAL and put out both 2020 The Album and Girls Give Me Anxiety to critical acclaim.
The Eglinton West native is in their pocket and they know it.
“Whereas before I would just kind of go in and just rap what I had,” they say. “Now, I’m just a lot more technical [and] a lot more intentional about the things that I do.”
For Dijah, this included taking a closer look at how they could play around with their sound and tone and tap into their strengths.
“A lot of people have told me I have a good ear for beats,” Dijah says. “So when I understood that about myself, the selection of getting beats kind of was taken into account for me.”
“Having (music) be sustainable for me has always been a dream of mine and I kept to it and now it’s possible.”
More recent projects like 2020 The Album and Girls Give Me Anxiety show Dijah displaying these sharpened skills as they expertly combine catchy, dance-worthy beats with clever, relatable lyrics and even catchier melodies.
This skill is best shown on songs like the “Girls Give Me Anxiety” title track where they drop relatable verses over a glitchy house-tinged hip-hop beat.
Love songs aren’t really Dijah’s thing, but they say they decided to switch things up a little.
“I don’t like to rap about dating or love or anything like that, but I figured that I would give a small glimpse and that small glimpse is telling people that girls give me anxiety.”
While the rapper, who is non-binary, may not be much of a love song type, they do aim to be open with their fans. In both their music and on social media, Dijah has openly discussed struggles with depression and anxiety.
“It kind of eases the feeling of you going through it alone,” they say. “And a lot of artists have done that for me, so I want to be able to return the favour.”
It’s also something they say is important to do so they can both help others and their self.
“Once you normalize those things, it feels like it becomes less of a burden to hide or to want to get help,” Dijah says, adding that their music has also been a form of therapy for them.
One of Dijah’s favourite artists, Kid Cudi, is also known to touch on his bouts with depression. To Dijah’s surprise, Cudi came across a Twitter video of them performing on CBC and retweeted the video with the caption “This is tasty (chef’s kiss).”
“The person who is a huge influence to me and who literally was probably one of the reasons why I make music said that my stuff is good,” Dijah recalls. “That level of confidence that that gives you makes you feel kind of untouchable at that point.”
Another proud moment for Dijah was when they were finally able to quit their retail job and focus on music full-time.
“Having (music) be sustainable for me has always been a dream of mine and I kept to it and now it’s possible,” they say.
I just want to be an artist that … inspired other artists or other people to be themselves and to express themselves and to find some sort of peace of mind while on this incredibly insane earth.
Like many indie artists, Dijah has had to endure financial hardships in the pursuit of a music career, and they say it has been one of the biggest hurdles they’ve had to overcome.
“A lot of artists just want the ability to be able to create and not worry about where they’re going to get the money to make said creation,” Dijah says, adding that tasks such as mixing and mastering and even making videos can often cost artists thousands of dollars.
“Sometimes you never see that back.”
Fortunately for Dijah, their hard work is paying off and it’s looking like they’ll be seeing a return on their investment sooner than later.
“The great thing about (AWAL) is they are very keen on ownership,” Dijah says. “And they make sure that you’re keeping all your masters and your publishing.”
In the future, Dijah says they would also love to collaborate with some of their favourite artists like KAYTRANADA, Kehlani, Masego, Rico Nasty and SangoBeats.
Deeper than that though, Dijah hopes to make an impact by encouraging others to be themselves and to embrace what sets them apart.
“I just want to be an artist that … inspired other artists or other people to be themselves and to express themselves and to find some sort of peace of mind while on this incredibly insane earth.”
Supplied photos by: Roya Desol
This article was presented by CBC’s The Block. Hosted by Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe, The Block is about culture and community – repping the elements of hip-hop from its roots to its far-reaching influence. Listen now.