The Tao of DijahSB

Sumiko Wilson
·7 min read

Image via Vonny Lorde

They’re by no means an online instigator, but sparring on Twitter is second nature to DijahSB. Even with a limited character count, the Toronto rapper is never without an arsenal of sharp retorts, navigating through beefs with impressive buoyancy. Considering their profession, quick wit is a particularly useful skill. But their mastery comes in their ability to deliver wit with a balanced dose of honesty and humour. The reasons why the AWAL signee is so much fun to follow online are the same reasons why their music is so compelling; they synthesize unpleasant realities into something that will elicit a smile (or at least a smirk).

It’s the method that Larry David uses to illustrate the frustrating minutiae of everyday life on Curb Your Enthusiasm and it’s the same strategy that DijahSB deploys on their sophomore album, Head Above the Waters.

On last year’s debut, 2020 the Album, they bounced between bars detailing their struggles with money and mental health. The eight-track follow-up takes the same autobiographical stance, but from a different vantage point. This record, which clocks in under 25 minutes, has a new sense of levity to it. Three tracks into the album, on the titular song, Dijah exclaims “I’m finally free,” and attributes this feeling to a new relationship: “I live a better life just knowing she’s mine.”

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Their relationship status isn’t the only thing that’s changed since they released their debut, though. Since dropping their first full-length, they quit their retail job, received a co-sign from Kid Cudi, and signed a distribution deal with AWAL, a tiered distro service with Little Simz and Finneas on their roster.

Their ascent still feels very anchored, though. And not in the sense that their trajectory is limited—because that’s far from the truth—but that their humility is still intact. While this may just be a symptom of rising stardom in the pandemic era, the titular track reveals that their commitment to authenticity serves a deeper purpose: “People gravitate towards me now because I know depression/I be talking ‘bout the harder parts that no one mentions.”

Thematically, Head Above the Waters opts for an on-the-nose message, which Dijah presents on the album’s first track, “Moving with the Tides”: “Universe sent me a boat last minute/But I don’t have paddles so I won’t last in it/Guessing that it’s back to the waters I go/Still I got a lifeguard following close.” On the jazzy, acoustic opener, Dijah balances optimism and disappointment—an apt illustration of life as an emerging artist.

They use water as a metaphor for their burgeoning career: equal parts uncertainty and ease, not immune to choppiness. But both sonically and professionally, it’s clear Dijah is neither fighting the waves, nor succumbing to them. They’re at peace with their next step—but always with a funny clap back at the ready.

Just before dropping Head Above the Waters, DijahSB chatted with Complex Canada about their new deal, the value in signing, and the concept behind the project.

dijah-db
Image via Marius Jadion

I appreciate that you aren’t diluting your Twitter presence, now that your career is gaining momentum.
People have told me that now that I’m verified, I should watch what I say. But I’m gonna talk shit; I’m gonna stay the same. It’s not like I’m saying anything that’s terrible. There are certain people or things that I should stop replying to in order to protect my energy, but in terms of the silly shit I tweet? Hell no. Y’all are gonna get this dumb shit.

Since we spoke last summer, a lot has changed: you got your own place, you got a distribution deal, and you dropped another EP. What has that been like for you?
It’s all just driving me into another reality. Six months can change your entire view of the world. It’s a nuanced thing to process. I don’t feel like I’ve had to force anything. I just do my best every day and I feel like the universe recognizes that. I follow my intuition and I think that it has brought me exactly what I need out of life. I just try to remain grateful and humble.

Last summer I was distributing with AWAL but they weren’t really helping me financially. But around November, when I dropped Girls Give Me Anxiety, they were like, ‘OK, this motherfucker is about to do something.’ Now, this album is coming out and I have two more projects that I have with them.

“It feels like you’re drowning, but the best thing that you can do is to bring your head up for air.”

So you signed a three album deal?
No, I signed on to distribute 12 tracks with them. So after this album I owe them 12 tracks. It’s very artist friendly over at AWAL.

Did they reach out to you out of the blue?
Basically, AWAL is like any other distributor, like DistroKid and TuneCore. The only difference is that you have to apply. If they dig your music and your brand, they’ll let you distribute with them. Then you submit your music and they help with playlisting and marketing a bit. Once they see that you’re actually benefiting from those services, they’ll throw a little more gasoline on the fire and they’ll be a bit more hands-on in terms of financing. So I applied and they saw the potential so they started investing a little more and it’s gotten me pretty far.

What made you realize that being signed was a bigger draw than staying independent?
When you’re independent you have to fully fund yourself and this stuff is expensive. You also don’t have the resources and the connections that a lot of these labels and distribution companies have. Everyone uses these buzzwords to feel holier than thou. There’s no point in owning something if you can’t make the most of it.

For example, a lot of people say that you have to own your masters and publishing. That’s great if you do, but it’s even better if you own them and at a certain point you leverage them to get more money. I was working retail and I wasn’t making enough to even afford groceries because I had all of these bills to pay. So if a label wants to come and invest money that will cover all of my music expenses, hell yeah! There are good deals out there, it just takes a lot of time and patience. It’s just all about leveraging what you’ve got.

How did the concept for Head Above the Waters come to be?
Head Above the Waters is basically the soundtrack of trying to keep yourself afloat while things are absolute shit. That’s been the theme for 2020 and 2021 as we go about the pandemic with such shitty people representing us. It feels like you’re drowning, but the best thing that you can do is to bring your head up for air.

What was your ‘head above the water’ moment, where you felt like you were no longer drowning?
After I quit my job at the Apple Store and figured out how to become a full-time artist.

Is there a step past just keeping your head above water? Does that level of comfort feel accessible to you?
Yes. 100 percent. At the same time, there will be moments where you feel like you’re drowning again, it’s just not going to be as often. There’s always going to be struggle, but there are things that make it feel like less of a blow.

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