DijahSB on their new EP, loving the process and Pokemon

Toronto rapper DijahSB has been on a prolific creative streak the last two years.

At a time when the pandemic forced many artists to slow down, a herculean DijahSB hit the gas, releasing two albums and two EPs since 2020.

Their efforts have culminated in some of Canada’s loftiest musical recognitions.

A nomination for a SOCAN songwriting prize for “Frontin’ Like Pharrell” a cut from their debut “2020 the Album” where they deliver witty wordplay and a sticky hook over house-influenced production. And a spot on the 2021 Polaris Music Prize Shortlist for their sophomore album “Head Above the Waters” that fused heavy rhymes with dancy, shimmering production.

Most recently, Dijah released “2024 the EP” on Feb. 22, featuring five tracks and a 16-bit esthetic for its cover art.

On it are songs that both celebrate and critically analyze Toronto from an up close and personal perspective. Everything from Dalano Banton and the TTC to soaring housing costs is touched upon. The hard-hitting lyrics are delivered over their typical squishy synths and throwback boom-bap production making “2024 the EP” a plate few Toronto artists are serving right now.

It’s an appetizer so good, it might make you forget there is anything else on the menu. But rest assured, Dijah does have more on the way. They confirmed a full album is coming by summer or fall, the idea for which they’ve had since last year.

The Star spoke to DijahSB just ahead of them releasing “2024 the EP” about their career right now, loving the process and how Pokemon is art.

Polaris Music Prize shortlisted, multiple projects released, SOCAN songwriting prize nominated — how do you feel about your career right now?

I feel really good. Because I feel like I established some sort of foundation. And from there on, I could kind of focus on the things that matter. Before I had to struggle financially and that was an issue because that kind of cuts into being able to create what you want. So now that it’s kind of like I’ve built the foundation for myself, it’s exciting.

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Now anything can happen at any moment and I’m focusing more on anything happening at any moment. That’s how those kinds of things kind of attract to you.

OK, now you’ve got four projects out in two years, “2020 the Album,” “Tasty Raps, Vol. 1,” “Head Above the Waters” and now “2024 the EP.” What is driving this level of production?

Just passion, to be honest, I just enjoy doing it. And the thing with me is, when I write a song, I write it with the intention of releasing it.

I know a lot of artists hoard music, and I’m not a music hoarder. I don’t have any music that I haven’t released. Well I do have a few songs, but people be sitting on hundreds of songs and I don’t know how.

I get so excited about writing a song and having people hear it that I want it out immediately. So that is definitely a big reason why I like to release a lot of music — I enjoy the process of it as well.

Toronto is a central figure in your artistry, even to the point of mentioning Toronto Raptor Dalano Banton in your songs. Is that a conscious thing or something that’s just emanating from the music?

Yeah it’s the latter I think.

It’s weird, but when I write, it’s not really a conscious thing. I sort of blackout and whatever comes to me kind of comes to me.

I’m definitely always going to be kind of championing the place that I’ve grown up knowing and loving. It’s just embedded in me in that way.

The song “Green Line” is about Toronto, but it’s also about leaving Toronto. What’s going into the pen for a song like that?

It’s more so like you love the city, but you also understand its faults.

The city raised me. I’ve been here all my life, there’s nothing wrong with kind of pointing out all the socioeconomic reasons why it sucks and could be better.

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I (think everyone daydreams) when they’re on the subway. If it’s not about not being here or visualizing your dream life, maybe it’s about something else. So that’s more so what I wanted out of that song.

But I do touch on the harder topics of loving a city but realizing like yo, (things need) to change like drastically, immediately, before we can say this is the best city in the world or this is a great city.

Do you feel a pull to leave Toronto? Do you think that’s common?

I definitely feel like it’s a common thought especially if you’re an artist, because artists don’t feel very catered to here. And we’ve seen multiple case studies of artists leaving and finally getting what it is that they expect from being a good artist and trying to make a living off of that.

Canada makes it hard, especially for Black artists. So, I’m sure that it’s a running theme that people want to leave, even just for creatives.

There’s a bit of levity to your music as well, the beats are still fun and danceable despite rapping about poverty, gentrification and gang violence. How do you maintain that balance?

It’s funny, people say that a lot about my music. Honestly I don’t even know if it’s a purposeful thing that I do that. I honestly just enjoy those kind of beats. And I also enjoy having content that matters and people actually want to listen to so that’s a purposeful thing.

It is a running joke that I be saying the most depressing things to the most uplifting beats.

On the EP there are a couple of times when an old school flow gets flipped like a mixtape. What are your favourite mixtapes?

I think all of Lupe’s (Fiasco) mixtapes and “A Kid Named Cudi.” Really all Kid Cudi mixtapes that he shopped around before he became who he was.

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There are definitely some of the Lupe ones that are important that you won’t really find on streaming, which sucks because that’s a piece of (the artist) and their legacy that nobody will look to find, because it’s not accessible, you know?

Who made the album art? I noticed it’s 16-bit now, almost like a Pokemon influence.

He’s like a creative director for me, his name’s Chris Castello. He was also featured on one of my songs.

I just really love 16-bit drawings and just that aspect of it feels really retro, really old school and it comforts me.

The best games were those games that didn’t care really about the esthetic, being 4k and being able to see the sweat down players’ faces. It was more so just about the game itself and making it a great game.

What’s your favourite videogame? I didn’t realize you’re a gamer.

I’m not really a gamer. I tried to be this pandemic. I set up everything, but I don’t know, I have anxiety around videogames because I don’t know what to expect. So I’m very scared of starting and finishing videogames.

But definitely growing up I was a huge Pokemon fan. The games are just so brilliant to me. Just the way that they made the games, I loved it. I still do actually play it.

I actually downloaded “Pokemon Red” and played it a few months ago and finished it again. Twice.

Demar Grant is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach Demar via Twitter: @demarjgrant


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