Photos by Matt Seger
In the video, there's a crowd of hundreds, a giant swarm of people. And, at their center, in command, is a girl who looks, frankly, cool as all hell, rapping her ass off. This is how most people were introduced to Dreezy, watching her absolutely demolish the beat to Nicki Minaj and Lil Herb's “Chiraq,” in 2014. The clip went viral, labels came calling, and Dreezy seemed destined for the life of an internet sensation, that often fleeting category of characters. But then a funny thing happened. Dreezy, who looked to have disappeared into label bench player obscurity, reappeared with a fucking banger. With fellow Chicagoan Jeremih of all people.
“Body” is the kind of song that's so instantly brilliant you wonder how nobody thought to make it before. It flips the phrase “catch a body” into a sexual come-on, imagining “your body on my body, baby.” You want to sing along compulsively. You want to shout along with the voice in the background who chimes in yelling “you're gonna catch a body if you ain't careful” like an offscreen commentator in a Worldstar video. You want to find someone to hook up with immediately.
The song became a minor chart hit earlier this year, setting the stage for Dreezy's debut album, No Hard Feelings, which is out today. It's not an album that beats you over the head with fanfare. Unlike many major label rap debuts, it's not packed with guests, although the ones it has—along with Jeremih, there's Wale, T-Pain, and a fresh-out-of-jail Gucci Mane—are pretty smartly curated. The album just feels kind of like, well, what rap is in 2016. Most similar perhaps to Rae Sremmurd, Dreezy is a natural stylistic chameleon, fully comfortable synthesizing the precise, impeccably delivered rhyming of someone like Jay Z with the spacey world of trap production and diving into melody when necessary. Her music is easy to get into—it seems like it should appeal to an almost comically wide range of rap fans—and richer for it.
"I'm not here today, gone tomorrow, one hit wonders, however you wanna say it," she suggested when we met in Brooklyn on a recent afternoon. She adds, tellingly, "I just want to set my standards."
Dreezy's music is best when she's operating from a space where it's like she's a friend of yours blowing off steam or celebrating, which is literally the mode she's in at the top, on “We Gon Ride,” when she yells, exuberantly, “If you been gettin' it with your best friend this your anthem!” On “Wasted,” she perfectly captures a conundrum familiar to pretty much anyone in their 20s (she is 22), of the love interest who only comes around when they're drunk. And on “Break the News,” she nails the complicated feelings of jealousy and confusion that come long after a breakup, as she imagines an ex hooking up with someone new with “stilettos stepping on rose petals that you never bought me” and quips “he can treat me better, but you can get me wetter / I don't want to be the one that gotta tell that's why I really thought we should talk.”
In person, Dreezy is quiet, curious, and engaged, with the unmistakable enthusiasm of a young person still just Figuring It All Out. If her first impression as an artist was one of unflappable cool and her next was one of pop precision, the reality may be something closer to: Dreezy is someone who, whatever the context, you want on your side. Fortunately, for right now, she's happy to be that for all of us.
Noisey: Tell me about your album. What is No Hard Feelings all about?
Dreezy: We had a hard time coming up with the name because it was so many different sounds. But where I'm at in life, I just feel like I'm at that stage where I don't really have hard feelings for nobody—as far as relationships that I've been in that didn't work out, people sleeping on me in the music industry, I feel like I'm good now. It's a lot about self-worth. It's got some turn up stuff, a little bit of everything.
What do you mean when you say music about self-worth? Why was that a theme that you wanted to explore?
My last project was Schizo. I was in a relationship. I felt like—I ain't know if I was crazy in love or just he was driving me crazy, but it was just talking about just having different types of emotions that you can't really control. Now, I just moved to LA, my life's changing, I'm getting a little money. I had to sacrifice a lot of stuff. I lost a lot of friends. I ain't in a relationship no more. It's just more about me. I had to find myself and the direction I'm going in. And I had to forgive a lot of people in order to move on, and keep building.
Was there a certain turning point for you where you figured that out?
I've always been a type to just go out and do what I want. And I always took risks. If you ask my daddy, he's gonna be like, “she always want to learn the hard way.” And when I start letting other people get in my head, or other little distractions veer me off, then I gotta get back to myself. And that helped when I moved to LA, because I moved by myself. I didn't know nobody out there. It was just me and my music. At that time I was trying to save my relationship, or I'm trying to save friendships—but really I needed to just sit and focus on me and what I wanted.
What did you encounter once you got out there that felt different from Chicago?
I didn't have nobody around me. I had already moved out of my daddy's crib, I had already moved out my mama's crib, but I ain't ever move into my own apartment and had nobody there. I just had to figure it out. I didn't think that I could be by myself. And now I always want to be by myself (laughs). Now it's like, if you want to come see me, come see me. But I don't got to have too much company around me
That's a big milestone, your first apartment.
It just happened so fast. Everything was just happening. It was like, now or never. And now I'm learning, like, when you get certain opportunities, you've gotta take advantage. I had built a buzz up, and then I started second guessing myself, and it kinda died back down. Now I'm at the point where I'm building my buzz back up, I'm just gonna run it up.
What do you think made you hesitate before?
I was just making new stuff, and for a while I wasn't putting nothing out. So I wasn't getting no feedback besides myself. So I just was like, is this dope? I spent a lot of time behind the scenes just trying to find my sound and stuff.
What kind of input does your label have in terms of shaping your music and telling you what to do?
I kinda just tell them my ideas, and they help me bring it to life, or they bring people around that might know about more what I'm talking about. They do like my singing more. That's one thing. But that's working 'cause I used to sing when I was younger. I felt like I couldn't sing no more. Now they're bringing that side back out.
How did you get involved singing growing up?
I don't know. I just always was singing. I was always writing, I was really writing before I started singing. I went to Dixon—that's around where I grew up at, 81st and King Drive, right around the corner—and I had a music teacher named Ms. Ellis. She kind of took me in and was teaching me different instruments, teaching me how to control my voice. She started taking me to the House of Blues downtown, so I had a little jazz. You can hear that in the "Close to You" song with T-Pain.
You said you were writing at a really young age. Like writing raps?
Stories, poems, songs. I had a lot of stuff. A lot of the stuff on Schizo, a lot of those were poems. Before I was fully rapping, I was still just jotting my thoughts, and just doing it to a certain tempo. And my producer, D. Brooks, he could build beats from scratch, so he would just build around it. He would bring a feel to it. We was always on the same page with that. So “I Love that Bitch,” that was a poem. “Up and Down,” all the stuff on Schizo, most of that is poems.
What got you into writing poetry, and just writing in general?
That was just how I expressed myself, how I got my feelings out. I wasn't really that social, so I would just write. I felt what I was singing what was going on.
You were the kid in the back of the class paying close attention, taking notes on everyone.
Yup. I used to paint, I used to do all that. When I'm at home—my mama'll tell you—my door stays closed. I just had notebooks. She still got all my notebooks from when I was a kid.
Your big breakthrough moment, at least on a national level, was you had this “Chiraq” freestyle. Why did you decide to do that?
I was at my friend's house. Like I said, I ain't live with my mama or my daddy, I was staying with my friend. She had an apartment in the hundreds, and we was just upstairs. I was just focused on my music. I was dropping remixes all the time. And when I heard that—it was from Nicki, for one, female rapper. It's called Chiraq, I live in Chicago, I'm in the hundreds right now. Then the beat was like, it was that tempo that I could go off on. It had Herb on it. Some songs I hear, if the beat catches that tempo, I just hear the lyrics in my head. I get motivated. I gotta hit the booth ASAP. So that's what that was. I was just hype. So I got up that morning, and I recorded it, and I dropped it, and it went crazy.
You just woke up, did it, dropped it, and then it, all in one day. What changed after that?
Everything changed. Like you said, that was my big break. The labels were calling, I was meeting people. I met Teyana Taylor and Trey Songz, and I was just meeting people. They was bringing me out at the shows. Like I said, I should have took that and ran it up, but I was just too caught off-guard with the hype. I'm like, man, I gotta go back in the studio and get it perfect.
So then you moved to LA, and you started working with all these other producers. Do you feel like your sound changed, or you've learned anything about yourself musically in that period?
I just learned that I have a wide range. Like that “Close to You” song we put out with Terrace Martin, that's some stuff I probably would have sang back when I was seven. But for me to be 22, and I'm getting on the track like that, like I hadn't did in years, that was something I felt like my fan base wasn't gonna be able to really understand from me. But it came out perfect. I had freestyled the melody, and then I just kind of felt it. That's a whole new sound for me. “Body” is a whole new sound. It's just, I'm just trying to widen my range. I don't wanna be one of those fly-by-night rappers. I feel like I'm a real artist. I actually love music, and I want to take it as far as I can.
Matt Seger shoots photos and video for VICE. Follow him on Instagram.
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.