DijahSB's Vulnerable Hip-Hop Will Keep Anyone's 'Head Above the Waters'
Published Apr 20, 2021DijahSB is masterful at making hard times sound good thanks to their potent combo of vulnerable, heartfelt rhymes and upbeat, groove-laden beats. Last year's 2020 the Album and Girls Give Me Anxiety EP took a sketch comedy approach to life's many woes, touching on a variety of topics in brief vignettes, never giving an idea too much bandwidth before moving on to the next. The one-two punch of releases helped to establish Dijah as a fresh, independent force in Toronto's buzzing hip-hop community, weaving in feel-good wordplay with a healthy dose of reality.
Less than a year later, Dijah's back with Head Above the Waters, a tight jazz-rap song cycle with the singular focus of staying resilient amid today's unending parade of bad news. Where last year's tracks went all-in on the causes of Dijah's consternation — like financial hardship on "I'll Pay You Back on Friday" and "Broke Boi Anthem" or relationships on "Girls Give Me Anxiety" — Head Above the Water sidesteps the specifics to focus instead on establishing a sustainable mindset.
It starts with Cheap Limousine's and Harrison's production, a series of laidback beats awash in live instrumentation, where wistful guitar licks and keyboards provide a relaxing foundation for Dijah's words. Though Head Above the Waters repeats its central motif frequently throughout its 24-minute runtime, it's hardly one-note or repetitive. Forgoing the conceptual breadth of Dijah's earlier work, guest appearances and radio-ready singles provide enough kick to the album's therapeutic baseline. Uptempo cuts like "Throw That Back" and "Overtime" feature smooth rhymes and indelible grooves, while a trio of guest performances from fellow Toronto artists on the rise find Dijah in good company. Most notably, Terrell Morris' turn on "New Harrison," which finds him peppering his swift verse with clever millennial TV references, provides an energetic counterpoint to Dijah's more lowkey delivery.
But Dijah doesn't need guest stars or flashy hooks to stand out. Deeper cuts like standout "Way Too Many Ways" give Dijah ample space to do what they do best — rap about their feelings with no-frills candour: "People gravitate towards me now because I know depression / I be talking bout the harder parts that no one mentions." And later, "Know that this is deeper than rap / this the same shit that keep me relaxed / so just relax with me." Dijah's willingness to dig deep into their complex feelings means each bar has plenty of power. Meanwhile, Cheap Limousine's detail-rich production — with '80s slap bass, synth wash and guitar wails — means there are plenty of grooves to dig into if Dijah's bars get too real. Its endless playability ensures that their struggles and perseverance will find their way into listeners' ears eventually.
Dijah's tracks have always lent themselves to easy listening, but through their unbothered flows and complementary beat selection, Head Above the Waters is soothing and satisfying — where their previous projects succeeded by speaking the truth about Dijah's problems, Head Above the Waters succeeds by being a cure in and of itself, a balm for troubled times both in its vulnerability and poised, easygoing demeanour. "It's a new era, new coast and new seas," raps Dijah on closing track "Big Waves," like a sigh of relief during the final leg of a lake swim. "Head above the waters, I finally see the shores." Listeners will too. (AWAL)