Dej Loaf's Athlete-Fueled Break

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 2 Music Issue. Subscribe today!

NOT SIX MONTHS removed from uploading her viral hit single "Try Me," Detroit rapper Dej Loaf has returned to Collective Studios -- where she laid down the imposing-yet-infectious bars that have yielded more than 27 million SoundCloud streams and a Columbia Records deal. In the studio just off 8 Mile, the 23-year-old wears the sunglasses and mannerisms of a 90-pound wrecking crew daring you to cross her. But first, she's ready to talk ball, starting with Kevin Durant. In September he touted the unknown rapper in a tweet that resulted in close to 500 retweets, thousands of new listeners -- and an invitation to his birthday party. Next came a fast friendship with another Dej Loaf superfan, Wizards star John Wall, who directed more attention the up-and-comer's way. Then Pistons guard Brandon Jennings joined in, tweeting "DeJ Loaf got Bars!!!!!!"

Come January, "Try Me" was at the top of the urban radio charts. There's no denying the ballers helped her reach new fans, she says. And she's thrilled with the love she's getting from players.

"I thought I was going to be in the WNBA," the 5-foot-1 former junior varsity point guard says, momentarily revealing cracks in her hardened Motor City-made shell. "I used to breathe basketball."

Now it's just helping make her career.