"Everybody talking, like who is this girl from Chicago that hopped on a Nicki beat?"

Outfitted in black and red from head to toe—surrounded by a throng of fans sporting “Team Dreezy” t-shirts and looking on in awe—is Chicago rapper Dreezy. “Hit up Harold’s on 87th, For a 5 piece and some mild sauce,” she assertively spits, sitting on the counter of the legendary local Chicken spot. She continues to snap on the track, laying claim to her city, “Bitches silly, Coming in my city, When they knowing really, They ain't fucking with me,” as the image quickly shifts to her rapping on the front stoop of a house, on top of a car, in a clothing store, always in command, a swarm of people always by her side.

This was the first look most people got of the then-21-year-old rapper, during her breakthrough moment, watching her completely crush a remix of Nicki Minaj and G Herbo’s (fka Lil Herb) 2014 song ‘Chiraq.’ Incidentally, her version was kind of a fluke: she heard the original, knew she had to hop on the beat, and recorded and dropped her take all in one day. The video, which she released a month later in May, now has almost 1.5 million views. The song pushed her into the public eye, and eventually helped her sign with Interscope Records in late 2014.

“It was the talk of the city,” Dreezy reflects, speaking from her new home in Los Angeles. “I know it gave me a bigger platform, helped me with my label deal and just a lot of things. Everybody talking, like who is this girl from Chicago that hopped on a Nicki beat?” Just over two years later, Dreezy released her 2016 debut studio album ‘No Hard Feelings’, a big project with an equally bigger sound.

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Dreezy—née Seandrea Sledge—was born and raised on the southside of Chicago. She penned stories and poems from a young age, eventually turning to singing, thanks to the encouragement of her music teacher Ms. Ellis. As Dreezy got older, she began rapping, and melded her newfound skill with a knack for storytelling.

Even before she released ‘Chiraq (Remix),’ she had dropped a number of tapes. Of particular note to those in the know was 2014’s ‘Schizo’, a project that conceptually spanned the range of emotions she felt at the time, expressing the sharp ups and downs of her mental state. ‘Schizo’, also spotlighted her adaptability, as she effortlessly alternated between singing and rapping. Even the harder beats, like the King Louie-supported cut ‘Ain’t For None’ are tinged with a more melodic edge.

She learned this kind of musical versatility from Chicago. Though drill music put the city on the map in 2011-2012, Chicago has a rich musical history, ranging from jazz to blues to house, juke, gospel, and hip-hop. Rappers who break in one genre have the ability to easily transition to another. Dreezy wears that mark well, exhibiting the same flexibility on ‘Schizo’, and something she identifiably honed on ‘No Hard Feelings’.

Between ‘Schizo’ and ‘No Hard Feelings’, she released a pair of EPs - ‘Call It What You Want’ and ‘From Now On’ - the latter of which made a slight splash with the Dej Loaf-featured cut ‘Serena.’ Still, with no major hits to her name, she seemed doomed to live out her days in the label’s fringes.

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I couldn’t hold grudges against myself for moving on.

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“I had moved to LA—that was my first time moving by myself, getting my first apartment. So I was adapting to that… just getting my mind right,” she recalls of the time. “That’s how I came up with ‘No Hard Feelings’, just the changes, scenery in my life; I was going through a lot of changes. Letting old people out and coming into my new life. I couldn’t hold grudges against myself for moving on. I couldn’t feel badly for that.”

However, when she released the single ‘Body’, - just two months after ‘From Now On’ - Dreezy took her career to a new level. While ‘Serena’ showed us the quality of Dreezy’s hard-hitting raps, ‘Body’ - which saw her joined by fellow Chicagoan Jeremih - presented her more sensual, wholly melodious side, as she and her co-star flip the meaning of “catch a body” to a sexual lure, also demonstrating her ability to hold her ground with big features.

The subsequent album, ’No Hard Feelings’, is alive with skits and new, hefty features by Gucci Mane, Wale, and T-Pain. It serves as concrete evidence that Dreezy is no bench warmer. She’s spent time figuring out her narrative and nailing down her sound, and as a result even sitting amongst the cream of the crop, Dreezy’s vocals and story still dominate.

‘No Hard Feelings’’ skits play to those changes in her life - to the negative people she had to move on from, the ones who were holding her back - and became the throughline for the album’s sonically varied aesthetic.

“We felt like [the album] needed something to connect the songs, cuz they all had different moods,” she explains. “I’m giving some keys to the people, but at the same time I just came up with a storyline that everybody could relate to. Some [things] that I personally been through, so it was still me.”

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I just came up with a storyline that everybody could relate to...

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What’s most compelling about ‘No Hard Feelings’ is two-fold. Though Dreezy’s left her city, she still remains a Chicago girl from the southside. The album’s polished fluidity between soft R&B melodies and forceful raps shows that Dreezy has stayed true to her hometown’s musical history and prowess. Even her use of Chicago slang on the exemplary Gucci-supported song “We Gon Ride”—”bussin’,” “T up,” “the shits”—are small gems that show her bond with her city is strong.

But most importantly, ‘No Hard Feelings’ is an album about self-worth. While on ‘Schizo’, she was trying to reach girls who had been crushed by love, here she shows her resilience, that you can stand strong on your own.

“[Schizo] was a little more personal, but just for me,” she admits. “I think [No Hard Feelings] shows my growth—it gave a new lesson. [Back then] I was talking to a whole bunch of broken hearted girls and I was letting them continue to be broken hearted. On ‘No Hard Feelings’, I’m teaching them. It’s like, ‘I’m over that, now what? Now what are you gonna do differently next time?’I been through this, I learned my lesson, I’m moving on to something new.”

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Words: Tara Mahadevan

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