Given the Zoom fatigue of the past two years, you can’t blame Doechii for having her camera off during our conversation. Still, despite the possible interview burnout she’s experiencing, her energy is palpable: Our faceless face-to-face chat flows freely from new music to her zodiac sign to who would win in a fight, Junie B. Jones or Lilo from Lilo & Stitch. (“Junie B. is gonna swing first, and it’s gonna catch Lilo off guard,” she rationalizes. “Lilo do got hands, though.”) Even in life’s most tiresome moments, she’s effervescent.
It’s been a whirlwind year. In March, the Tampa-bred 23-year-old (given name Jaylah Hickmon) inked a deal with Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), becoming the label’s first female emcee. This summer, she made her solo network TV debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, performed at the BET Awards, was named to XXL’s 2022 Freshman Class of rising hip-hop artists, earned an MTV Video Music Award nomination for “PUSH Performance of the Year,” and earned a spot on Barack Obama’s annual Summer Playlist (“Persuasive”).
It’s easy to wonder, given her rapid rise, how Doechii stays centered. The answer: love and faith.
“If I didn’t have my fiancé, my family and my faith, I would probably have spiraled a long time ago,” she tells SPIN. “[Family and friends] just remind me of who I am. They ground me and they remind me of what’s real. Music is important, but it’s really not that serious, you know? It’s about love, it’s about family, it’s about friends. … They remind me, ‘girl, you’re from Tampa.’”
Music fans may not think of Tampa as an artistic hub. Yet the self-proclaimed “Swamp Princess” — a nod to the Sunshine State’s high swamp population — praises the creative community within the lively Gulf Coast area. “Everybody knows everybody,” she says. “It’s a pretty small scene, but at the same time, it’s a big city. … Tampa is really like what Florida actually is.”
Growing up, Doechii’s mother encouraged her to participate in dance, gymnastics, and acting classes. Then as a teen, attending Howard W. Blake School of the Arts, music became her main ambition. And despite growing up in a religious, single-parent household, popular music offered mother and daughter a common ground: Doechii introduced her to acts like Paramore, leading to hip-hop-oriented acts like Outkast, Pharrell, Kanye West, and Nicki Minaj. While she was hesitant at first to deviate away from gospel, Doechii explains that she was able to “[develop] a healthy balance” with spiritual and secular music.
“Music was my goal,” she recalls. “I told myself I wanted to be bigger than Beyoncé. I was really set out on that mission.” In sixth grade, Doechii came up with her nickname-turned-stage-name on a whim, allowing her to tap into “the somebody that [she] was too scared to be” when she was younger.
Doechii’s ascent began in 2015 after uploading her original music onto SoundCloud. Her 2018 single “Girls” established her abilities as a wordsmith, using rhyme schemes and double entendres, and her following three EPs (2019’s Coven Music Session, Vol. 1, 2020’s Oh the Places You’ll Go, and 2021’s BRA-LESS), demonstrated her artistic flexibility through a variety of genres, flows, and themes. Many took note of her vivacious, confident rap verses and sharp dance moves, yielding collaborations with her current-labelmate Isaiah Rashad (“Wat U Sed”) and David Guetta (“Trampoline,” featuring BIA and Missy Elliott), and an opening act slot on now-labelmate and collaborator SZA’s 2021 Good Days Tour.
“I think [Doechii]…embodies and represents what we built at [TDE] for the past 15 years, as far as quality music and being relatable,” TDE President Anthony “Moosa” Tiffith says of his label’s latest addition. “I believe that is exactly how she will impact the music scene now…she represents the everyday person and [is] not scared to [be] vulnerable in any way—whether that’s giving her personal self in the music or snatching her wig off during a performance!”
Doechii’s style largely plucks inspiration from the mediums that made her: Oh the Places You’ll Go is named after Dr. Suess’ final book, and the project’s semi-autobiographical viral hit “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake” is named after a book in Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones series. The aforementioned track serves as an ode to “weird” or “alt” Black girls, complete with a Paramore interpolation and anime references, while the video nods to MySpace and OoVoO. (Doechii herself has an active social media presence, and amplified her following during her come up by uploading personal vlogs to YouTube.)
One of Doechii’s most popular house-flavored tracks, “Persuasive,” is burning up social media alongside her second major label single: the animated, rapid-fire rap song “Crazy.” While she acknowledges that versatility shouldn’t be the goal for every musician, she values this chameleonic approach.
“I like to see multiple layers of people,” she says. “But if an artist is not versatile, they’re still doing their part with what they’re expressing — it doesn’t mean that they’re ‘lesser than’ or anything like that. [For me], I love to see a person morph into different characters, but [remain] the same person.”
This versatility has made her a hot commodity. Doechii says that “every label except for Sony” reached out to her with offers; however, signing with Top Dawg Entertainment aligned with her self-fulfilling vision. “TDE felt right in my spirit…God showed me I was gonna work with an all-Black team — that was important to me.” She adds that TDE “[doesn’t] police her art” and “treats [her] like a real person.” Moosa notes that Doechii is “a walking example of self-empowerment – not just for women, but men too.”
Doechii hopes to continue that empowerment crusade with her first major label EP, She / Her / Black Bitch, out on Aug. 5. The project, named for the pronouns found in Doechii’s social media bios, aims to reclaim the word “bitch” — often used to denigrate women — as an empowering one instead, joining the ranks of women in hip-hop who have used their art to redirect the word’s power, like Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, and Trina.
“I used to get called a ‘Black bitch’ all the time, and it used to tear me down,” Doechii says. “But I realized what that means to me…this next [project] really embodies our layers. [With the EP], I’m basically telling people that at any point in my life—whether I’m on my cocky shit, my sad girl shit, my philanthropist shit, my fashion girl shit—I’m still a bitch that matters.”
She / Her / Black Bitch is the “melting pot” of her two previous bodies of work. Across five tracks, she showcases her vibrant personality, with retrospective rhymes examining her life thus far. The RAY-accompanied “Bitches Be” is equipped with a laid-back vibe and patois-style verses; meanwhile, the multi-producer creation “Bitch I’m Nice” exhibits a fiery flow (“I’m the best thing in your life, know this pussy good and it purr, but it still got bite.”)
In “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake,” Doechii describes herself as “a Black girl who beat the statistics.” When discussing that lyric in particular, the artist details her experiences witnessing her single mother unexpectedly become pregnant with twins. (“I stepped up to a lot of pressure at a young age,” Doechii explains.) Coupled with disparaging comments geared towards her as a dark-skinned woman, young Jaylah was forced to grow up and find herself faster than anticipated. However, she never let the pain break her down — it only made her stronger.
“Through my experiences as a dark-skinned girl, [people are] constantly reminding me of how lucky I should ‘feel’ to be in a space with them,” Doechii says. “‘You should be grateful that you’re here, ‘cause girls who look like you don’t get this far, especially with that mouth, with that attitude, with that confidence.’ It still kind of does aggravate me when people try to make me feel like that, but now I’ve curated the space [to be myself].”
As she continues to evolve, Doechii makes a personal pledge to keep her faith and fearless individuality intact. After “suppressing who [she] was for a long time,” she’s no longer letting self-sabotage hold her back from success. “Now I know for a fact that my creativity is limitless,” she affirms. “I’ll never run out of ideas, and I will forever be creative as long as I am alive and experiencing God. … I have a beautiful family, I’m healthy, I know who I am, I know what God is to me, I’m at peace.”
“I wanna prove to my fans and my haters that I can still be myself in the midst of a storm, in the midst of any [hard] time in my life,” Doechii continues. “I’m gonna remain true to who I am and who God called me to be. I’m gonna be myself no matter what. I want my fans to feel that same thing.”