“I’m a star?” entertainer Doechii asks, her voice cracking in a high-pitched swirl of confusion. She’s sitting across from me at a conference table in Complex’s Times Square office, discussing her career and relationship to fame. “I think I’m talented,” she continues. “But I’m not a celebrity. When I walk outside and I can’t go nowhere by myself, then I’m a celebrity.”
Sure, Doechii might not have paparazzi stalking her from the bushes or swarms of fans chasing her down the street, but in just a short period of time, she’s displayed the potential for all that and more.
Doechii—born Jaylah Hickmon in Tampa, Florida—began her career in 2015 by uploading original music to SoundCloud. She began to gain notoriety in 2018 with her single “Girls.” Two years later, she came back with her debut EP, Oh the Places You’ll Go, further showcasing her skills as a wordsmith and demonstrating her versatility with dance-pop and hip-hop tracks like “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake.” It was Doechii’s creative artistry and confident raps that nabbed the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment (the independent label that has honed the talents of stars like Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and SZA), and Capitol Records (the record label that houses Sam Smith, Kay Flock, and more). In March 2022, the two labels partnered to represent her. Doechii officially signed with them, making her TDE’s first lady of rap.
“I want to open as many doors as possible.”
In conversation with Complex about what it means to be the label’s first woman rapper, Doechii acknowledges the weight of responsibility. “But I carry it really happily and [am] grateful,” she says. “That’s why I’m pushing the limits so much now… I sing, I rap, I go from rock to this, to that, whatever, because there’s going to be another female rapper who comes in on TDE, and she is going to be able to be whatever. I want to open as many doors as possible.”
Since signing to TDE & Capitol, the 24-year-old released she / her/ black bitch in August, her first major label release. The project includes the futuristic and melodic track “Persuasive” with a remix that features SZA. The song’s success on TikTok and its innovative music video (910K views on YouTube and counting) helped her gain a small cult following. And now that Doechii has your attention, she is plotting the release of her debut studio album.
Though she is still deep in the creation process, she hints that this album will take a new artistic direction. “There’s a certain type of cocky rap that I got out of my system in [she/ her/ black bitch]. I’m really over that. I’m ready to create music and speak from the heart,” she asserts. “I want more musicality in my songs. And these days, I’ve been wanting to sing more than I’ve been wanting to rap.” She also hints that her debut might veer away from a traditional rap project, noting, “These days I’ve been wanting to sing more than I’ve been wanting to rap.”
The self-proclaimed “Swamp Princess” is hesitant to speak on what’s to come, but she hopes that when the album drops, it will liberate and heal her fans. “It could sound like anything in the world, as long as it feels like gospel and it feels like it’s lifting them up,” she says of her forthcoming album. “It’s like Solange’s When I Get Home or A Seat at the Table. It feels like gospel. It’s not gospel music, but every time you listen to it, it lifts you up. But sometimes you listen to it and it takes you down. Either way, I just want my album to guide them through their own unpacking. I want the album to constantly grow and evolve with them in their life.”
Doechii spoke to Complex about finding a home at TDE, her debut studio album, creative process, the pressure to evolve, and more.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity purposes.
How was New York Fashion Week?
It’s been cool. I went to a lot of shows for the first time. Coach, I walked in Vogue[World]. So, that was really cool. I did LaQuan Smith. That was just purely about the designs. I thought the designs were very Renaissance. It was cool.
How did you get started in music?
I started rapping with my friend in the car my senior year of high school. We would just get high and make music. Then, we thought that the freestyles were so good that we started to record at her house. I dropped my first song called “El Chapo” in 2017 or maybe summer 2016. It did really well on SoundCloud, and I just continued to make music after that.
“I just want my album to guide them through their own unpacking.”
Did you know early on that you could make a career out of rapping?
Music, yes. But rapping, no. I thought I was going to be a singer or singing in a choir or something like that in college. I’m referring to classical choir. I got a full ride to Bethune-Cookman University. But I chose not to go to college. I had a hoodie business, but I was secretly making music. So it wasn’t anything serious until I dropped my first song, and then I was like, “I think I want to do this.”
What is your first memory of performing onstage?
When I was little, I went to church with my family to get baptized, and the choir was singing and I just remember getting off my grandpa’s lap to walk up front and go sing. I wasn’t supposed to be singing, but I just walked up there and they handed me the mic and I sang.
How did your connection with Top Dawg Entertainment come about?
One of the A&Rs at TDE discovered my song “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake” when it was going viral on TikTok, and went and told [TDE CEO Anthony Tiffith] about me. I think it was 2020. They called me out, and I came and I recorded music for a week and then I got signed.
What made you want to sign with TDE?
A lot of different things. Black-owned label. I like the energy of the team. They didn’t come to me in a way where I felt like they wanted me to be something. They asked me who I was, and I really liked that. I felt like my artistic value was appreciated and artistically and sonically, I can do whatever I want. I have creative freedom. That was also very important to me. And I don’t feel rushed by them about an album. And obviously the money made a lot of sense. It’s the greatest label of all time. There’s incredible legends, hip-hop legends on TDE, and I wanted to carry that legacy on. I felt like I could, especially for female rap.
What does it feel like to be the first lady of rap on TDE? Is there pressure on your end?
Absolutely. But I carry it really happily and gratefully. That’s why I’m pushing the limits so much now. I sing, I rap, I go from rock to this to that, whatever, because there’s going to be another female rapper who comes in on TDE, and she is going to be able to be whatever. I want to open as many doors as possible. I just want it to get easier for the next female rapper. I feel like the guinea pig a little bit, because it’s different with the guys. They don’t have to worry about glam and styling and all of that other stuff.
“I feel more in a place of worship when I’m singing than I do rapping.”
How would you categorize or describe your sound?
I’ve really detached from that. I just let other people try and define me. I think that’s more interesting. I don’t know at all. I rap, I sing, and I don’t know what that genre is.
Do you feel like it gets a little tricky when you let others define your sound for you?
It doesn’t matter to me because I don’t put myself in a box. Of course you can try to define me any way you want. That’s how people process music. They’re defining me based on their interpretation of who I am, but I know who I am and I don’t feel boxed in just because other people try to put me in a box. You only get in a box when you believe there’s a box. If that makes sense.
You have a very dominant and vibrant personality when you’re in front of the camera, but who are you when you’re by yourself or out of the spotlight?
I’m really like this. That energy and that aggression that you see onstage. I feel like I’m really like that in person. My energy can be pretty intense. I’m the same way in real life. It’s not a persona.
You said earlier that your music performed well on SoundCloud and you’ve had viral success on TikTok. Have you ever seen yourself as a SoundCloud or TikTok artist, and are you OK with those labels being used?
No. I don’t subscribe to that at all. I’m an artist. I post music on SoundCloud, and I have songs that went viral on TikTok, but my song went viral on TikTok before I even had TikTok downloaded. So no, I don’t feel boxed in. It’s affected me positively. TikTok made my song popular, and you know that you have a good song when people listen to it outside of just the sound bite. It has over 70 million streams. So I think it’s great, but I don’t consider myself a TikTok rapper.
Are there any artists who have shown you love recently that have surprised you?
Today me and Trina had a really good talk. It was actually incredible. She’s such an angel. I didn’t realize how much it would mean to me to have another female, the queen of Florida, talk to me and give me advice and be a fucking good person. She was cool as hell, and it really touched me. I still need to process that tonight before I go to bed.
Nice, I’ve heard only great stories about Trina. Any other vets reach out to you?
Pharrell showed me love. Nicki [Minaj] showed me love, that was shocking too. All the legends. It’s always shocking, because you look at them, and they’re so big.
How have you grown in the month since the release of she / her / black bitch?
There’s a certain type of cocky rap that I got out of my system in that project. I’m really over that. I said what I wanted to say, I did the fashion thing, I did the mother thing. I’m ready to create music and speak from the heart. I want more musicality in my songs. And these days I’ve been wanting to sing more than I’ve been wanting to rap. So I don’t know if I’ve grown past it, I’m just over it.
“I feel like hip-hop separates female rap from hip-hop as a whole. I used to be mad about it, but now I’m not mad. We’re in our own world. Fuck it.”
I would argue that the music you’ve put out is creative. So, what’s the difference between that and the new stuff you’ve been creating?
When I say real music, I’m talking about something that takes you out your body. she / her / black bitch, it does make you feel things, but not enough. I want people to really get lost in the music. I want to get lost in it. I didn’t get lost in she / her / black bitch.
Will this new album be based on personal experiences?
I’m deriving from multiple stories, which is different for me. I always talk about me and my experience and my story, how I grew, but this time I’m taking other stories and trying something new. I’m looking forward to that.
What has the creative process for your debut been like so far?
Initially, I’ve been working with my sisters more. Kendra, my sister Karlia, and creating with my friends again. They all make music and they’re all incredibly talented. I feel like they feel the same way about me, but we never bothered to ask each other to make music together. We were just friends, so we didn’t even incorporate music into our friendship. So I want to tell my sisters’ stories and tell other Black women’s stories and put it in an album and make something collaboratively, which I’ve never done before. I’m going to be using a lot of their vocals. Kendra’s great on keys. We’re going to write together. It’s going to be fantastic. We’re going to heal, we’re going to cry, it’s going to be great.
What are some of the challenges of working so closely with family and friends who know you so well?
This project feels bigger than me for the first time ever. None of my projects ever felt bigger than me. I felt like, “OK, I got it. I know what I’m talking about. I can tell this story. I can write this song.” But this is the first time where I’m like, no, I need my sisters. I need to have conversations, and I need their help to emotionally unpack together.
This seems like a powerful moment for you and your close circle, but what do you want the fans to take away from this album?
I really don’t know yet. All I know is I just want it to be of the heart. Undoubtedly, it could sound like anything in the world, as long as it feels like gospel and it feels like it’s lifting them up. Or even if it’s taking them down, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like Solange’s When I Get Home or A Seat at the Table. It feels like gospel. It’s not gospel music, but every time you listen to it, it lifts you up. But sometimes you listen to it and it takes you down. Either way, I just want my album to guide them through their own unpacking. I want the album to constantly grow and evolve with them in their life.
It sounds like a lot of pressure comes with that.
Yeah, it is. I’ve been stressing about it for literally so long. You have no idea. That’s why I called my sisters.
How do you know when you’ve reached the final stage of the album?
I literally just asked Smino that. I asked Schoolboy Q too. I hate to name-drop. [Laughs] Schoolboy Q said, “You know a album is done when you have nothing left to say.” Smino told me that I’ll know my album is done when I hate it.
That’s valid. Besides the other collaborators we spoke about, do you have any other features on the album?
Who’s on your dream list of features for another album down the road?
Trina just entered my list. I always acknowledged Trina and loved her, but I never thought that she would even want to work with me. That’s why I didn’t even count her in. But now that I think about it, on some orchestra-type shit and Trina’s hard-ass voice rapping, that would be crazy.
Your music videos are so creative and memorable. What goes into your thought process?
I’ve been following my tarot cards. I’ve been recreating tarot cards in a Afrofuturistic way. So that was crazy. I talked a little bit about that on Twitter. “Persuasive” is the only thing on the album that y’all have heard. So there’s that. I have another single coming out soon called “Stressed.” That’s also going to be on the album. That visual is going to be based off another tarot card too.
How did you get into tarot cards?
It started because I detached from Christianity, but I was still looking for something. Then I detached from it because I started seeking more within, and the cards just stopped resonating to me. But I still get readings from my sister all the time.
What can you tell us about the themes or ideas for your upcoming videos from the album?
I’m always looking for new gadgets and unmarked locations. I don’t like filming in the same places other people filmed. The “Crazy” music video was at the place where they filmed Bruce Almighty. I was so pissed, because it’s been touched before. So I’m trying to find more places in Florida, in the swamps, and maybe I’ll get on those boats they have on the swamp. I’m looking forward to pushing the limits and running that motherfucking budget up. Ooh girl, I’m getting them for every penny.
I want to bring heart back to music… Let’s talk about some shit we don’t understand and figure it out together.
You mentioned that you’re in a singing mood rather than rapping. Would you describe your rap and singing persona as alter egos?
Not alter egos, because it’s all coming from the same place. It’s the same source, it’s just manifested through rap or manifested through singing. But recently I’ve been wanting to sing more because I feel more in a place of worship when I’m singing than I do rapping. When you sing, you’re literally allowing a vibration to come out through your voice. It’s so cool being used in that way. I close my eyes more when I sing. When I rap, my eyes be open.
Do you feel like women in rap are having a moment?
This is the most saturated female rap has ever been. There are so many female rappers in the limelight at the same time. I don’t know if all the labels sent out a memo to each other and they were just like, “Sign all female rappers immediately.” I think we are having a moment. It’s a lot of different flavors, but then it’s also its own subgenre. I feel like hip-hop separates female rap from hip-hop as a whole. I used to be mad about it, but now I’m not mad. We’re in our own world. Fuck it.
What are some of your biggest goals going into this debut and the next chapter?
I’d like to see my first $50 million. I want to have at least one of the greatest albums of all time. I’m looking forward to receiving a Grammy, a BET award or something. And I want to bring heart back to music. We get it, guys. We fucking get it: you’re confident, you’re this, you’re that. You’re going to wear this, go here, do that, dance like this. That’s cool, but we get it. Let’s talk about some shit we don’t understand and figure it out together.
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I’m pretty transparent. I don’t know if there’s any fucking thing they don’t know about me. Oh, I eat gators. And I’m supposed to be the swamp princess. But I eat up gators, real bad. Fried, boiled, barbecued, peppered… Kebabed.