Doechii to the Front of the Class

The rapper from Tampa is about to be everywhere.

Photo: John Jay
Photo: John Jay

It’s a hot June day in Studio City, Los Angeles, and Doechii is sitting in the passenger seat of a Rolls-Royce, bobbing her head to her own song “Bitches Be.” Her voice in the chorus is low and full until her words start to slur in the next verse. The 23-year-old rapper has already been drawing comparisons to her idols — Nicki Minaj, Azealia Banks, and SZA — and while their influence on her music is undeniable, her southern flair and the aughts-era hip-hop and R&B she pulls from give each new release an element of the unexpected. The next track, “Bitch I’m Nice,” fades in. It’s faster, and her rhymes are sharper. “I’m the best thing in your life / Know this pussy good and it purr but it still got bite.” She whips her head around and looks at me. “It’s my most cocky villain self just flexing my shit,” she says with a cheeky smirk.

Doechii is at the precipice of one of the most exciting times to be an emerging artist. She has been releasing music for six years, amassing an audience on SoundCloud drawn to how cleanly she can switch from saucy and seductive croons to aggressive, staccato raps. She broke out to a wider audience in 2020 with the release of “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake,” which birthed a massive TikTok trend the following year. Over the line “Doechii, why don’t you introduce yourself to the class?” users flashed old yearbook photos of themselves before revealing what they look like today. By March, she was signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, and her fourth EP is expected in August. Every day since her signing has included a business meeting or gig. Two days before we meet, she performed a medley of her songs “Persuasive” and “Crazy” at the BET Awards, snatching off her wig midway through the performance as the crowd went wild. “I only had a few days to prepare for it. I learned the dance the day before,” she says, shaking her head in disbelief. “I feel like I’m moving so fast.”

We arrive at a nail salon where Doechii can get a fresh manicure and unwind before meeting up with her mom, who’s in town from Georgia looking at potential homes that would put her closer to her daughter. Doechii is dressed casually in a sleeveless magenta maxi dress with her hair tied up in a head wrap. Sorting through colors, she picks a shimmery gold. When she speaks, her judgments come quickly and without caveats. “If music is good, it’s good, and it’ll sell,” she says as we settle into the salon chairs. “Trends die, platforms die, but not good music. You’ll never catch me doing fluff.”

Born Jaylah Hickmon, Doechii grew up in Tampa, Florida. In the sixth grade, she decided to become someone new. She was a shy 11-year-old who was bullied by her peers, so she wrote a new identity for herself into her diary: “I am Doechii.” “It literally just came to me,” she says when I ask how she came up with the name. “Jaylah might’ve been getting bullied, but I decided Doechii wouldn’t stand for that shit. My whole attitude was different. It stuck.” She waltzed into her classroom wearing a tutu and never looked back.

With her mother’s encouragement, she threw herself into extracurriculars, joining cheerleading, step, choir, dance, and theater. In the ninth grade, she set her sights on the Howard W. Blake School of the Arts. The school wasn’t in her district, so she had to audition for its magnet program. “I didn’t know how to read music yet, but they accepted me because I had a strong voice,” she recalls. She made the best of her four years there. “They let the performing-arts kids get away with a lot,” she says, laughing. “I was never really in class. I would just be in the practice rooms playing piano, going over classical choir songs, dancing. I did everything but be in class.” She was convinced she would graduate and become a professional choral singer until one of her best friends put her on to the idea of producing and releasing her own music online without a label.

Doechii performs at the 2022 BET Awards. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Doechii doesn’t dream; she plots. When she goes back to read her old diary entries, the paragraphs are peppered with I wills, not I wants. She started posting covers and a few originals to a YouTube channel. In 2016, a few months after her senior year, she participated in a freestyle challenge set to Monica’s “So Gone.” “People really fucked with it,” she says. It was the push she needed to go all in. Not long after, she put out her first song, “El Chapo,” on SoundCloud. It’s not the type of flashy single that would have record labels knocking on your door, but it feels unusually mature for a debut. Doechii sings with a mix of confidence and vulnerability as she effortlessly switches up her flow. The song gained tens of thousands of streams within a few months. “After that, I was like, Oh, hell no, I can do this shit,” she says.

Doechii continued posting original songs on YouTube, building an audience with vlogs, photo shoots, thrift hauls, and life updates. In late 2019, she hit a wall. She started to feel that she was too aware of what she was doing, that maybe she was trying too hard or was too focused on the wrong things. She had grown up in a devoutly Christian household but had recently become interested in tarot, almost depending on the cards to tell her if she was on the right track. “I never really believed in them,” she says. “But I thought I needed them to show me something.”

For three months, she immersed herself in Julia Cameron’s 1992 self-help book, The Artist’s Way. “Sometimes when I’m flowing creatively, I feel a resistance, like there’s this cap or limit,” she says in the first video in a series she titled My Creative Recovery Journey. “It’s almost like this creative spirit in me wants to jump out and I find myself kind of suppressing it or stopping myself — it’s fear.” She pushed herself to write daily, documenting the process with updates to her channel, and eventually compiled her creations into her debut, Coven Music Session, Vol. 1. She started to feel emboldened by the idea that nothing really matters — not fatalistically, but as a way of letting go of her attachment to success. “I realized if nobody was here on this Earth,” she says, “I would still be making music.”

The Artist’s Way places an emphasis on the connection between creativity and spirituality, which led Doechii to reexamine her own relationship with God. For a long time, religion had made it more difficult to understand that she was bisexual. Her sophomore EP, 2020’s Oh the Places You’ll Go, “was me letting go,” she says. “Before, I didn’t even acknowledge I was gay. I was low-key closeted, but not really. I just felt like I didn’t need to talk about it in my music. Really, it was more about me being scared to accept the fact that I like coochie.”

On “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake,” the breakout track from OTPYG, Doechii reintroduces herself, rapping, “Hi, my name’s Doechii with two I’s /… / I think I like girls but I think I like men / Doechii is a dick, I never fit in.” After it blew up on TikTok, she started getting interest from multiple labels. “I heard ‘Yucky Blucky’ and went on a Doechii binge,” says Top Dawg president Anthony “Moosa” Tiffith Jr. “She could rap, she could sing, she could dance. I flew her out the next day.” Doechii fielded several offers before landing at TDE, the label known for SZA, Isaiah Rashad, and, formerly, Kendrick Lamar. In recent years, SZA has spoken of her frustrations with maintaining control over how her music was promoted and released at the label. When I ask Doechii about this, she says that TDE was simply offering her what she was looking for. “I’d always manifested working with an all-Black team,” she says. “All of the other labels were trying to undersell me, thinking I was stupid. TDE came to me correct.” She became the first female rapper on the label’s roster, though her sound can’t be described exclusively as rap. She likes being difficult to pin down — she learned it from Minaj, her biggest artistic influence. “Listening to Nicki gave me the idea that I could rap without needing to emulate a specific style,” she says. “You can play with it.”

The nail technician puts the last touches on Doechii’s nails — she ended up changing her mind a few times before settling on an iridescent chrome. We make our way to her studio, and she leans against a table in one of the building’s many offices; every few minutes, someone comes by to run a new request past her. In April, her other idol, Azealia Banks, agreed to hop on a remix of “Crazy” only to back out days later. Banks ranted on her Instagram Story, claiming she didn’t know Doechii and that she had been interacting with “some fake Azealia Banks account.” (Doechii’s DMs proved otherwise.) Although Banks has engaged in an infamously long list of feuds, it was hard for Doechii not to take it personally. “I love her to death, but she destroyed me,” she says. She knows negative attention is part of the bargain, but still, she has her limits. “I’ve got a big mouth, and I’m from the South — it’s hard not to clap back,” she says. “One day, I’m going to die, and the only person who’s going to be in the casket is me. So I better have been who I wanted to be and said what I wanted to say.”

Doechii to the Front of the Class