Dress and Sleeves by Unnamed NYC

words by Michael Cuby
images by Kanya Iwana

Doechii has always set intentions for herself.

"I don't know how to explain this, but I just feel very intuitive and I know when I'm ready for certain things," the rapper tells me matter of factly one July afternoon, sitting at home in Los Angeles as she gets her glam done before a busy day of content creation and music making. "I have a very deep spiritual connection with God, so a lot of my intentions are just set from visions that I get."

Take her name, for example. Born Jaylah Hickmon, the recording artist started going by "Doechii" in middle school in a bold move to separate herself from her more conformist peers. "I was like, you know what? I'm going to be who I am. I'm going to be a superstar and brand myself." Though she "didn't even know what 'branding' was at the time," she knew she was meant to stand out. "I started wearing these tutus and coming up with silhouettes, just implementing my creativity. I started to mold this woman that God kept showing me I would be. And now, I'm her."

Whatever God's vision was, it must have included great success. Over the last seven years, Doechii has risen from the depths of Soundcloud to the upper reaches of the Billboard charts. Though she's yet to release an official debut album, she's already scored collaborations with artists like Janelle Monáe, Ravyn Lenae, and SZA. Doja Cat is a huge fan, as is UGK's Bun B. She's such a hot commodity right now that, when asked to reflect on 2023 alone, she has to pause to refresh her memory. "Coachella. My first charting song. And Billboard Women In Music was this year too, right?" (It was. She won the Rising Star Award.) Setting intentions has clearly worked for Doechii thus far. So when she says, "Ultimately, it would be great if when people thought about 'pop culture,' they thought about me," it's difficult not to nod in knowing agreement.

On the day of our call, Doechii's latest single, "What It Is (Block Boy)," reaches a new peak on the charts, inching ever closer into Billboard's top 50. It's her first song to do so. The song, a "nostalgic" R&B anthem that foregrounds her buttery soft vocals, is a pivot from the hard hitting rhymes she exhibited on career making raps like last year's "Crazy" but the artist, who counts Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu as key inspirations, has always been something of a musical chameleon. The Tampa, Florida native's versatility is part of her appeal. It's what got her noticed by Top Dawg Entertainment, who last year signed her as the first female rapper on their roster.

Doechii didn't begin with major label aspirations. The artist started making her own music when she was still attending performing arts high school, self funding projects with money she made from her popular YouTube channel and "Stay Woke, Stay Black" hoodie business. But after the homegrown success of her 2020 Oh the Places You'll Go EP (and its TikTok viral single "Yucky Blucky Fruitcake"), Doechii knew that signing was the natural next step. "I didn't just want to be an independent artist, " she admits. "I want to be a global superstar." Despite fielding interest from multiple labels, Doechii landed with TDE because of its legacy and the creative freedom she felt they provided. "Plus, it's Black owned," she adds. "And that was very important to me."

Full look by Moschino
Shoes by Alexander McQueen

Being on a label made famous for breaking stars like Kendrick Lamar and SZA has, naturally, come with a fair amount of "good pressure." But as a former gymnast, Doechii thrives through regimented discipline. Since signing, she's only expanded her following, gaining new fans with the cheekily titled, five-song EP she / her / black bitch. (The title originated as a joke it's a reference to both Kendrick Lamar's "The Little Homies" production company and Diahann Carroll's infamous line about being "the first Black bitch on television.") She's also become a must see live act. After annihilating the Coachella stage this past April (and the BET Awards last summer), she's now gearing up to open for Doja Cat's highly anticipated Scarlet Tour this fall.

And that's not to mention her work on screen. Earlier this year, Doechii appeared in Earth Mama, Savanah Leaf's critically acclaimed A24 debut about a pregnant mother's struggles with the legal system. Playing the protagonist's super religious (and at times judgmental) best friend, Doechii exhibited a natural radiance on screen though that came as no surprise for anyone who has seen her inventive music videos. "The same way I tap into real emotions on stage is the same way that I tap into them on camera," the artist says of her first acting experience. "I'm just very in tune with my emotions, and I like to implement them whenever I'm performing."

It's incredible what she's achieved while staying completely true to herself. As a self admitted textbook Leo, Doechii cops to being "very ambitious and loyal and braggadocious, but also down to earth." One can sense her Leo like confidence in the way she has publicly navigated her queer identity. Even while still living in "redneck, racist, homophobic" Tampa, she recalls telling herself, "Okay, girl, you like girls. Who gives a fuck?" (The only other queer person she knew from her hometown, Matthew, still does her hair to this day.) And now, as Doechii pushes ever closer into the mainstream, she has maintained that attitude, proudly discussing her bisexuality through her music in her lyrics, beats, and visuals, as she does with the ballroom influenced "Persuasive." "It's just not a big deal. I just love who I love and that's it."

She's figured out a lot at the t ender age of 24 (she's almost 25, even if she likes to joke that she's about to turn 21), but there are still other things Doechii wishes to accomplish as her career continues. "I'm open to doing almost anything in the entertainment business," she says for thrightly. "One day, I want to direct. Maybe I'll be in fashion. I'm not close minded to anything." When pressed about a five year plan, she mentions wanting to "hammer out an album every year for the next three years." And after that? "Take a year off and come back with a fucking folk album to piss people off and have it be the most hated album of all time."

I assume she's joking, but with Doechii, one should always expect the unexpected. She tells me as much when teasing her upcoming major label debut album, which she insists is still on track for a 2023 release. ("Definitely before I go on tour with Doja," she promises.) "Y'all going to be dancing. It's going to be really fun," she lets off. She keeps predictably tight-lipped about the rest, only confirming that the new project will be significantly more conceptual than anything else in her discography. It will be yet another pivot for Doechii, even if one thing has remained the same. "I don't want to give anything away," she says. "But I created it with very clear intention."

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