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Jaylah Hickmon is a bonafide entertainer who’s bolstering up the next generation of multidimensional women in rap. You probably know her as Doechii. “The name Doechii came to me in a really dark time,” the 23-year-old rapper and singer opens up over Zoom, days after her 2022 BET performance in L.A. “I was looking for Doechii to be somebody that I wasn’t ready to be at the time, but I always knew Doechii and Jaylah were one person. God showed me and now I know my destiny and purpose.”
These days, the name Doechii seems to be showing up in more places, whether it’s on your feed, friends’ playlists, or lineups of new artists to watch. (She was even on the red carpet at the Grammys this year.) That’s what happens when you become a viral star, after all. Doechii’s career, already years in the making, caught momentum after her 2020 single, “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake” caught fire on the internet. Now in 2022, she is the second female artist in Top Dawg Entertainment’s roster (following SZA) and is under a label partnership deal with Capitol Records. She followed up with releasing the ballroom dance club hit, “Persuasive,” which became inescapable on TikTok, and “Crazy,” a chanting rap bop that showcases her performative fury and flow.
With an explosive chopper rap style, airy vocals, glamorous-meets-sexy wardrobe, and a growing fanbase that she sometimes calls “the coven,” Doechii knows herself well. Nicknamed the “Swamp Princess,” the Tampa-born star acknowledges that her come-up was not straightforward; she had to pull herself from the mud. “I really went through every corner of Tampa with my shows,” she says. “I performed at the clubs, I performed at the strip clubs. I did everything you could imagine and worked with everybody there.”
As a result of her hustle, Doechii has left an everlasting imprint on her hometown’s hip-hop scene and hopes to make the city better known for its talent. “I was one of the people who curated the music scene in Tampa around a really pivotal time,” Doechii says with a refreshing sense of assuredness. “The foundation that a lot of new artists in Tampa are walking on right now, me and my friends at that time helped build and curate what the Tampa music scene is today.”
A student of powerful rap stars and gospel singers of the ‘90s, young Doechii was no dilettante; she always had Missy Elliott, Erykah Badu, or Jill Scott on rotation in her iPod and freestyled effortlessly. Inspired by musical Black storytelling and the theatrics of early rap, Doechii paints a similar American snapshot of her crude reality. In her poignant 2020 single, “Black Girl Memoir,” she faces the tumult of her adolescence and teenage years: “This head on my shoulder’s been weighed down with a hundred beads/I’m combin’ out my trauma like my mama do bdbs/A hot comb’ll hit you with third-degree burns.” Meanwhile, the background chorus sings, “Make it go away… I can do anything”—now that she’s grown, Doechii reframes her perspective with her morale-boosting uptempo music.
Doechii shows no sign of slowing down; after releasing another pumped-up single, “Bitch I’m Nice,” the Florida rapper has dropped her EP, she / her / black bitch. The rapid-fire songs put her unparalleled lyrical rhythm on full display as she jumps between overlapping animated voices, talking herself up. As her career continues to skyrocket, Doechii pauses for a moment to catch up with ELLE.com on her new music, her experience growing up on the internet during the peak YouTube era, and her 2022 Grammys escapade to link with Doja Cat.
You have really taken off since the release of “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake,” which was a viral sensation and led you to become one of the fastest-growing female rappers on the rise right now. As a newly-signed artist in the music industry, how are you settling into all that you’ve experienced thus far?
I am really trying to catch up with everything that is going on. I knew this was always for me but it is almost like I am trying to catch up to myself. I understood my assignment when the name of Doechii randomly came to me from God and that’s how I’ve been moving ever since.
Doechii is a brand. It used to be something much deeper until I realized who I really am. It’s a movement and it’s powerful.
You’re from Florida and you’re coined the “Swamp Princess.” What about coming up in Tampa has given you the confidence to find your identity?
The Swamp Princess name came up from me being from Florida, specifically in Tampa. I lived in Sulphur Springs, I lived in West Haven before and I lived in New Tampa. I’ve lived everywhere in [the city] and I came up underground there.
Which female rappers have welcomed you with open arms to the growing hip-hop community?
Monaleo, Baby Tate, Flo Milli, Doja Cat, and Nicki Minaj all have shown support to me, which was insane. A lot of rappers have shown respect and it really has been a blessing, to be honest. It is truly the ultimate honor.
You went to your first Grammy Awards ceremony in Las Vegas this year and even live-updated your fans on your meet-up with Doja Cat. What was it like linking up with her on one of the most recognized nights in music?
It was a really fun experience. Doja Cat is extremely talented and I’ve been watching her for a long time and she has really come out of the mud with her music. I’ve watched her grow and develop and go through so many things. She is so deserving of everything that she has and her talent and skill level only get better.
That is exactly how I hope to be as an artist. I want to always get better, so for her to acknowledge me as somebody who is good enough and that she wants to work with me, it feels really good.
Do you have a dream collaborator you are looking to hop on one of your tracks?
I’d really like to work with Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Drake.
Your music takes on so many different styles. You have produced the ballroom dance hit “Persuasive,” to the gritty hardcore rap song “Crazy.” Where does your mind go when you’re inventing your next project?
Before I get into a place of creating a body of work, I’m usually thinking about the life lessons that I have learned and what things I need to learn. As I’m making any project, I’m genuinely growing because that’s what it’s about, right?
I’m basically acknowledging my experience. I’m making music about where I am and where I’m going to be. I’m constantly in a space of present and future living. I put my mind in a present and future mindset constantly. That is where I always am when I create.
You care so much about visual storytelling. You’ve shown that in the low-budget video you made for “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake” when you were first starting out, to the high-flying energy of larger-scale productions like the “Crazy” music video. Why do you have such a passion for how your music is released and viewed?
I’m a theater kid and I’m really passionate about how people sell things and how we package things and the entire experience. It’s not just rap, singing, or making music for me. It’s about the entire experience.
People are being entertained and spoken to and moved by every aspect of how you put music out. So the pictures, how I roll a song out, the merch, everything matters. I want to make everything connect to the story and make sure that I’m putting a message or some type of symbolism in every part of the rollout so that it continues to stimulate and touch people and change lives.
I know you have a very online presence and have even rapped about what growing up in the digital age is like as a Black woman. You even have your own Youtube channel. What is an old social media post of yours that makes you cringe now?
Oh my God. Probably my really old vlogs where I used to do storytimes and tell these really exaggerated stories. I look back and laugh at how obnoxious and dramatic I was.
As the only other female signee of Top Dawg Entertainment outside of SZA thus far and having a joint deal with Capitol Records, how have the record labels given you the reins to become the star you have dreamt of being?
TDE has some of the greatest artists in the hip-hop game right now including SZA. They allow us to be ourselves and grow and take our time. There never really is any rush to put out music, which I really appreciate, and they trust my creativity. We’re always in agreement with my imagination and they don’t try to get in the way of that or change that. Therefore, they help bring all of my crazy ideas to life.
I think they were scared at first when I brought up the concept of the visual for “Crazy” to them, but they still trust me.
Your song “Bitch I’m Nice” was released in July. How is this different from the other energetic bops you have created?
“Bitch I’m Nice” solidifies more of the hip-hop house sound. It’s a fun summer single. It’s not extremely different from anything that I’ve put out, but you definitely haven’t heard this from me. It’s as if my singles, “Crazy” and “Persuasive” had a baby.
When you first listened to the “Persuasive” remix with SZA, you posted your reaction on Instagram and the face you had was priceless. You looked so happy and in shock. Getting support from your TDE sister on the “Persuasive” track must’ve been important to you. What were your texts like when putting the remix together?
My team actually put the remix together and surprised me with the song. I had conversations before with SZA briefly about wanting to collaborate when the time is right. When I first signed to TDE, my music was still underdeveloped. So, with “Persuasive” I was thinking, girl, let me bring you on the right song, and this was it.
“Persuasive” really proves that house, ballroom, and dance music will never go out of style and there is a huge resurgence of this liberating type of music. What about house music makes you feel part of a welcoming community?
People who are into house music are very similar to me. When I say that, I mean there is a heavy gay impact and gay culture in house, dance, and disco music. This stems back to the early days of these genres that go back to a really, really long time. That community, which I am a part of, curated house music and that’s why the song, “Persuasive” feels so close to me and I feel so a part of the community.
The rageful song “Swamp Bitches” featuring Rico Nasty is full of heated passion and confidence with both of your heavy rap flows. When would be the best time to put on this song?
I told Rico Nasty that I wanted us to make a song where the villain wins. Where there is theme music and the villain wins at the end of the story. When you’re feeling like a bad bitch and you’re feeling extremely egotistical one day and you need to be validated in your ego and your narcissism, “Swamp Bitches” is completely the song for you.
she / her / black bitch is such a powerful title for an EP. What does it signify for you?
I use she/her/Black bitch as my pronouns. Let’s think about what pronouns are. I feel the same way about how I am attached to the statement “Black bitch,” where it feels like an actual pronoun to me. That is the simple explanation. That is really it. I just wanted to take my power back.
You have an appreciation for fashion and have made that known through the plenty of serves you have in your music videos. You mention custom-made drip in your music too. What fashion houses would you want to work with in the future?
Definitely Mugler, they have my attention. I have to thank Megan Thee Stallion for that because she really opened my eyes up to Mugler and they are fucking hot.
I love Balenciaga and Gucci. I purchase a lot of Gucci in my spare time and I want to collab more with up-and-coming designers too.
Lastly, if you were to look back on the progress you have made now, what would you tell yourself five years ago about who you are today?
I needed to know five years ago that I could love myself for where I was. I used to be so obsessed with who I was going to be. I didn’t pay attention to who I was at that moment. I didn’t think it was important to who I was then because that was not who I was going to become. I would tell myself to embrace and love who I was at that time, even though I knew who I was always destined to be.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Malik Peay is a seasoned Black journalist that uplifts the cultural backgrounds of worldly figures and Black artists. His work has been featured in Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, Essence, W Magazine, Complex, Allure, ELLE, Them, Teen Vogue, and more.