NME Radar: Breakout

Doechii: fearless, dexterous Tampa rapper that’s labelmates with SZA

The newest signing to influential rap label Top Dawg Entertainment is defying categorisation with her thrilling, club-ready flow

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Doechii is “meant to blow up like the white things and soda rockets”, to quote the dexterous wordplay at the heart of her breakthrough single, ‘Yucky Blucky Fruitcake’. Released two years ago as part of a fantastical, Dr Seuss-inspired EP titled ‘Oh The Places You’ll Go’, it caught the ear of Top Dawg Entertainment; the label that discovered Kendrick Lamar, and is currently home to Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and SZA.

After signing to the influential rap label in March this year, the artist appeared on stage with Isaiah Rashad during his set at this year’s Coachella. “I was really nervous,” she says, speaking from LA (raised in Tampa, Florida, Doechii relocated to the West Coast last year). “I did two performances and I feel like I harshly critiqued myself about the first one, so I made sure that when I came back for that second one, I ate it up. It’s less often that I get nervous, but when I do, I get really, really nervous: [with] gas and shit,” she adds nonchalantly. “It gets real ugly, girl.“

She also ended up hitting the road with another of her labelmates. “SZA has this sacredness about her which is so freaking cool,” says Doechii. “I love mysterious women who have this sacred feeling about them, because I’m just not that girl. I could never be mysterious,” she laughs. “I talk too much.”

Since entering the TDE fold, Doechii’s debut release on the label – the silky-smooth, house-inflected dance track ‘Persuasive’ – has continued to slow-burn its way into regular rotation, racking up 2.5 million streams and counting, and cropping up everywhere from NTS dance mixes to BBC 1Xtra. And her jaw-dropping music video for ‘Crazy’ marks the perfect introduction to an artist intent on smashing through all creative boundaries. Featuring live albino alligators, flaming cars, and a brutalist car park filled with a troupe of formidable dancers, ‘Crazy’ twists and distorts the trope of women’s naked bodies being used to draw in and titillate viewers; here, they exude strength and power. “With my music I feel like I am capable of doing anything,” she says.

When did you start writing music?

“I wrote my first song when I was in the 6th grade. I knew this girl who was a huge Nicki Minaj fan, and at this time I was really Christian and I believed that Nicki Minaj was a part of the Illuminati [laughs]. I was really against her. But she put me onto Nicki Minaj and I was immediately hooked and wanted to start a group. I wanted to rap, so I wrote my first song and we did it at a talent show, and we won!”

You grew up in Tampa. Florida as a whole seems to be in a really strong place at the moment, musically – Mellow Rackz, Nico Sweet, and They Hate Change are three other newer acts heading in really interesting directions right now…

“My experience growing up in Tampa was really colourful, and being from the South, there’s a lot of culture. I think Florida is really evolving [musically] after kind of being at a standstill. Kodak Black was kind of carrying hip-hop in Florida for a long time, but now the sound is starting to evolve, and a lot of artists are finally breaking through. People are really starting to take notice of all the different sounds, which is really beautiful.”

2020’s ‘Yucky Blucky Fruitcake’ marked a lot of people’s introductions to your music. It’s a chronicle of your childhood. Did making that track mark any kind of turning point for you, artistically?

“I made ‘Yucky Blucky Fruitcake’ for myself and I knew that with everything I put into that song – my heart and my soul – it was going to be a turning point. It reflected into my actual life, and my career; me personally and musically. Before, I just wanted to make a good song: something that I liked and my friends liked, and that people thought was cool. When I made this, I was like, I’m going to try and make a song for my inner child. If it wasn’t for that girl, I wouldn’t even be where the fuck I am now. When I wrote that song, it was all about her.”

On that song, you namecheck the Junie B. Jones children’s books – which were later banned in the US for setting a ‘poor’ example to kids…

“They were my absolute favourites and they shaped my entire identity. I was reading those books so early, and they just resonated with me so much. Junie B Jones specifically taught me nothing at all, but I just needed to know that there was some child or character who was like me. Where I grew up in my city, there was no one who acted like me, so I felt insecure, and when I would read those books – Junie B Jones, or Dr Seuss – those characters felt like me. It didn’t teach me good morals, but in other ways it kind of did. It gave me the bravery to be myself because I saw somebody else being like me.”

doechii rapper
Credit: Vika Petlakh

Paramore also get a shout-out – ”Singing karaoke while my mom was at the store / Scared that she would walk in on me singing Paramore”. Are you a Hayley Williams fan?

“Hell yeah, I’m a huge Paramore fan. She’s a badass: fighting against body norms, all the pressure that society puts on girls, and I love that. That’s why I fuck with her so much, outside of the fact that her vocals are fucking insane. She’s extremely talented, it’s crazy. I wanted to sing like her, write like her. She’s played a huge role in my life.”

What other artists do you admire?

“I’m a huge Kanye West fan. Tyler, The Creator, Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, OutKast. These are artists who are the most honest, the most creative, and I’m really inspired by them. They gave me the courage to do what I’m doing right now.

“I also love SZA’s honesty: she always finds a really cool, beautiful way to say what we’re all thinking, and we didn’t even know we felt that way until she said it. I love the way she interacts with music, and you can just feel her in it, all the time. That’s something I strive for, and I think that’s what every artist wants: we really want to get the purest form of our emotions out. We toured together, and she’s a really gentle spirit, and has a very gentle way of leading her team, which I really admire. I aspire to be like that one day.”

How did signing to TDE come about?

“I had just dropped ‘Oh The Places You’ll Go’ and I was just pushing it by myself, and it got the attention of [the person who would become] my manager – me and her decided to move to New York and follow our dreams, y’know, shit like that. I was sleeping on my dad’s sofa, and got this random call. My manager was like, ‘Bitch: TDE wants to fly us out.’ I went out there [to California], and I told myself, ‘I’m not going home without being signed.’”

“I always thought I would be independent my entire life, but if I was ever gonna sign to a label, it needed to be TDE. That’s what happened. I spent the first night with TDE making ‘Crazy’. It was that type of energy, I was hungry, and I still am. I did end up leaving because they signed me within the week. I’d never even yelled on a track before I did ‘Crazy’, so when I recorded that, it’s a reflection of pure fearlessness. I was like, ‘Fuck that shit, I’m gonna go stupid.’ Now I’ve shown myself I can make a song called ‘Crazy’, I can do anything.”

“Hayley Williams is a badass: fighting against body norms, all the pressure that society puts on girls, and I love that”

When people don’t understand something, the knee-jerk reaction is to call it ‘crazy’, and that’s perhaps something that particularly gets angled at women – was that in your head at all?

“100%. I was thinking about and channelling everything that somebody might’ve made me feel crazy about. I realised that everything people made me feel crazy for doing or saying or wearing or whatever was the very thing that freed me, or propelled me. Then I was like, ‘Woah, I am fucking crazy. That’s why I’m here, and you’re still watching me, calling me crazy, you feel me?’”

What does the future look like for Doechii?

“This is my last month to finish my album, so I’m really tunnel vision on that. The album is in an interesting place right now: I’m in this space where I have great songs, and I could put an album out right now, but in my heart I don’t feel like it’s done yet. I’m still writing new music simultaneously, while tightening up the songs I already have. I’m putting a stop on it at the end of May. I’m like, ‘No, girl, whatever you have by the end of May, that’s the fucking album.’”