Before Doechii was a rapper, she was so many other things. For brevity, she shares a condensed list that includes everything from dancer and actor to creative director and, at one time, aspiring magician. Above all, though, the 22-year-old rapper born Jaylah Hickmon was a perfectionist who was acutely aware of her purpose as a “creative vessel.” In 2018, this pursuit of perfection landed Hickmon in an unfamiliar creative rut until it dawned on her that to develop her craft, she would need to push past the idea of the perfect song entirely.
To break those self-inflicted chains, Doechii embarked on a journey of creative discovery. “I just told myself I was going to write a song every day. No matter how good or bad it is, I just want to write a song because I had a problem with finishing things.” Doechii’s three-month artistic boot camp bore fruit in the form of Coven Music Session, Vol.1, her 14-minute debut EP that gave her growing Soundcloud audience a captivating—albeit brief—glimpse of what she had brewing in her Tampa, Fla. bedroom.
By November 2020, the buzz that Coven Music spurred gave way to the roaring applause that followed the release of Oh the Places You’ll Go, Doechii’s coming-of-age concept album that married the best of Trina, Tyler the Creator, and Junie B. Jones in kaleidoscopic fashion. The project was led by “Lucky Blucky Fruitcake,” a four-minute lyrical exercise that sees Doechii experiment with different voices, cadences, and even production styles as its high-octane opening act gives way to a jazzy, climactic ending.
Doechii sat down with Billboard to talk about her favorite books, her interest in tech philosophy, her forthcoming studio album, and a whole lot more.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Billboard: Let’s start at your background with performing arts school since that was such a big part of your childhood. Was that something you asked your mom for, or did she see a spark in you that she wanted to foster?
Doechii: My mom always encouraged everything that I wanted to do involved with the arts. But as I got older, things got a little rough in my household, so my mom couldn’t afford to put me in all the places and training. I found out about Blake High School [but] it was way out of my district. I wasn’t even supposed to go to that high school, but I begged my mom to let me go because I knew if I got in, I could learn everything I wanted to learn for free.
Favorite class while you were there?
I did classic chorus signing, and that was a huge experience. I walked in thinking that it was going to be like, what is the name of that show? Glee?
But it was way more strict, and it’s classical music, so I got the chance to learn how to read music, sing sheet music, work with orchestras, and all that. It exposed me to a whole new genre of music outside of hip hop and pop that I got to appreciate.
Did you always feel like you were destined for a life on the stage in some way?
Honestly, I didn’t think about it that deep. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in entertainment; I just knew I wanted to entertain. So I was acting, I had my own YouTube channel where I would post skits. I took my own pictures, threw shows for other people. I was just using myself creatively as a vessel as much as I could.
With all these different creative pursuits that you tried your hand at, why was music the thing that stuck with you?
I think because music is all those things at the same time. Music and storytelling are kind of like acting, and performing involves dancing. But [stage] production, down to lights, skits, and choreography, music is all of that. So I think I continued to gravitate towards that because I didn’t have to pick one thing. I could do it all.
I read that Lauryn Hill stood out to you as a major influence when you were coming up. How did The Miseducation impact you either as a fan or as an eventual artist?
That was the only “secular music” my mom would allow me to listen to, so I played that album like crazy. That balance of vulnerability, rap, feminism, singing—it all kind of [shaped] my standard of music. It was like she was breaking out of the cages that she felt like she was in. Listening to her all the time as my influence…I feel like it built this [understanding] that I have about resonating and being vulnerable in my music even though it can still bop. It can still rock.
In a past interview, you said that you took some time off while you were in a creative rut to study what resonates with people musically and otherwise. What did you find out during that period?
I was making music for the person who wakes up at 6:00 AM and eats healthy and drinks smoothies and does yoga and has a great job and all this shit, and it wasn’t resonating. I realized that nobody’s like that. People are imperfect. People are hurting. People are going through things in their family; they’re like me.
I was lacking this sense of vulnerability and honesty in my music. I learned what I valued and what meant a lot to me. I learned accuracy and just saying exactly what it is. Like on “Lucky Blucky Fruitcake”:
“This is who I am / from the back to the front / I never had to pay for my schoolhouse lunch / My momma used stamps when she need a little help/ but a n**** made due with the cards that were dealt”
I’m just saying exactly what it was. You feel me?
You’re going to be performing at Knockdown Fest this weekend. What’s it been like putting your stage show together after a year without live music?
It’s been really exciting, and it doesn’t feel unfamiliar. I was performing in small local clubs and tiny venues with like ten people in the crowd, but I still came with dancers, I still rehearsed, I still had choreography, I still treated it just like I do now. The only difference is there are just more people in the crowd, more people to connect with. I’ve been working my ass off rehearsing and recording and making sure that everything is top-notch and that the audience has a great time.
On the next album, should fans expect to hear you bouncing between a bunch of different styles, or do you think you’re going to lean into a more focused sound like you did on Bra-Less?
Hell no. They should expect all types of sounds. Something that’s important to me right now is embracing my alternativeness and the fact that I genre bend. I don’t think genre is even going to matter in the next five to 10 [years]. So, they should expect all types of sounds: rapping, singing, melodic, not melodic, all types of shit. It’s going to be great.
What else would you say an eager fan should look forward to from a proper, full-length Doechii album?
I have been preparing for this album for years, the concept of it, everything about it. The songs on Oh the Places You’ll Go are like loosies because I was just like, “I still need to drop something; these are still important songs.” But I have stuff in my catalog that I know I want to save for later.
With this project, because of that, it’s going to sound drastically different. People’s perspective of how skilled I am [will be] completely different from what you [heard] on Oh the Places You’ll Go and Bra-Less.
I’m mean. And I don’t even want to be cocky right now, but I know this album is tight. It’s going to sound like my pen is on fire.
Before we go, I’d love to know what role you want your music to play in the lives of your fans?
A mirror. My job as an artist is to say the things that they might be too afraid to say. So I feel like I have to be brave for them, in a way, and say things that they didn’t really know that they felt, but they do. And that’s something that I owe myself, that bravery and honesty, so it works for me, but it also works for them. So when they listen to me on the bus or when they’re by themselves, they can feel like, “She gets me. Her too, and me too,” and that’s how we connect.