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Doechii Is Coming for the Crown: TDE’s Next Big Bet Eyes Rap Royalty Status

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When Jaylah Hickmon cultivated the moniker “Doechii,” it was formed as a way to protect her from adolescent bullying. Doechii would represent a fearless, bold, and all-around unapologetic version of the explorative sixth grader. It wasn’t like Jayla didn’t exist anymore, nor would Doechii be an alter ego, the artist clarified. Over time, the two simply became one. So, when Hickmon started middle school after the summer break, everyone was to call her Doechii – and it stuck ever since.

Tapping into her creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, Doechii’s self-made empire started before she found success in rap. In 2016, the passionate visionary launched her clothing line: “Stay Woke, Stay Black.” The brand, described as “a movement promoting racial equity and implementing societal enlightenment,” was a labor of love for the budding activist, who used it as a platform to marry her passion for expressiveness with a social cause important to her. In a YouTube video announcing the release of the collection, a young Doechii lights up with joy describing the threads and their homage to the diverse black community that lay at the heart of the brand. Although her time as a fashion designer wasn’t long, through the trials and tribulations of a small black-owned business, the soon-to-be wordsmith learned the importance of market research, quality control, and product improvement. These hard skills seamlessly translated into her current rising musical career.

 “I can’t remember when I decided [to pursue music], but I just knew that I was supposed to be doing this and performing,” she explains. “And when that [the hoodie business] failed, and I had no money, I was like, ‘well, I’m going to make music, and that’s going to be what it is.’”  

Before the world got to know Doechii’s artistry, Hickmon was figuring out who she was. Her three integral anchors were her mother, Celesia, Howard W. Blake High School, and her home city of Tampa, Florida.

Growing up in a single-parent household had its pitfalls. Money was tight. Still, Doechii’s mother wouldn’t let financial struggles stop her from fostering her daughter’s creativity. “She spent her last dime on anything I wanted to do and try. She would support me, and I saw her watch me quit so many different things and still support me,” the rapper reflects, knowing now the seeds of her mother’s love would become fruitful. 

Fast-forward to 2021, Hickmon was fortunate enough to help relocate her mother from Tampa to Los Angeles, bringing her closer to the magic. And even though her mother spent years being Doechii’s cheerleader on the sidelines, she did not grasp the full complexity of her daughter’s stardom. “Now that she’s moved here, she gets it, and she comes on set and is like, ‘Girl, this is a lot!’” 

For Doechii, Howard W. Blake High School was a fortress of imagination, unlocking a world of endless creativity. The rising artist beams when proudly boasting about her alma mater and the various electives and majors the school offered, from nail design to hair and stage production. Doechii always gravitated towards being on stage–taking jazz, musical theater, and vocal training classes to fill her academic schedule. Through this period of her life she developed artistic skills through friendly competition with classmates.

“Everything I know, I learned from Blake,” she explains, “[Blake] was my first exposure to real art and art ethics and what it means to be an artist.” Her fondness for the school is palpable, and she hasn’t been back to visit since graduating. When she speaks about her hypothetical return to the halls, she gleams, “I would probably cry if I went back, but it would be a good cry…I hope I make them proud.”

Undoubtedly, Tampa has left a mark on the emcee. There, she fueled her creativity by competing in talent shows, nurtured her experiences into vulnerable, relatable songwriting, produced her original songs, and even dabbled as a fashion entrepreneur. Over time, Doechii realized that she had ambitions beyond hometown success and left Tampa at 21-years-old to foster her music craft. “In my city in Tampa, there’s this mindset that holds many people back. I read that Florida is four to six years behind in fashion and music and everything because we’re at the bottom of the country.” Eager to learn the music industry and how to put on a show live – skills she found lacking back home, the young artist headed to New York with no solid plan but to be a student of the music game. 

After touching down in the concrete jungle, her first order of business was a songwriter’s audition for The Voice – where she didn’t make the cut. Unable to pay for her flight back home, Doechii extends her New York adventure. This fateful turn of events would lead her to her introduction to the city’s underground music scene and ultimately down the road to success.

“I can’t remember his name, but I see his face when I close my eyes,” she recalls of her first East Coast supporter. “It’s this guy and his sister, and he introduced me to a lot of kids in the scene…and also Arty [Furtado].” Through these connections, she booked gigs and built up a budding fan base around her self-released single, “Spooky Coochie.”

Money was low and Doechii was juggling odd jobs and making music, so she couch surfed and, at times, leaned on her unemployment checks to pay for her craft. She was focused on music and refused to prepare a plan B. It was like eat or die, she jokes. “It had to work, and I was going to work. So, I wasn’t worried about it. ‘Oh I need to save for a rainy day. Like, no, it’s raining. You’re already hungry; you’re already poor. So you might as well invest in you and your music.” Her sacrifices and determination would prove to be worth it, and in the next few months, her dedication came to fruition. 

Exploring and experimenting with her flow from a young age, Doechii would borrow beats from Youtube to create her first songs before connecting with producers and engineers. Of course, she jokes that this was before she realized it was unethical. Today, she considers her niche alternative hip-hop, pulling influences from Tampa’s trap/hip-hop/club music scene. Ridding herself from the stereotypical arches that define the genre, Doechii convicts, “if hip-hop is going right, I want to go left.” 

In 2020, Doechii released All the Places You’ll Go EP. The  five-track compilation is a medley of hip-hop, rap, pop, and R&B, and “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake” would become the most popular track. The raw and relatable lyrics about childhood identity exploration: fashion, sexuality, and finance, to name a few, quickly gained buzz on TikTok amongst the Gen Z demographic, who used the audio as a soundtrack for their physical transformation videos. Subsequently, Doechii’s cyber popularity spilled into the halls of record labels, and quickly after, the MC was on the industry’s radars.

After a series of uneventful meetings with labels that didn’t fit her mold, Doechii flew to Los Angeles to meet with Top Dawg Entertainment. “I didn’t want to sign with anybody but was praying for an all-black team in a black-owned business,” she explains. “So it was perfect. Many labels had reached out, but it was TDE for me.”

When thinking of the legacy brand and the immense pressure of being their latest big bet, she reflects, “I have to rap my ass off, and the goal is to do everything to make it easier for the next person. Like Dot, SZA, and Q, whether they know it or not, they made it easier for me. I want to do that same thing, push the limits of creativity even more, and continue to carry the legacy of TDE.”

Since her signing, the rapper has had a tremendous year. 

Her TDE induction came with a feature on Isaiah Rashad’s “Wut U Sed,” later appearing alongside her labelmate during his Coachella set. Subsequently, she released “Crazy,” her superhero anthem, and “Persuasive,” a punchy club banger, both of which she performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in May. 

“Persuasive” landed on former President Obama’s Summer 2021 Playlist. “I can’t imagine Obama just jamming my song,” she jokes. “I just don’t believe it, but if he really does – that’s crazy.” 

Under her new home, she released her sophomore EP, She / Her/ Black B—h, in August 2022 – with labelmate SZA lending a melodic verse on to the remix of the already punchy “Persuasive.” When talking about the EP’s titular pronouns Doechii explains, “Some days it means something deep, and sometimes it’s just a joke – it’s funny to me. It was just a way of using humor to cope with the past slurs people used against me.” 

“Stressed,” her latest buzzworthy release is a push-and-pull relationship with keeping her anxiety and vices at bay, backed by jazz notes and a myriad of percussive patterns. “[The song] is basically me divorcing all my bad habits,” says Doechii, “like alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and just like poor negative behaviors that I recently have quit, which is great.”

With a bright future ahead, Doechii is working hard on her debut studio album. While her audience is growing, the rising star hopes to continue honing in on the vulnerability of her songwriting. “I just feel like I’m making music for like one person, and I’m just meant to be myself so they can feel like it’s easier to be themselves.”

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