Works at the Carson, California studio, with which Best Dawg Entertainment was launched became something of a rite of passage for new artists on the label. Building a studio in the back of his unassuming suburban home circa 2004, founder Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffit assembled four of the LA area’s most talented MCs— Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul — and brought out the best in them. Nearly two decades later, TDE’s first female rapper found herself in the wood-paneled, windowless cave known as the House of Pain. “Yeah, baby, I was in that cold studio,” he says Doechii. “I was in that studio struggling, writing music, no heater.”

At the time, the studio looked like it might have in Lamar’s time good kid, mAAd city a decade earlier. A tattered brown couch sat beneath a handwritten edict on what makes a rap star. Dark wooden figurines of vintage black musicians lined the shelves, and a paper notice that read “DO NOT MESS WITH THESE SETUPS” hid what may or may not have been a thermostat. “No, man, I remember Carson,” she continues, getting playfully dramatic. “I don’t want to go back.”

Dochii, 23, has attracted the attention of multiple labels since her breakout hit, the sharply autobiographical 2020 “What a Blaky Fruitcake” appeared on TikTok – specifically as a soundtrack for people showing who they once were and who they are now. “I didn’t expect there to be people showing off their weight, or trans women and trans men showing off their transitions, people showing off their glow,” Dochii told Rolling Stone last year.

She wasn’t interested in most of the labels that pursued her — “I knew I wasn’t going to sign with them. I just wanted some free studio time and I wanted to travel,” she says, “but when Top Dawg’s son Anthony ‘Musa’ Tiffitt, now president of TDE, got in touch, the deal was almost immediate. Within two weeks of her first meeting with TDE in January 2021, she moved to Los Angeles, leaving most of her belongings in Georgia with her mom. “Baby, I left those things,” she recalls. “I got this check. Everything was over.”

While she gained notoriety for her animated raps, whimsical storytelling, gorgeous voice and affinity for house beats, Doechii has been compared to successful artists such as Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott and Azalea Banks. While she appreciates the comparisons, she doesn’t give them much credence. “When I hear people compare, they absorb and process and digest me,” she says. “It’s like the first time the world saw Lady Gaga. A lot of their comparisons were to Madonna, because they [were] trying to make sense of what’s happening now based on what they’ve heard before.’

In conversation, as in her music, Doechii is both serious and silly, smooth and messy. She’s comfortable with all kinds of production, from heavenly slow jams to eccentric rap beats to pulsating dance music. Nothing sounds out of place under her. That dexterity shines through in her latest project, a fast-paced five-song she/her/a black bitch, matching the pronouns in her Twitter and Instagram bios. Doechii says she returned the slur after he chased her around Tampa, Fla., where she grew up — from predominantly white schools to predominantly Latino neighborhoods to predominantly black ones, the words were there in an attempt to humiliate her. “I embodied the curse word ‘Black bitch’ and created a whole archetype out of it,” she says. “I see this black girl and she’s super powerful, creative, confident. She knows who she is. She does not carry weight. She’s just a boss.”

She says each song on the mini-album reveals a layer of that archetype: “Bitch I’m Nice,” released in July, finds Doechii curving like a lush bead. On “Swamp Bitches,” accompanied by Rick Nasty at his best, Doechii gets smart and dirty, belting out a wicked slow rap verse before delivering a manic verse on the beatswitch. On “Bitches Be,” she’s soft and thoughtful. On “This Bitch Matters,” she sounds stripped down, with a confident yet sensitive sense of self.

Doechi has known the path he is following since the sixth grade. She recalls the epiphany that transformed her from Jayla Hickman, a teenager who never lived in one place for long, to Dochia, a future superstar: “I realized what I wanted out of life, and when I realized it at that moment, I heard this name and wrote it in his diary. I changed my MySpace name and all that shit. The next day I went to school and said, “I’m Dochii.” And that was all.”

As a teenager, she took up dancing seriously, doing ballet, tap, modern dance and gymnastics. Performed with an orchestra. She created a video blog where she told detailed and exaggerated stories from her life. Today, you can see her move skills and persona in videos like the nudity and violence video for her spring single “Crazy,” which was age-restricted on YouTube.

In May, she gave an explosive performance of “Crazy.” Tonight is the show, along with her single “Convincing,” a sensual ode to the feeling of cannabis, which contrasts sharply with the lyrics of “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake,” where Dochii talks about feeling anxious when she’s high. “I definitely smoked last night,” she says, giggling. “Honestly, even if I’m nervous, I’ll still smoke because eventually I’ll relax. Until the end of the high, I just reflect, think, experience and pray.”

Recently, Doechii has been working around the clock on her debut full-length for TDE, among other projects including sessions with Pharrell Williams and Babyface. “I never leave the studio,” she says. “And when I in the morning from the studio, I get a kick out of it.” She jokingly refers to Musa as “Sergeant”—“The way he pushes me and works with me is like boot camp,” she says—but luckily, Dochii likes to work hard.

Being constantly in the studio means her upcoming album has evolved over time as she’s made new music and fallen in love with it. Now she wants the album to feature the four tarot cards that spoke to her when she discovered the practice in her early 20s. (“I was in my Tumblr witch bag, Urban Outfitter aesthetic,” she says. God, I’m a hippie, whatever.'”) The cards she builds the album around are Death, the Devil, the Hermit and the Star – all with an Afrofuturist twist. She explains that the video for “Crazy,” for example, was inspired by the star’s bareness, vulnerability, and confidence.

Doechii is mindful of its place on one of the most influential labels of the last decade. She is grateful for the example SZA, with whom she toured, recorded and was friends. “We got drunk together and had a real moment,” she recalls of the moment at the end of their 2021 tour. “I don’t want to give away too much personal information, but I felt like we really connected with that tequila.”

Plus, she adds, “SZA really paved the way,” says Dochii. “SZA is one of the most successful artists on TDE. It made my job easier. Now they know that women not only can sell, but also bring in the most money.”

TDE has begun to feel like a family for Doechii, where her vision and opinion are respected, even as some fans speculate about internal tensions at the label (especially after repeated public expressions of resentment between SZA and TDE’s Terrence “Punch” Henderson regarding the timing of SZA’s second album). “The way TDE works is really imperfect,” Dochii says. “And sometimes it takes time to cook good food.”

Her labelmates like Ray Vaughan, another new TDE signee, were impressed with what Doechii was cooking up. “She makes so many different sounds,” Vaughn says. “They’ll play something and I’m like, ‘Holy shit, is that Doechii?’ And they’ll play something else and I’ll be like, “Damn that is to say Doechii?”

Doechii sees Kendrick Lamar, who left TDE earlier this year, as another “beacon of light.” “He’s a great role model for all of us at the label,” she says. “I’m very excited about the future of the label because I in the morning the future of the label.”

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