DOJA CAT’S NEW DIMENSION
The shapeshifting new star opens up to SZA about her stratospheric rise, breaking barriers, and embracing divine femininity on her new album Planet Her .
“I don’t even like champagne to begin with,” says Doja Cat, as she pops open a bottle of Dom Perignon Rose and pours herself a flute. Hip-pop’s most thrilling new star takes a sip and nods with approval as she waits for SZA—her friend, collaborator, and today, her interviewer—to arrive. “But I bet you this one is going to be good cause it’s pink.”
With each of Doja Cat’s hit singles sounding nothing like the last, the self-made Los Angeles-born singer, producer, and rapper transgresses the stereotypical constructs placed on Black female artists with intent and fervor. Her serving an authentic dose of unconventional hot bubblegum-pop, ass-shaking hip-hop bangers, and a splash of introspective lyricism.
Born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini, Doja was raised in L.A. by an artistic Jewish-American mother and South-African father and performer who goes by the name “Crocodile.” While her lineage meant that artistry seemed predestined for Doja, she didn’t take that path for granted. She was making GarageBand tracks for SoundCloud by her teens, and signed to RCA on the back of online buzz at age 17. But a hilarious DIY video “MOOO!” made her a true Internet sensation, and she parlayed that buzz into 2019’s earth-shattering record, Hot Pink, which pinballs from turn-up anthem “Juicy” to TikTok pop sensation (and Billboard number one) “Say So,” and the velvety R&B ballad “Streets”—which became her latest smash hit this February, over a year after its initial release.
In an attention-deficit world, Doja’s slow-burn success feels like proof of her staying power; her dedication has been rewarded with three Grammy nominations this year, and she’s nearly done with her third album, Planet Her, which is due this summer. Today she’s in high spirits, recounting her latest true-crime show obsession or TikTok drama between puffs on her vape. Hate her or love her, but Doja Cat is light years ahead of femme pop—she’s also just one of the girls.
“Hello, can y’all hear me?” asks SZA, popping onto the zoom screen with matching wine-colored hair and bangs. “I’ve been on here for mad long, I heard all y’all talking shit,” she says only half-joking. “What’s good?”
SZA: I’m going to ask the questions that I would want to know as a personal fan of yours. Ok, so did you just fuck around and do every single genre because that’s what we wanna hear? You could do literally anything. I know our little ditty “Kiss Me More” is a different strut and I’m just excited.
Doja Cat: I’ve always wanted to try things. I commend artists, like you, who stick to something. It feels pleasing aesthetically and very driven. For me, I want to try all these things, but I’m starting to learn what I’m falling into is a lot of the house, disco, vintage-y essences—that’s where my heart kind of lies. But I still am doing shit that I don’t understand. It’s still really fun!
SZA: The title of the album, Planet Her…Is it giving like, a “Planet Her is me” meaning? Is it about discovery of self? What’s good?
DC: It’s giving divine feminine.
DC: It’s giving full, “Fuck these niggas, fuck what people feel about me just cause I’m sexy…” Just all the shit we have to go through.
SZA: Ok, collaborations. Do you want to talk about any of them on your album?
DC: It’s people that I respect and I’m extremely excited about having on the album and it’s a full-circle moment for me, basically. Just knowing that I have you on it is just sexy. It’s perfect. I feel confident. It doesn’t feel like something out of myself, you know? I feel like I’m doing what I want to do.
SZA: I really feel like I relate the most to you because between the pre-TDE [Top Dawg Entertainment, SZA’s record label] shit and crossing that path, I always felt like I couldn’t fit into anything. That my music isn’t “Black enough” with “Drew Barrymore.” Or I’m doing shit that’s strange. I never felt that as a Black girl, I could make music and be in these realms. You make music in all these other realms and make it sound like it touched my inner mind and spirit. It’s like, you’re exactly who I needed when I was in high school [and] college. I just wanted to feel like it’s ok to be an individual that isn’t really planted but is highly mutable and superfluid. Working with you was literally my dream. Because you’re so versatile, do you find that it’s a balance to keep your hip-hop fans happy? Because you can dance between many things, do you feel pressure from people to infuse that rap essence or is that part of genuinely who you are? Do you even count yourself as part of that hip-hop conversation?
DC: I wanted to be a rapper before I was a singer at all. And I always wanted to sing because singing is amazing when you hit a note and you’re like, “Wow.” It’s a feeling that a lot of people can’t really describe. It’s amazing to be able to sing and create melodies and whatnot but I always started off wanting to rap. They’ve just melded together, and I’ve just been able to make those two come together. You know what I mean? I definitely get shit for making pop music and then rapping with it—and then when a pop song that I’ve done does well in a category that I don’t match, it’s like…I get it. But it’s not rap, or it’s not R&B. It’s pop shit. But it’s hard. A lot of things are one genre, but a lot of people are putting shit together so how are we supposed to perfectly place things in categories anymore? When experimentation and whatnot is a huge thing.
SZA: You’re doing yourself a disservice if you do that. Ok, wait, does “Say So”establishing a number one chaotic-ness [make] you feel pressure?
DC: I feel great about “Say So.” I’m glad that I like the song. (laughs) There are songs that I’ve made in the past that I really don’t like that much because it’s more of me finding out what I want to do and it just happened to be released to the public. But with “Say So,” I feel great. Thank God. I’m so happy that Nicki was a part of it [Minaj guested on the “Say So” remix] and just seeing it do well makes me happy, cause I’m proud of it.
SZA: Same. It’s fucking stellar. And watching you perform it on TV is probably one of my greatest highlights. You fuck it up in every single choreo television performance. Where does that dedication to just really be a fucking star come from? Outside of being Doja and sharing your personal youness, where does that drive [come from]? Cause I can see it! You’re not just on autopilot; it’s very intentional and it’s very directed energy. Where does that energy come from? You don’t give me the type of energy that gives a fuck about being “cool” or “big.”
DC: I’ve always loved dance. I’ve always loved performing arts. I mean I went to art schools and whatnot. But I feel like when I watch people, like Beyoncé or Janet or anybody on stage, doing what needs to be done, I genuinely smile and look at it like “This is perfect.” I can tell when something is treated with care. I appreciate the work they put into their craft, so who would I be to not do the exact same or almost as good? I’m not trying to compare myself to them, but I’m just saying that I want to give people something interesting, something they can lock their eyes onto, and take with them in the future, however they will and enjoy.
SZA: Yeah, it’s an experience. You really create an experience so much for me.
DC: Yeah! Yeah, you can dance and you can sing but you sometimes taking it to another level is important.
SZA: Do you watch yourself back a lot on your rehearsals? Cause the way you give it up gives me like, “I’ve done this in the mirror 50 fucking times. I know that it’s hitting right now.”
DC: You know what? Yes. I lived in front of the mirror, locked myself in my room for years and that’s probably why. What I wanted to do is take whatever I did in front of the mirror and put it there for people to enjoy and know that they can do that shit, too.
SZA: It’s a gift to watch. Wait, your parents! I didn’t know your parents were artists! Do you feel heavily influenced by the fact that your family is hella artistic?
DC: Yeah. My brother also produces and he sings and raps.
SZA: Have I seen your brother before? Have you ever posted him? Did I miss something?
DC: No, no, I keep my family pretty private. I have like, one picture with my grandma on my Instagram. But that’s as far as that went. My dad, the same.
SZA: Word. You are probably the pioneer of TikTok sounds going crazy. And now all of a sudden everybody else is reaping the benefits. Do you try to be this media powerhouse? Is it intentional when you’re on the ‘Gram or TikTok and running that shit up?
DC: It’s definitely part of me. I didn’t know, also, that “Streets” would be doing well right now, of all times. I loved “Streets” and for it to blow up on TikTok a few weeks ago is completely out of my expectations.
SZA: I love that song! And I love your live performance of that song as well.
DC: Thank you! That’s my favorite song off that album. And I’ve been saying “Won’t Bite” is my favorite song but “Streets” is truly my favorite. I don’t really try to do stuff like that, but I know that I’m goofy on TikTok, so I hope that those do well but it’s not really in my agenda. I’m just a goofy-ass bitch.
SZA: I’m screaming! I like that you’re hyper-comfortable with yourself and it’s kind of inspiring cause I am not, and I feel very comforted by you being that way. Where does that driving force really come from?
DC: I really don’t know. I think that it might be ADHD. (laughs) You know my mom is basically a hippie. I just grew up around different kinds of people. After living on the ashram, I moved to the suburbs and that was completely the polar opposite, so living there was a weird change for me. It might be that, though! It might be that moving around made me kind of a goofball. I think I’m just hyper.
SZA: Yeah. I mean, it manifests itself in the purest and effervescent way. What’s your writing process like? Are you freestyling? Do you write everything down? Is it like just off the top of your head when you feel like, whatever?
DC: Right. I guess I start mostly with a beat. I never really write a lyric and then take it to the studio. But when I hear a beat, if I hear a melody, if it’s interesting enough, I’ll just start mumbling over shit and sometimes I’ll get in my feelings and want to write about some shit that makes me feel a type of way. And those are probably the most fun songs but usually I just start with a beat and that’s it. And I do that with singing—like mumble with singing, I mumble with rapping.
SZA: And then they just all go live all the time, randomly. They’re very like, hit songs type shit. Where do you feel like you write your best lyrics? One time I saw you rapping about poop and I liked that a lot.
DC: Which one was the poop rap?
SZA: Like “scoopity poop, I poop on the dick.” Something like that.
DC: Oh! I remember that!
SZA: It was so lit! Everything you say, I think about that when I’m trying to rap or I start doing some syncopated shit and I’m like, “She can make anything sound so fucking amazing.” I reference back to that video and all of your random [Instagram] Live song videos because, to me, that’s like, the flow. I peeped you in the flow. How is it that you make things sound good on Live, in front of other people, and you’re literally fucking anything and it sounds like masterpiece energy. So where do you write your best lyrics? Does it matter?
DC: Sometimes it does. If I’m not on Live for a long time and I get on, I’ll be like “This is weird.” I do feel that feeling that people are like, “do you feel like that?” I feel that.
SZA Do you pray?
DC I don’t pray.
SZA Ok. I wanted to know cause you seem like you’ve got a lot of faith. And faith I don’t categorize as religion, I categorize as like knowledge and confidence of self and connection to source energy that kinda drives us all forward. But you seem like you got a lot of that. So you don’t pray. Is there any other practice that grounds Doja, reminds Doja that she’s that bitch absolutely and gets you to propel to those crazy-ass things like you’re swimming in milk and singing songs?
DC I think it’s that moment… Praying for me is when I’m in the studio, listening to a beat and imagining what it can be. How people say “Oh my meditation is mimosas” or shit like that.
DC *laughs* My praying is like, “I know this can be something interesting to me”. So I think that’s how I find my deepest joy and confidence.
SZA Yeah! And belief in yourself. That’s exactly how you honor God from what I was raised on. That makes sense to me. That sounds like a pure form of prayer to me. I was just wondering cause it really seems like you tap into some other shit.
DC You’re asking perfect questions. If you could be the interviewer for the rest of my career, I’d be fine with that.
SZA: Okay, we’re Black. And being Black, we don’t have to emphasize us being Black, but I feel like your contribution to the Black community is you in your essence. You’re who stops separating interesting, weird Black kids from being randomly excommunicated or separated from Blackness. My niece–who is 19-years-old—loves you. I mean, she banged you four years ago when she was living in Texas surrounded by all white kids. She’s genuinely artsy, separated by herself, Black by herself, and it’s like that’s the space I feel like you’re giving that visibility to the weird Black art kid, that is protective. That is how we move to protect the Black community. Do you feel that? That you’re really being that beacon for alt Black kids, or kids who are multifaceted?
DC: I mean, it is just me, but also there are little girls and there are people out there who look like me and can relate to me in that sense. And it is important to have artists like Tyler, the Creator and Pharrell, you know what I mean? That came from a different way of life. Just grew up a weird kid. The skater or the whatever, the nerd. It’s important to have those kinds of influences in your life when you’re like that and feel completely cast out of…the world. I grew up listening to them and that’s what kept me knowing that I could do it, too. I felt like I had friends who didn’t even know me.
SZA: Word. So your videos: when you go through all of that, are you directing them yourself? Cause it looks very much like a brainchild, straight from your uterus. It has so much intrinsic Doja value in it.
DC Aw, hi!
SZA Oh shit. My dog.
DC What’s his name?
DC Hi, Piglet! Ok, let me not trail off. So yeah, for my videos I used to write treatments even when I knew I didn’t have a budget for a music video whatsoever. I just wanted to create a visual point for everything I’ve made audio-wise. I still do it now, but not as much…
SZA: I kind of remember the video with you in the back seat and you’re like, licking on your hand and you’re on some pimp cat goddess shit.
DC: Yeah! I said I wanted to have henchmen, and I wanted to have them rolling up the mice in the plastic. I wanted that entire vibe. I wanted to own the crazy-catlady-boss-bitch type energy.
SZA: That’s iconic…Every single video you’ve ever put out is so lit to me. It’s so funny being a genuine fan and getting to ask you shit. I’m like “What else do I want to know as a genuine fan?” Production-wise, I feel like for me, there’s certain beats or a beat type that I feel like is the easiest or the most gravitating. Is there something that you just feel like “This is Doja’s home. This is the sound?”
DC: I think when I hear a song that’s something out of the box, like Tyler, the Creator or Monte Booker, very produce-y type shit, that I feel is more about the beat [and] less about the artist kinda stuff, I like that. I kinda don’t care. I would jump on that shit in a hot-ass second, absolutely. But it’s hard to find producers like that. Like really, genuinely very meticulous producers. Everyone I’ve worked with so far is incredible and we’ve made solid, solid, solid songs. I can do the kind of stuff that’s pop and simple, but my dream is to really get into doing things that feel more experimental and more in that abstract production world.
SZA: Are you ready to be Britney Spears? Cause that’s where you’re headed. Do you know that? You’re going to be a fucking global, like, number one sensation. Cause there’s never been anybody like you. You’re literally about to be Britney Spears, and I can’t wait.
DC: I just want to have the moment to say “It’s Doja, bitch.”