Doja Cat: you need to be a bit of a comedian to be a rapper”

Volume 4 Issue 002: Whether singing about cows, waffles or cunnilingus, Doja Cat is here to surprise and entertain.

Arti­cle taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 002. Order your copy here.

It’s not a shitpost of a song,” says Doja Cat, her skin glistening under the acutely perfect glow of a make-up artist’s mirror. After four hours spent posing for photos in a Manhattan studio, she’s slowly peeling off her eyelashes and talking about Mooo!, the 2018 track told from the perspective of a cow that turned her into an overnight viral sensation. While cleansing her face, she stops, looks at me, and corrects herself. Well, it’s like 25 per cent a shitpost,” she says, referencing the newly popular term for the sort of meme that straddles the line between good and bad, 75 per cent music.”

That pretty much sums up the appeal of the 24-year-old Los Angeles-raised rapper – great songs with a healthy dose of humour. Doja Cat, born Amalaratna Zandile Dlamini, was still struggling to stand out in the world of pop until she uploaded a video to YouTube in 2018. In the pointedly crude clip she wears a cow-print outfit, sips a strawberry milkshake, and dances in front of a green screen that alternates between images of softcore hentai (manga porn) and eight-bit renderings of a farm. But it was the track itself that ignited the fuse. 

With its onomatopoeic chorus and riffs on both Old MacDonald Had a Farm, Kelis’s Milkshake and Ludacris’ Move Bitch, it’s a vivid – and divisive – piece of music. With an extended riff on beef (both the literal and figurative kinds) Mooo! might seem silly, but at its core it’s a tender and affecting piece of songwriting about perseverance and individuality: Grade‑A, ho, not lean/​Got me A1/​Sauce, please,” she raps, making bovine braggadocio indistinguishable from human self-empowerment. 

  • When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”  When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.” 

Though you might think that only someone with supreme self-confidence would risk her reputation on what could easily have been taken as a joke, Doja Cat says she actually suffers from self-doubt. I thought that maybe people wouldn’t fuck with me because I wasn’t talented,” she says. Well, not not talented, but not interesting. I proved to myself that I could do something that was worth watching. It’s a fucking crazy video. Like, how do you not click that?”

Figuring out how to translate her talent for the wider world is a problem Doja Cat has been trying to solve since she was a teenager. She began making music before she could drive, producing and writing rap songs from home because she was too scared to sing in front of people. Rapping allowed her sense of humour to shine. 

I’m a comedian,” she tells me matter-of-factly, explaining that she always loved how punchlines were the currency of hip-hop. I feel like you need to be a little bit of a comedian to be a rapper.” Mooo! brought Doja full circle and validated her vision. Here was a song, created and broadcast from her bedroom, that blazed across the internet because it cracked people up.

Jacket Vivienne Westwood, underwear Fleur de Meur, scrunchie, hairpiece and shoes all Maryam Nasir Zadeh

But the path to success wasn’t always a smooth one. Doja signed to Dr Luke’s Kemosabe Records when she was just 17, less than two years after putting her first song, a neo-soul demo called So High, on Soundcloud. The pop kingmaker-turned-industry outcast (in October 2014 Dr Luke – real name Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald – was accused of sexual assault and abuse by the pop singer Kesha, allegations which he denies) is one of several topics her management team tells me she won’t talk about. These include the controversy that sprouted from Doja impersonating Cardi B on Instagram Live and using gay slurs on Twitter as a teenager. 

But she is ready to talk about how unprepared she was for the realities of entering the music industry in the first place. When I signed to the label I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I had no idea where I was. I was high half the time. I was smoking hella weed. I was being a fucking delinquent,” she says. I had no idea how to be a businesswoman, and it took me about six years to realise that’s what I need to do.”

In 2018, Doja released her debut album Amala, presenting a version of pop music that was raunchy and catchy in equal measure. A few songs off the record gained traction, but Doja remained way down the pop food chain: the album stuck near the bottom of the Billboard chart. Though its first track and lead single, a reggae-influenced cunnilingus anthem called Go to Town, hit 20 million views on YouTube, it was clear immediately when Mooo! arrived that it would overshadow everything that came before. 

Coat Off-White, top Shay Galla, underwear and jewellery stylist’s own and shoes Maryam Nasir Zadeh

In the spring of 2019 her record label re-released” Amala to streaming services, tacking on Moo! and two other songs, hoping to focus her new audience’s attention on the music that was initially supposed to be Doja’s breakthrough. One of those new tracks, a bubbly single titled Juicy, became her best-charting to date, but she still seemed to be experimenting with how to disseminate her ideas to the world. A day before the release of Tia Tamera, which would be her first single post-Mooo!, she uploaded a song to Soundcloud titled Waffles are Better than Pancakes, which reimagines Erykah Badu’s discography as if it contained incredibly strong opinions about breakfast.

When I make goofy shit I feel sane, it helps me stay sane,” she says when I ask whether the professionalisation of her career has corrupted her creative process. I just feel like myself again. Sometimes I like to write shit about someone cheating on me – I didn’t get fucking cheated on. I like to write about a fight that I got into – I didn’t fucking fight somebody. I don’t fucking hit people. It makes me feel sane to go back to writing about fucking waffles and dicks and cows.”

Doja and I are chatting just days before the release of Hot Pink, the new album on which she had the not-so-simple task of proving to fans and rubber-neckers alike that she is not just a piece of internet ephemera but an actual artist. Though there are a few things she won’t talk about, after a day spent doing the work of a pop star (letting strangers touch her body and eating only from stray bowls of popcorn and organic Oreos), she is happy to discuss how the success of Mooo! has made it harder for her to be herself.

I have a lot of people sort of coming in right now that I don’t know, who are excited about this thing and excited about that thing,” she says. And I’m way too nice.” She’s explaining the decision to release two songs, Bottom Bitch and Rules, as the album’s initial singles. Both songs stay true to the Doja Cat character by asserting a woman’s sexuality and how she can use it to attain power over a man, but with their guitar-trap production and strict rap verses they were incongruous advertisements for an album that otherwise celebrates gleaming, snapping pop music. It seemed like the safe thing to do for them,” she says of the unnamed meddlers at her label. But after that, no fucking way. I’m picking the singles.”

  • When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.”  When I make goofy shit I feel sane.” 

Her favourite track on the album is Won’t Bite, a collaboration with the equally idiosyncratic St Louis rapper Smino. With its woozy guitar licks and layers of harmony, Doja cements the legacy of Moo!, showing that it can work as a blueprint for good songwriting and not just for virality. 

Before Hot Pink was released, Doja put out a video for Cyber Sex, which opens the album with a tribute to camming. Applying a certain robotic blankness to her vocals, Doja updates Y2K-era tech-pop like TLC’s futurist‑R&B classic Fanmail for the nudes generation, making getting freaky on camera” sound like the sexiest thing two people can do.

I would probably be a camgirl if this didn’t work out,” she says without hesitation when I ask about the song. It’s an art. It’s burlesque.” Cyber Sex is brilliant not just because of its deft portrayal of modern sex, but also because it slyly acknoweldges the way many people first consumed Doja Cat, the artist and person, on video, rather than in a club or on the radio.

I ask her if her bedroom is a sanctuary for her, and she tells me that although she doesn’t mind going to the studio to record, she needs to put some armour on first. I have to be in full make-up and outfit,” she says. Like, I have to feel cute. If I feel insecure or self-conscious, I can’t create. I just can’t. I definitely have to be in an environment where I feel sharp, and look good, and there’s people around me that I like.”

What remains to be seen is whether all of this – the bedroom becoming the studio becoming the album becoming the magazine photoshoot – is able to make the singularity that is Doja Cat digestible to a global audience. She can move flawlessly between singing and rapping, and her personality flows through her social media accounts in a way that feels effortless. But will it all ever get bigger than the singalong joke about cows? 

Well, if you read the comments beneath the YouTube videos of her past singles and interviews, you won’t see much negativity or objectification. What you’ll find instead are scores of commenters pleading for the world to further validate Doja Cat’s talent. 

When I ask how she feels about this (the spectre of being perpetually underrated) she stops me and invokes modern society’s highest power. I don’t really fuck with astrology like that, but I put in my name and they did a reading on me and said that people don’t usually think that Libras really have the talent,” she says. You would think that they don’t do shit, but then they surprise you. They surprise you.”

Hair Evanie Frausto at Streeters, Makeup Marcelo Gutierrez at Streeters, Nails Vera at De Facto, Photography assistance Evie Shandilya, Styling assistance Zoe Radford Scott and Paulina Olivares, Production Rosanna Gouldman, Production manager Katherine Bampton, Local production Amy Kanagaki. Thanks to Comet Studios NYC


Loading...
00:00 / 00:00