Tampa’s Swamp Princess is coming home.
After a very busy 2023 — hitting No.1 on the Billboard charts for the first time, starring alongside Dominic Fike in an A24 film and opening for Beyoncé — the rapper known as Doechii will play not one but two Amalie Arena concerts this weekend.
Friday marks her last night opening for Doja Cat on the Scarlet Tour. On Sunday, she returns to the stage for 93.3 FLZ′s Jingle Ball alongside Niall Horan, Teddy Swims, Zara Larsson and more.
Doechii started in Tampa as Jaylah Hickmon, playing Ybor City hookah bars and underground house shows. The autobiographical lyrics of her 2020 song “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake” became a viral hit thanks to TikTok, eventually catapulting her to a record deal with Top Dawg Entertainment. Her first song since getting signed, “Persuasive,” got both a verse from labelmate SZA and a shout-out on former President Barack Obama’s 2022 playlist. If you’ve turned on the radio since this summer, chances are you’ve heard Doechii singing her biggest hit to date, “What It Is (Block Boy).” And she’s not slowing down anytime soon.
Doechii chatted with the Tampa Bay Times over Zoom to talk about alligators, touring with Doja Cat and embracing her swampy Florida roots. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve branded yourself as the Swamp Princess. What about Florida inspires you most?
Florida culture. Growing up in this place is like an organized chaos that I really like. I was just wearing that on my back and I thought Swamp Princess was a really clever way of doing it. And I think a lot of Florida people don’t really talk about the swamp. I’m making it a thing by branding it as this magical land. I’m feeding into my fantasy of whatever I want people to think Florida is about. I’m making it fashion and I’m making it sexy and luxurious and weird in its own way because that’s how I feel about Florida.
Were you an outdoorsy person growing up?
My family, we’re very country Southern people. Like typical boiled peanuts, frozen cups, candy lady, pickled eggs. We went strawberry picking. I remember going to school and they would take us to Cracker Country for field trips, like that type of Florida experience.
My granddad took me fishing. I loved being in the water. I loved being outside. I’m talking about racing with my shoes off. We would shoot BB guns and jump off of roofs.
But I also was a city girl at the same time. I just feel like I’ve lived so many lives. And I’ve experienced so many parts of Florida that now I can just take the best parts and exaggerate it to the world. People in L.A. don’t know s--t about Florida, so I can make it look like whatever I want it to look like.
What part of Tampa did you grow up in?
My mom was a single mom since I was 3 and we never stayed anywhere over a year. I lived in West Tampa, Sulphur Springs and Wesley Chapel. I lived in New Tampa for a little bit. I lived in Temple Terrace. I’ve been in the middle class area. I’ve been poor.
Getting exposed to so many different worlds here, what really stuck with you?
I think living in Sulphur Springs, and then where my grandma used to stay — that’s kind of like the hood. Temple Terrace was my first time seeing a different side of Tampa, a more classy style. That’s when I started gymnastics and tap dancing. I think that’s where my love for luxury started. I was like, “Oh, this is the life that I want.”
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When you applied to attend the arts magnet program at Howard W. Blake High School, were you going for dance specifically?
I wanted to do all of it, but I didn’t know that yet. I was a choral major. But I also did guitar, jazz, vocal tech. I was on the dance team for a little bit — that didn’t last long. I don’t like being told what to do. I was also in a singing group. I would create the choreo for our performances, the stage, the order of the songs. And I was writing the music for the group as well with other girls. It’s hard for me to devote my attention to just doing one thing.
How did the Tampa music scene inspire you as you were getting started?
I couldn’t afford to be an artist, so I never thought that I would be able to do it independently. I got exposed to it through my performing arts school. I was going to go to college to sing professionally in a choir, because that was the closest that I thought I could get to being an artist. Through chorus, I met this girl who would record in her bedroom and I didn’t know that was possible. I saved up and I bought my own equipment and I just started making music.
I like to believe that I was there at the golden time of the music scene in Tampa. When people first started throwing shows at their house before we could all afford venues. I was really immersed in the underground scene. I did every single show, every single club, every single venue in Ybor until I exhausted my resources, and that’s when I moved to New York and I took it to the next level.
How did that experience in Tampa’s underground scene prepare you for what you’re doing now?
I would be in a room with an audience of 20 people and I had dancers. I had choreo. I had my show tracks. I would do things with lighting. I think I only had like two songs out around that time and I would just perform the hell out of those two songs.
I was just practicing a lot. I would also buy books from Amazon and mold myself into a star the only way I knew how I could afford to. Staying booked in Tampa, those small shows, helped breed the performer that I am today and how serious I take it, because I took it seriously when nobody was there. So now I take it even more serious now that I’m performing in arenas.
When did you realize, “OK, this is really working”?
I think it had to be my New York move. Because I told myself, “I’m done working for people.” But I actually did have to apply for another job. I was working at Zara for a bit and walking dogs and doing shows. I got fired from Zara in New York, and I decided alright, I’m gonna survive just making music. And I did for a little bit. The only reason why I came to L.A. was because a couple labels wanted to sign me.
How has it been to open for Doja Cat on this tour?
I’ve been testing my stamina, which is a good thing. Especially with the type of performing that I’m doing. Training myself to work with different crowds has also been cool, and I think just the experience of, like, being on a bigger tour is preparing me for when I have my own solo tour one day. I love being on tour. Never want to leave.
You haven’t been back home very often lately. What are you most looking forward to doing in Tampa?
I believe I have four days off and some rehearsals in between that, but I want to do everything.
I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving and just being around our family. Going back to my grandma’s house — she just recently passed — so I want to go there and meet my family and just eat good food. I want to go to Ybor City and hit up all the good parts and drive really fast cars.
There’s this guy — I forgot his name, but I really want to meet him. He goes to the Everglades all the time and he does these videos with gators, so I want to shoot some content with him and hopefully go mudding.
You use gators as a symbol across social media. Is that your favorite Florida animal?
It is, and it’s currently become my favorite animal, too. When you grow up in Florida, it really is like its own country. You don’t realize the world does not operate like how we operate. So when I left and people were freaking out about gators, I was like “What do you mean? They don’t bother nobody. Like they’d be in your lake and your apartment complex and it could be in your backyard and your pool.” And then I went to New York and I was like “Rats? I would much rather have gators than rats.”
Gators have become my favorite animal because people hate them so much. I started doing research and learning about them. They’re very intelligent animals and people don’t realize it. They can survive in any climate. It could be cold, it could be snowing, it could be the desert and they can survive. I just love that and I think that just represents me so much.
What are you looking forward to in 2024?
I’m preparing for my next release. I’ve got some music videos that I’m going to be filming. I used to plan in advance really, really far, but I’m kind of just detaching from that. So I can’t even really tell you what’s going to be happening for me. I’ve been taking it one step at a time.
See Doechii at Tampa’s Amalie Arena
Doechii opens for Doja Cat during the Scarlet Tour on Friday, Nov. 24. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Resale tickets start at $65 on ticketmaster.com.
Doechii will also perform at 93.3 FLZ’s Jingle Ball Presented by Capital One on Sunday, Nov. 26. The show begins at 7 p.m. and features Niall Horan, Teddy Swims, Zara Larsson, Paul Russell, Kaliii and Lawrence. Tickets start at $25.50 and can also be purchased at ticketmaster.com.