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Her debut album ‘Amala’ reveals an artist who’s spent years honing her craft.
In a hip-hop landscape punctuated over the past five months by trailer park beefs, bombshell lovechild allegations, and shade that escalated into shoe throwing, Doja Cat’s “Mooo!” offered a sublimely hilarious breath of fresh air. The farm-themed viral video has racked up more than 20 million YouTube views since it dropped last month, giving rap Twitter a wellspring of meme fodder and earning an endorsement from Chance the Rapper along the way. With its charmingly lo-fi aesthetic, infectious “Bitch, I’m a cow” refrain, and Instagram caption-worthy punchlines (“I ain’t a moose, bitch, get out my hay”), “Mooo!” had all the makings of an overnight success.
Here’s the thing about overnight successes, though: They’re not always accidental. And while “Mooo!” looks and sounds patently absurd on the surface, repeated listens reveal luscious vocal harmonies and slick interpolations of classic R&B and rap anthems, such as Kelis’ “Milkshake” and Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” Sub out lines like “Got the methane, I’m a farter” for more high-brow lyrical content, and Doja Cat—the 22-year-old rapper born Amalaratna Zandile Dlamini—could’ve easily had a sultry jazz-rap banger on her hands.
But Doja Cat already has plenty of those on her 2014 debut EP Purrr! and her excellent debut full-length, Amala, which dropped to little fanfare in March. The sexy, singsong hook of “Go to Town” and deft combination of singing and rapping on the ornately produced “Fancy” reveal an artist who’s already spent years honing her craft. If a cow-themed viral video helped thrust those songs into the spotlight, we’re all the better for it.
At a certain point, novelty stops selling anyway, and it’s up to the artist to let their serious work do the heavy lifting. Doja Cat displayed the breadth of her talents last Friday during a sold-out show at Austin’s Barracuda, performing for hundreds of fans ranging from sorority sisters gearing up for a bar crawl to white-collar dudes who looked like they just left their tech startup. She earned a spirited “hell yeah!” during the GameCube intro-sampling “Nintendhoe” and goaded fans to dance with her during a thrilling rendition of “Go to Town,” the penultimate song of her 55-minute set.
At that point, Doja Cat left the stage, only to return seconds later for an inevitable encore performance of “Mooo!,” assisted by two women sporting cow ears and cow-print tops. It’s a credit to the rapper’s strong discography and crowd engagement that the song already feels like an obligation, a novelty from which she’s trying to distance herself. Doja Cat could’ve ended her set with “Go to Town” and most of the audience still would’ve raved. But you can’t bite the hand that feeds—even when that hand is holding a slab of USDA Prime beef.
Doja Cat’s rapid ascendancy hasn’t been spotless; she nearly milkshake duck’d herself with a homophobic tweet last month, which was apparently meant to be an apology for previous homophobic tweets but failed spectacularly. She has since scrubbed nearly all tweets from her timeline, including the primary offender. Judging by the Barracuda gig, she hasn’t been canceled yet, but a sincere apology is long overdue. For better or worse, the things we share on the internet exist in perpetuity. The artist responsible for “Mooo!” ought to know that.
Bryan Rolli is a reporter who specializes in streaming entertainment. He writes about music and film for Forbes, Billboard, and the Austin American-Statesman. He met Flavor Flav in two separate Las Vegas bowling alleys and still can’t stop talking about it.