There are a number of women making their mark in rap and pop, and perhaps no one’s star is rising faster than that of Doja Cat. Fresh off the smashing success of her lead single “Kiss Me More” featuring SZA, Doja, born Amala Dlamini, released her third studio album “Planet Her” last weekend.
“Planet Her” represents a great many things for Dlamini, chiefly it’s the culmination of her transition from meme artist to a genuine, top-shelf pop star. Checking in at 14 songs and just over 44 minutes long, there’s no "Mooo!" or “Juicy” on this project, and it’s clear there’s a shift in her tone from the first song. “Woman” is an afrobeats-inspired track which offers a more reserved take on relationships than one would usually expect of Doja.
What isn’t surprising, though, is the energy she puts forth on the song’s second verse. It’s reminiscent of what she tends to do when tapped for feature appearances: speed up her cadence and turn up the wordplay. It’s clear that this album isn’t just an opportunity to become a more serious artist, it’s also Doja attempting to stake her claim as one of the top rappers working today.
Moving on, the next track “Naked” is about sexual liberation. Then comes “Payday” featuring Young Thug, which naturally is just Doja flexing about the money she has before Young Thug hops on the track to talk about … whatever popped into his mind, I suppose. He doesn’t really give the theme of the song much mind, and I’ve got a lot of questions about what exactly he meant by “all your momma’ physics tell me you gon' blossom right,” but that’s a conversation for another time.
“Get Into It (Yuh)” is a short track with an infectious sound, “Need To Know” is about Doja being horny, “I Don’t Do Drugs” equates love to a drug — bursting with originality, I know — and has a serviceable feature from Ariana Grande.
“Love To Dream” is about building someone up in your head and probably features Doja’s best verse on the entire album, “You Right” is a song about cheating which features some vintage dirty macking by The Weeknd, who completely takes over the song even with a short feature, and it isn’t until “Been Like This,” track nine on the album, that Doja puts forth a song that should stop any listener in their tracks.
About the messy end of a relationship that’s gone on far too long, and featuring pitched-down vocals from Bryson Tiller, “Been Like This” is the first truly dark song of the project, complete with a beautiful foreboding beat by tizhimself, Aaron Bow and Yeti Beats. This track feels like it’s Doja finally putting everything together as an artist with great production, a short feature that perfectly fits the song, and a narrative that actually suits her too-cool-for-school vocal delivery. The more one listens to it, the more it grows on them.
From there it’s back to the status quo with “Options” featuring Dreamville’s JID. JID’s feature is quintessential JID, and actually one of the better ones on the album. “Ain’t Shit” is a really interesting track coming from someone who was, to quote the great N.O.R.E., “in racial chat rooms showing feet!!!” No, I will not explain that. If you know, you know.
“Imagine” is really best thought of as just a bridge to the next song, “Alone,” which again slows things down to narrate the breakdown of a relationship but this one seems like it actually happened to Dlamini given how personal the last verse is. And then “Kiss Me More” closes things out, though it feels less like part of the album and more like a bonus track included as congratulations for reaching the end.
All in all, “Planet Her” feels more commercial than any album Doja has made so far in her career and a look at the credits explains why. This marks the first album in which she didn’t produce a single song, and it continues her pattern of having a concerning amount of writers. “Woman,” for example, has a whopping seven credited writers.
The success she’s had is working against her. It means her label is too invested in her success, which means too many cooks in the kitchen, corporate sounds, and music that is generally palatable.
I can listen to “Planet Her” without skipping a single track, but aside from “Kiss Me More” and probably “Been Like This,” each song lacks staying power. They’re too short, usually sub-3 minutes with just two verses, too unoriginal, and too predictable in terms of structure and delivery. It’s a far cry from “Amala,” her debut album, which felt wholly unique and made me excited to find out more about her, even if I disliked many of the songs.
A release like this makes me question who Doja is as an artist and where she fits into the current music landscape. Sliding into other artists’ lanes is not what she needs, and it’s not a trick she can pull off at a whim, either.
If she seeks to be the best rapper, J. Cole just put out the laziest album of his career, but comparing the two, he rapped circles around her while writing his songs, for the most part, alone. Even when it comes to women rap artists, Cardi’s got the crown until she puts out an album that proves otherwise and Nicki is always around. R&B and pop are flooded with talent, and she doesn’t rise above the rest of the crop there, either. The solution is to look inwards.
“Planet Her” shows that Doja, though she’s grown and shown willingness to evolve, still needs to find herself. Her music needs to be longer, go deeper, and reflect her strengths as an artist rather than fit into what’s popular. True artists strive to find an acceptable mix of commercial and genuine, and Doja Cat can and should prove she’s of that ilk. She’s got too much potential to be making musical paperweights.