Arts and Entertainment

The New New Doja Cat

Scarlet 2 Claude, diverging from its predecessor lyrically, stylistically, and instrumentally, is the next stage of Doja Cat’s career itself.

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By Celise Lin

 Doja Cat stirred controversy with her release of Scarlet in 2023, both with the fights she picked online and with the album itself. Claimed to be named after Doja’s alter ego, Scarlet (2023) symbolizes the rebirth of her image in response to intense criticism of her rapping ability, after critics expressed that her music should be classified as pop instead of rap. With the release of Scarlet 2 Claude (2024), named after the antagonist Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Doja delivers the deluxe version of Scarlet with seven additional songs. Though the album’s name suggests that it’s a sequel, everything from the instrumentation to its imagery and lyricism diverges from the satanic persona Doja previously introduced to her audience. Beyond just the latest addition to her discography, Scarlet 2 Claude (2024) is the next stage of Doja’s life itself.

“Acknowledge Me,” the album’s opener, starts immediately with soulful vocals while a choir harmonizes the chorus in the background. Doja has used samples to kick off her songs in the past, such as in “Paint the Town Red” when she used Dionne Warwick’s nostalgic “Walk On By.” But rather than lyrics, it’s melismatic church-like vocals, single syllables drawn out over several different notes, which continue throughout the song as an underlying melody as Doja raps over it. Instrumentally, Doja continues to refresh her audience by utilizing sounds most closely associated with jazz and funk, abruptly beginning with a mix of low trumpets, soft symbols, and groovy riffs on an electric keyboard.

Doja does not restrict herself to one concrete style throughout the album, choosing instead to dabble in a variety of genres and instrumentals. Only the heavy synthetic beat stays consistent. She embraces her original upbeat, fast-paced style with “Okloser” and the aggressive instrumentals in “Urrrge!!!!!!!!!!,” reminiscent of her Amala (2019) album, but she leans more heavily into R&B in quite a few songs. This is most notable in “Disrespectful” and “Masc,” in which Doja raps over piano chords and a quieter trap rhythm in the background. She takes on a slower tempo in these songs, emphasizing smoother, more sensual, almost ethereal vocals to match the romantic tone. She contrasts this with a faster rap segment from Teezo Touchdown, one of the two features throughout the album.

Scarlet (2023) was criticized for only finding a consistent storyline in the second half of the album, focusing on rage and prioritizing herself. Doja fed into this vengeful image by advertising the album with naked statues of herself covered in blood appearing around New York City. The demonic imagery in her music videos was her most controversial choice, as it referred to how the industry had demonized her. Scarlet 2 Claude (2024) continues that narrative of exploitation in the business. Even the album’s namesake, Claude Frollo, is a direct allusion to music artists’ treatment by those in power in the industry, specifically record label executives who impede their creative freedom. However, the way Doja seems to handle the injustice in this album is different; it’s less explicit rage and more of a sad, underlying venom clouded by sweet vocals.

In the song “Piss,” Doja demonstrates her animosity towards the benefits and riches her music has gotten her, along with what she thinks of the other women aiming to achieve the same thing by joining the industry. She knows that they “want diamonds just like this,” and that they have this glamorous interpretation of her lifestyle, but in her eyes, “All my diamonds look like piss.” What comes across is a reproachful view of her profit, almost directly calling her money dirty given how she gained it, in spite of the music industry’s exploitation of her. In Scarlet (2023), Doja instigated fights online not only with her haters, but with her peers and fans as well, and it can only be assumed that the same women she speaks of now were the very same she attacked previously. It demonstrates her growing maturity and a greater awareness of her past mistakes. This is depicted in her music video for “Masc,” in which Doja admits that she is “way too grown for this.” Her bloody, demonic persona is abandoned in favor of something more luminous and angelic, occasionally shadowed by the image of a spider: a direct reference to the album cover of Scarlet (2023) and how her rage seems to constantly underlie her movements. 

Doja ends with “Headhigh,” the muffled, lo-fi voice she takes on in the beginning making it stick out from the rest of the album. This song, much like the others, demonstrates her versatility and willingness to experiment with her music production. But at the same time, it maintains the theme of exploitation and injustice in the industry, all in all working to solidify the storyline for her listeners. Doja has undergone several dramatic changes to her image in the past two years, first with Scarlet and now with Scarlet 2 Claude. But what may be a risky move for other artists instead appears to be her greatest strength. Time and time again Doja proves that she is capable of delivering something exciting, new, and high quality, no matter the style in which she does it, painting an optimistic view of her future as an artist as well as the rap genre itself.