Listen to “So High” or “Say So” and you might be surprised to learn that Doja Cat’s mother, Deborah Elizabeth Sawyer, is the artist’s biggest influence. Here’s what we know about the woman who birthed and raised one of 2020’s hottest music stars.
Who Is Doja Cat?
Rapper and singer Doja Cat was born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini on October 21, 1995, in Los Angeles, California. The 25-year-old got her start in music at 16 after dropping out of high school. Doja Cat was self-taught, recording on GarageBand and uploading tracks to SoundCloud until she was signed by Kemosabe and RCA Records.
Her debut studio album Amala was released in 2018 to little fanfare. However, the single “Mooo!”—a trippy track about the singer imagining herself as a cow—became a viral sensation. She rode the sudden popularity into 2019, when her second album Hot Pink shot her into legit stardom. Thanks to hits like “Say So,” it was certified Gold within a year of its release. Check out the music video for “Like That” featuring Gucci Mane—it’s had over 108 million views to date:
Doja Cat’s unique style has invited the question of what kind of family she comes from. Let’s find out more about the woman responsible for bringing the artist into the world.
Who Is Deborah Elizabeth Sawyer?
Deborah Elizabeth Sawyer is the mother of Doja Cat. Sawyer gave birth to her daughter in Tarzana, California, and relocated to the Bronx and New York suburb of Rye for the first five year of Doja Cat’s life. The family then moved back to California where they lived on a Hindu ashram for four years.
Both of Doja Cat’s parents were in creative fields. Her father is Dumisani Dlamini, a black South African actor who danced in The Lion King on Broadway and the 1992 film Sarafina!
Sawyer is a Jewish-American painter who currently works in the fashion industry. According to an interview with Vlad TV, she works as a technical menswear designer.
Dlamini reportedly returned to South Africa early in Doja Cat’s childhood, leaving Sawyer to raise her and an unidentified sister as a single mother. However, he leaves public comments on her Instagram account, which is a touch awkward for the star. “I don’t hold grudges against him or anything in any way,” she told The Fader. “But obviously it’s a little weird.”
“God bless him,” she added in an interview with XXL. “He’s so talented. If I get any ounce of anything of talent and dancing, it’s from him.”
So few facts have been verified about her family that Doja Cat has had to fact-check some rumors on social media, including inaccurate pics of her parents. Here’s what we can say about her mom for sure, straight from the singer’s mouth.
Deborah Inspired Doja Cat’s Musical Style
Doja Cat says her mother influenced her musical tastes at a young age. Early in her career, she appeared on rapper Dumfoundead’s YouTube show The Hotbox and discussed how her short time in New York left an impression on her.
“I used to live in New York, my mom was kind of a hip-hop head,” Doja Cat explained. “[It’s] really ironic because I’m Jewish, my grandma’s Jewish, [my mom’s] white and was never exposed to music like that until she started meeting people and was like, ‘Wow I really love this.’ Once she had me, she would play a lot of Erykah Badu, a lot of Fugees, and Jamiroquai and Seal, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane, a lot of stuff like that…”
She tells The Fader that the first album she ever purchased was Rihanna’s Music Of The Sun. When she’s first posted her music to SoundCloud, the response was lackluster. “I got like two likes but it was the craziest thing ever,” she said. “I think I cried. It was insane.”
Doja Cat kept at it and now she’s a three-time Grammy nominee. Perhaps in the back of her mind, she knew she was destined to be creative. In a 2019 interview with Dummy, she says being visually-minded runs in her blood. “It’s definitely genetic,” she said. “My mom paints and my grandma paints. They’re so, so good. My grandma actually opened a gallery and sold paintings.”
Between the skills she inherited from both sides of the family, we’re glad she didn’t pursue any other profession.