Philadelphia artist Tierra Whack is reinventing hip-hop

A fresh face and take on the genre

Courtesy+of+Tierra+Whack%27s+Official+Facebook+Page
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Philadelphia artist Tierra Whack is reinventing hip-hop

Courtesy of Tierra Whack's Official Facebook Page

Courtesy of Tierra Whack's Official Facebook Page

Courtesy of Tierra Whack's Official Facebook Page

Courtesy of Tierra Whack's Official Facebook Page

By Owen Bailey, Collegian Correspondent

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Tierra Whack is just one of many new artists to enter their names into the crowded rap game over the past couple of years. While thousands of artists go by unnoticed in the throng, Whack’s unique style and technical prowess has already landed her some serious acclaim. She has toured with major artists like 6lack, received glowing reviews from publications like Vice and Pitchfork and to top it off, earned a nomination for Best Music Video at the 2019 Grammys. With all of these accolades before her debut album is even a year old, Tierra Whack is well on her way to becoming the next household name in hip-hop.

Early in the first song, titled “Black Nails,” of Whack’s debut album, “Whack World,” the Philadelphia native sets the tone for the rest of the album with the lines, “Best believe I’m gon’ sell / If I just be myself / I’mma head and you’re tails.”

Whack’s sound stays true to the message of these lines. Her music is confident and unapologetically true to herself. She breaks all the conventional rules of what a hip-hop artist can be, and she knows it. Each song on “Whack World” has a runtime of exactly one minute, with an accompanying music video of the same length, giving the album a total runtime of just fifteen minutes. Those fifteen minutes, however, are filled with some of the cleanest, most impressive hip-hop music to come out of 2018.

Songs like “Black Nails” and “Bugs Life” will sound familiar to the modern rap fan. Using the talents she acquired freestyling in the Philadelphia cypher scene, Whack lays down tight, technical verses over airy, hypnotic beats. The production is matched perfectly with the lyrics, acting as a vacuum that draws the listener’s attention toward the words, placing her rapping talent on full display. The songs are reminiscent of Chicago’s greats, like Noname Gypsy and Chance the Rapper, not only in sound, but in quality.

On top of her ability to rap, Whack has a keen sense for writing hooks and melodies. The short run time of the songs prevents her from leaning on repetition, yet sometimes entire songs, like “Flea Market,” sound like cohesive hooks in themselves. “Flea Market” sees Whack singing to a significant other, voicing her concerns and demanding change in their relationship. The song has four distinct rhyme sections, and each flows and meshes into a catchy snippet that could rival any hook written by current melodic juggernauts like Swae Lee and Post Malone.

But it is not her ability to rap or prowess in writing hooks that sets Tierra Whack apart from the rest of the field. It is her risk taking, creative decision-making and ability to create a product that feels entirely new. The album “Whack World,” as a cohesive unit, is truly unique. It is not only an audio record, the visual component plays just as prominent a role in the project as a whole. When watched beginning to end, the 15-minute music videos, directed by French filmmakers Thibaut Duverneix and Mathieu Léger, form a short film that paints a playful, surreal picture of an equally playful and surreal album. When viewed in singular, each video pulls out and emphasizes a theme of that particular song and creates a new listening experience.

The visual aspect is inventive, important and impressive, but the music lays a foundation for the visual that is on an entirely new level of creative. While Tierra Whack opens the album proving she has the lyrical and musical chops to hang with the best in the game, she spends the rest of the album proving that she has the creativity to turn the game on its head.

Moving away from traditional hip-hop, the song “Hookers” fuses a funk-filled drum line with modern synth and hi-hat usage to create a groovy hybrid song. The content of the song revolves around the subjective value society places on money, and the video elevates that theme. A glammed up Whack dons a fur coat and plenty of jewelry to rap about how money doesn’t define her in front of her run down motorhome, reinforcing the message of the song.

Directly after “Hookers” comes “Hungry Hippo,” which fully leans into the pop aesthetic and comfortably feels like an upbeat radio bop. Again, the video completes the song. Whack raps about introducing a man to fine things like diamonds and pearls while her and a group of female friends eat literal diamonds and pearls off of a man lying prone, acting as a table. The video mirrors the lyrics in an effectively skewed way. The lines, “He needed swag and I provided (‘vided) / Open up and bite it” take on a much more literal meaning.

Even farther from traditional hip-hop fare are songs like “F— Off,” in which Whack chews out her absent father. With a southern twang effect on her words the song feels especially unique in a flooded genre. It is the type of song that makes one imagine what Mason Ramsey would have sounded like if he had caught his break with Odd Future or BROCKHAMPTON instead of yodeling in a Walmart store.

That sentence may sound incredibly odd, but it’s appropriate given that the album is just that – odd. Tierra Whack makes weird music. It’s not normal, it escapes labels and it is damn good. If you are a hip-hop fan or a fan of music in general, keep an eye and an ear out for Tierra Whack, it will be worth your while.

Owen Bailey can be reached at [email protected]