WHERE WERE you when Tierra Whack released “Whack World”? Where were you when she began releasing her recent spate of game-changing singles? At the rate she’s going, these are questions that every hip-hop fan will be reminiscing over for years to come. Whack, the 23-year-old rapper from Philadelphia, has a knack for leaving indelible marks. “Whack World,” her 2018 debut on Interscope Records, was met with critical acclaim, and quickly became your favorite rapper’s favorite project. The album is comprised of 15 tracks, all a minute or shorter; in her young career Whack has already mastered the art of leaving her audience wanting more. Existing somewhere in the nebulous space between hip-hop and rap, Whack is already something of a pioneer. Shortly after her album came out, Solange went on Earl Sweatshirt’s radio show, and the two spent an entire segment gushing over Whack’s creativity and ingenuity, somehow mixing clever bars and an immaculate sense of melody. They were clearly inspired by Whack’s artistry and innovative spirit, and both went on to release projects with shorter tracks; Solange’s “When I Get Home” and Earl’s “Some Rap Songs” both average around a minute and a half per song.
At age 23, Whack has somehow already toured with Flying Lotus and Lauryn Hill, yet her star is only just beginning to rise. Once a week for the past four weeks she has released a single, finally sating the desire of fans by releasing an array of songs over a minute-long and, consequently, flexing her musical prowess. Dubbing this series #whackhistorymonth, Whack is taking no prisoners. Beginning with a sordid ballad to the sibling-less, “Only Child” is the literal representation of her ability to vacillate between genres. The track rejects comparison and categorization, as Whack’s voice shifts from bouncy hooks and florid vocal runs to a purposefully monotonous inflection with which she delivers soul-altering bars. Regarding her voice and musical fluidity Whack cites the vocal experimentation of her adolescence in an interview with Natalie Maher for Billboard.
“I get so bored with my voice,” she said. “I’ll hear someone and they’ll have a funny ass voice, and I’ll mock it … I’m a sponge, so I just hear things.”
While “Only Child” demonstrates her sonic dexterity, “Clones,” the second track in the series, shows that she can rap as well as anyone in the game. Complete with a hook that’s as hard as anything from the ’90s, and as vainglorious as anything in the modern rap game, “Clones” is nothing if not a flex. Whack shouts out her previous rap persona (“R.I.P. Dizzle Dizz”), opens her third eye to predict the future (“Everybody walking like me now / Everybody talking like me now”) and uses the word “adlib,” as an adlib. “Clones” successfully allays any concerns regarding her ability to spit and quiets your uncle’s complaint of, “Back in my day.”
Listening to her next single, “Gloria,” one begins to suspect that Whack may have a project in the works: “Hold on I’ve been gone too long, I think it’s time I get back … Man they love me in the hood, they say ‘Big Whack, Big Whack, Big Whack.’” Shortly after the release of Whack World, Whack left for Japan, taking an extended hiatus from her celebrity status to live life and craft music. Only upon her referencing her own absence does #whackhistorymonth begin to feel alive; as if it was made to lead up to something.
“Wasteland” – sharing a name with T.S. Eliot’s famous poem — is Whack’s most recent release, and made me feel like I discarded an invisible burden I’d been carrying my entire life and then ate a Super Mushroom from Mario. One of the beautiful aspects of the increased female presence in hip-hop is hearing the inventive ways women talk about men, the reverse of which has been a long-time staple of rap.
Whack is stunning because she’s one of a kind, but she is not the only burgeoning sensation in the rap game. Now more than ever women are taking their rightful place at the forefront of rap. From Whack to Houston-based MC Megan Thee Stallion, rap is being exposed to perspectives that had previously been relegated to the sidelines, largely due to the patriarchy’s looming over all things. As women like Whack increasingly break the lock of rap, the feeling of overwhelming change is mounting, and it is an unabashed net good. Stories previously untold are becoming commonplace in ways we haven’t seen, and rap is moving forward because of it. And damn, it’s about time.
Tierra Whack is my favorite rapper, how long until she becomes yours too?