Since the 2018 release of her debut album, “Whack World,” and its frenetic 15-songs-in-15-minutes aesthetic, rapper-producer Tierra Whack has drawn attention to her wily brand of fractured hip hop. Not only did she snag nearly 60 million audio streams in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music (as of 2019’s end), Whack won the attention of Jody Gerson and Universal Music Publishing, as well as Interscope Records.
Along with gaining fans – inside and outside the biz – for making mad, frantic music and her often poetic verses, Whack has become a fashion icon for her dazzlingly askew, fantastically cartoon-ish looks, a vision co-created by her stylist Shirley Kurata.
On the verge of her 2020 tour, starting March 6, and the promise of a new album, the rapper has called on fans to create her next set of on-stage outfits. Together with Adobe, Whack launched “What Whack Wears,” where fans create original patterns or designs using Adobe Creative Cloud apps, such as Photoshop, Fresco or Illustrator. Competitors age 13 and up, and at all experience levels, have until March 2 to send their designs.
A hard interview to nail down, Variety caught up to Whack heading into a Philadelphia recording studio with a song idea fresh on her mind.
Have you made this February, like last February, “Whack History Month”?
I didn’t think of that, but it should be. The phrase “Whack History Month” was something I always used to write in some of my oldest rap books. I figured I should just use it.
The 2020 Grammys weren’t the first time that you made a splash with your outfits, but certainly that was the loudest, most recent display. You and your stylist Shirley, what are you two going for?
Me and Shirley, we just want to have fun. That’s the basis of everything I do. I’ll see something, or I’ll have an idea, and she’ll just get it done. Or she’ll see or come up with something, asks me if I like it, and we just go back and forth. It’s a very natural and organic thing. She was always someone I looked up to when I was growing up. It’s just cool to be able to work with her finally. We’ve created some amazing looks together, and the collaboration… it’s all I ever wanted with her.
Do you always make certain that your look matches your sound?
How I dress is how I’m feeling. It reflects me as a person, so I would say yes. I’m an artist. It all comes together. Most of the time, I’m in bright colors and want to be seen. Today, I’m all in black and am by myself, running errands, in a more serious chill mood. My look is me, all me.
You mentioned a while back that you were very much inside of your head when you began writing and recording “Whack World.” Are you still living there for the material you’re recording now, or have you stepped outside of it?
Life is crazy. It’s not always going to be good, or always bad. There’s some balance. If it ever feels overwhelming, like it is getting to be too much, I need to continue to create my own utopia. That’s what I do to keep going, you know? We all have our own strategies. Different things we do to push ourselves. Me creating my own songs, I’m always creating my own world. My own worlds. That’s just what keeps me going.
A new album coming? And is there a deadline for it?
A new album is coming. Yes, definitely. I actually don’t know its deadline. I’m rushing to the studio as we speak. That’s why I wanted to talk to you now. I’m feeling ready. I’m feeling good. I just ran some errands. I can make one of the best songs that I have ever made today, right after we get off the phone. I’ve been giving myself time to experiment, because you never know.
Can you tell me what that song you’ll be recording looks, feels or sounds like?
No, listen. It’s crazy. I honestly don’t know. That’s why I have to get to the studio to figure it out. Some days, I feel like I got it, and then it winds up as the worst day ever. Today? Maybe not. Either way, you always have to chase it.
Do you feel any pressure being with a label (Interscope) or a publishing powerhouse such as Jody Gerson’s, as opposed to being an independent?
Honestly? No, I don’t, because I had the utmost confidence in myself before I got with this group of people. I’m still me. I’m doing the same things. Only now, I have more opportunities. Better opportunities. I am, however, trying to prove myself right. Or wrong, sometimes. I have self-doubt. A lot. That’s why I work hard every day to continue to push the envelope.
Are they staying out of your way?
Yes. Completely out of my way, all the time. They give me soooo much space. I hit them up. It’s great.
Do you think creating that space between yourself and the business is a reason why you’ve stayed with your longtime managers Johnny Montina and Kenete Simms?
I believe in loyalty, communication and trust – qualities that everyone on my team has: the team I started with, and the team I plan on ending it all with. When you’re jumping into something big, you gotta make sure your foundation is solid, and your team is strong.
How did you and your team hook up with Adobe Creative Cloud for this fan-made custom costume project for your upcoming tour wear?
It was crazy. My first meeting with them was just one of the best conversations I’ve had. I take a lot of meetings now, but this was the funnest. Everyone was so open and cool. You could tell that it wasn’t forced. You can tell when you walk into these meetings, and they’re not really fans of what you do, or know you. In this room, though, I felt a personal bond with everyone. Yo, I want everyone in this room’s number, and I want to text you, and hang out with you – that’s how good that meeting went. It was a cool vibe. I loved seeing the look on at their faces as they took down all of my ideas. We were ping-ponging.
Are you involving your crew in on this? Zach your DJ, and Nick your photographer and creative director?
Zach has always been great at Photoshop and using Adobe. Him and Nick, they’re good with these programs. I’m good with Adobe, but I stopped doing it, because, Zach (Whack) and Nick (Canonica) are better at the program than me. I let them do their thing.
Has that been how you have approached your merch in the past?
Yeah. Most of my merch has just been me, Zach and Nick being random. We print it out, wear it, and see who likes what most. I brought them to the meeting and told Adobe that the two of them were some of the reason that I had songs, cover art and my looks merge. They’re my go-to guys. We make it happen together. Whenever we have to face a project we sit in a room and brainstorm, get the one that clicks. We have to get the vision clear. It’s nothing forced.
You became somebody important in fashion.
That wasn’t planned. I just like to wear what I wear. People just happen to like it. Adobe called at the right time. I’m always taking custom pieces from people on line, like up-and-coming designers and creatives. [For] this contest, the look – I really just wanted to give something to the fans. Or even people who don’t know who I am. It’s just a way to be seen. I have a great following. This will give them a chance for their pieces to be seen. It’s a cool thing. I realized that being a public figure means that I have people looking up to me, and that I attract like-minded people, so I just wanted to give the love back to them. Let them style me. I want to see their vision. Dig deep into their minds. I go onto Instagram every day and look up the hash tag #WhackXAdobe.
Thinking of the early shows and your early videos, was having a “look” as important as your poetry and having something to say?
It was just natural. I say “luck” sometimes, but I’m just blessed with style, talent and swagger. It is what it is. When people give me that compliment, like, “only YOU could pull that off,’ I just think, OK. I didn’t think twice about it, but if you say so. I’m willing to throw on the crazy. You just have to be comfortable in your own skin.
You used to talk up the influence of kids’ television cartoons and Missy Elliot as your earliest influences. Are there new inspirations that we’ll hear in your next work?
Know what? I’m just in a different mindset lately. This past month, really, I’ll get really down. But you have to fight that. You have to keep pushing. I’m tapping into something that I didn’t even know what it is. It’s like true happiness… I’m doing all of these great things, then I’ll get home and still not be happy. And I don’t know why. I’m trying to tell myself that everything is going to be OK. And it is OK. I’m just working toward happiness. Before I was just doing it. With love, mind you, and dedication. Sometimes when you’re doing so much, you have to evaluate, and re-evaluate where you are. I did so much at one point that I forgot I did it. Now, I’ve had some time and chance to be in the studio. Which is amazing.
You’ve talked about having a hard life as a kid, but, you were always quick to add that music got you through the worst of times. Is music still a dream for you, or is it now something more tangible?
That’s a good question. It’s a bit of both. The other day I made a song, and I was like, the song is so good – in my opinion – that I felt as if I didn’t make it.
That it wasn’t you behind the mic?
Right? It felt like a dream. But, it was me. I stepped back, and I was just so proud of myself. It might sound crazy, but I might be cool when I hear myself, but I’m not usually proud. This one, I was proud. So, music is still a magical thing to me. And for me, music is magic. You surprise yourself everyday I’m going to walk into that studio, right now, and I’m not sure what I’m going to get when I come out. That’s what I love about music. I won’t know what I have until I try.