Tierra Whack on New Project 'Whack World,' Eating Chicken Wings With Andre 3000 & Why She Wants to Record in Tokyo
Tierra Whack can’t help what goes on in her head, and she’s fine with that. The North Philly rapper is lounging on a hotel bed while the Disney cartoon PJ Masks plays on TV, and she apologizes for taking a long time to answer a question because she’s distracted by an especially nice-looking skyscraper peeking through an adjacent window. Along with all of the largely self-induced overstimulation in the room, she admits her mind is running regardless.
“I’m naturally all over the place and scatter-brained. I’m doing this interview, but I’m also thinking about ten other things right now as I do it," she explains, laughing. "That’s why it took me so long to answer that first question."
But unlike most people, Tierra can watch cartoons, explain an album, and daydream all at the same time -- or condense over sixty original songs into a singular fifteen-minute-long project. The explosive end result became Whack World -- her stunning spectacle of an audiovisual debut EP, complete with fifteen one-minute tracks and fifteen corresponding one-minute music videos. “Fifteen just felt right, like ‘I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,’ or fifteen minutes for a work break," Whack offers. "Like, it just felt good."
She’s mastered the art of bouncing from one thing to the next, lacing surrealism with real life, but doing so with purpose. “I’m always making things make sense for me. Some people figure it out, and some people don’t, but it’s really for me,” she says.
Though Whack World may seem fantastical, every song and visual has some concrete anchor in Tierra’s own reality. Billboard spoke with Whack as she dove into the inspiration behind Whack World, eating chicken wings with Andre 3000, and why she would love to record an album in Tokyo.
Where did the idea come from to do the quick one-minute songs?
Basically, I was just in the studio, always recording, always creating, and I had all these songs, and none of the songs sounded the same. Like, I couldn’t find a pattern. So I was like, "Damn, how do I put a project together?"
I was driving myself crazy, and then my engineer -- who’s working closely with me -- was like, "We got to find a way, ‘cause you’re so fucking moody, and doing something different every ten fucking seconds, or changing your mind up, or whatever." So we looked at Instagram, and Instagram is 60 seconds [max for a video]. We were like, "Yo, let’s do a song that’s a collection of 60 seconds, and just rock out." So I started to record 60-second songs, and just shut it off at sixty seconds.
Speaking of short songs, are there any interludes or short songs that inspired you, or maybe that you just like a lot?
Yo, I swear I thought about this question so many times, and I feel like I skip interludes -- like, I don’t want to hear that shit. I don’t wanna hear what you’re talking about, I just want to hear the album.
That’s kind of surprising, but it makes sense -- because with you, I guess the shortness is a different concept.
Yeah, it’s a different concept. Like, I’m into nursery rhymes and kids' shit. Like I’m watching cartoons right now.
Speaking of cartoons, how specific were you with the visuals? Did you know the whole time what the videos were gonna look like?
So basically, after I wrote down each song in order, one to fifteen, I went back and was like, "What was I talking about in this song? What was I thinking about? What kind of headspace was I in?" Some things is deep, and some things just is what it is. Like for “Black Nails,” I just had black nails -- and I never have black nails. It was my first and last time getting black nails. And that’s so not normal for me. So when you’re recording, you’re up at the mic and you gotta name the file, so I just look down and I’m like, “Black Nails!” That’s literally what it was.
And then with “Bugs Life,” A Bug's Life the movie was one of my favorite movies growing up... Or like, I hate the summer. I was born in the summer, but I hate it because I’m allergic to bug bites. I would go play with my cousins, and then we’d go inside and I’d have mosquito bites everywhere. But mine are different -- like, they blow up with puss. It’s really bad. That’s the whole reason I got the swollen eye and the bugs flying around [in that video].
You were saying a lot of the project is pretty straightforward stuff from your life, but what’s the deepest, or the most serious, you get on Whack World?
Goddamn, let me think. “Four Wings” is about a friend who was killed in the neighborhood. It’s funny because he was starting to rap, and get out of the streets, and somebody killed him. And I had a talk with him one night, and we went to the Chinese store and got four wings and fries. So we’re sitting in the car, and he was talking about leaving the streets and pushing the music thing. And a couple weeks later, he gets killed. So just like the video, it’s that late night, Chinese store shining.
So everything really is just bits and pieces from your life.
Yeah, it really, really is. Like when I hear a beat, it might make you feel a way, but then it might make me feel a completely different way. Some things just spark. The name of the sound was, "Asian something." It was just that vibe. It’s so weird sometimes, it just feels like a dream. Even me going up in the world, I forget sometimes that this is actually happening -- like, this is fucking Billboard, you guys actually want to talk to me.
We really want to talk to you.
[Laughs] Like that’s so crazy!
Speaking of, I just saw a photo of you and Andre 3000 the other day and you did some tour dates with Lauryn Hill. What was all of that like?
I’m telling you, nothing feels real. It all seems like a dream. My mom’s like, "Are you okay? Because you’re doing everything you’ve always talked about." And I didn’t even know what to say. Like, I can call or text Andre 3000 whenever I want. Like, what?!
What’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten from Andre 3000 or something he’s said that’s stuck with you?
It’s funny because we’ve been talking and texting for a while, but then we only had our first lunch recently. I think people’s expectations are so high, with what he talks about, but literally we just had sushi and chicken wings -- this is the first time I’m telling anyone this -- that was it. We talked about random shit, we didn’t really get deep. We were chilling. There were a few times I looked up at him, like, "What the fuck, that’s Andre 3000, it’s really you," and he’d just laugh.
Okay, let’s talk about the voices. Have you always had that many voices? Where did those come from?
I get so bored with my voice. It started when I was a class clown, and realized I was kind of funny. And it’s bad because sometimes I’ll still do it -- I’ll hear someone and they’ll have a funny ass voice, and I’ll mock it. But that’s rude, so I’ll have to [do it] somewhere alone, and mock the voice to like, get it out, and know I can do that voice. I’m a sponge, so I just hear these things.
I wanted to ask you about clothes because you always have the best stuff on. Where does it come from and how much do you say ‘this is what I wanna wear?’
It’s really fluid -- now, everybody’s really into fashion, but that’s not me. I got this shirt from South Street [in Philly] and then G Star sent me these. This is all free shit. And then, I bought these Raf Simmons [sneakers] for my birthday.
So when was your birthday? How old are you now?
Aug. 11. I’m 32. [Silence.] Nah, nah I’m 23. I wish I was younger. I don’t like getting older. I hate it. I feel like I’m begging time to come back to me.
But you’ve done so much for 23.
No, I haven’t done anything. I’m getting so old.
So what else is left?
I wanna buy my mom a big house. I want it paid off. So if I die today, she’s good. And I wanna go to Tokyo so bad. If I could live there for a few months, I would. I just wanna dive into it, and not have a phone or anything, and record an album. I would make sure I went out for a week straight, and take it all in, and then record, record, record. That’s my next biggest goal, is to record an album in Tokyo. I don’t know when, but I know how I am -- if I know something I wanna do, I’m gonna make it happen.
How about when you go back to Philly, what’s the reaction like?
It’s so funny when people ask me about going to Philly, because it’s so regular. I think people want, like, "Yo, I can’t even go down the block!" Or like, "Yo, I can’t even go to the corner store, yo!" But it’s just so regular. I only go to work, though, so I guess it’s not like, "Yo I’m out here! Who wanna take a picture?!"
What do you think you learned or took away from growing up in Philly?
I just think I took the rawness and the realness. Because when I was younger, I had to be around a lot of gangsters and thugs. And with rapping, I had to be around a lot of guys all the time, and the top tier of the battle rappers. And they always respected me, because like, yeah, I was "weird," but I was me. They could tell it wasn’t forced. I think it’s just about being yourself. I’m being me and doing what makes sense to me, and then I got respect.