It’s Tierra’s Whack World and we all just happen to live in it. Chances are you already know that: we named Tierra Whack’s debut rap album our best of 2018, and the North Philly native earned her first Grammy nomination for her first ever music video, 2017's "Mumbo Jumbo." So look, now it’s 2019 and we’re comfortably into her reign. The 23-year-old's voice, and chameleonic flow, is one-of-a-kind, her primary colour outfits unmatched. Her otherworldly approach to visuals has assertively become its own signature style. And, in case you hadn't heard, she's putting out a song a week for a while. This new one, "Clones" follows last week's "Only Child" and sees her going for out-and-out bars. She sits back in the throaty, lower end of her register over a beat that will probably smash your windows from the inside if you're not careful.
But, as she shares in a new short film, she didn't always feel that as confident as she now appears. "Coming into a male-dominated industry, it is what it is; I knew I had to work my ass off," she says, in the latest of Apple Music's monthly Up Next films (where they showcase a rising artist). We've got a snippet of that below. On a personal level, this was tied into her appearance too. In the video, which flips between new interviews and past clips of her freestyling when she still went as Dizzle Dizz, she goes into more detail. "I was teased a lot; I was teased for being dark-skinned. Yeah, I hated being dark-skinned at one point in my life. I always had that on and off of, 'I feel pretty sometimes,' but then sometimes I'm like" – and she imitates a typical 'guy on the corner offering unsolicited opinions' voice – "'she ugly as hell!'"
One of the beauties of her work stems from its immediacy. Her songs erupt in a cacophony of sound, grabbing you by the hand and swinging you around, sometimes for no more than a minute. And so it's interesting to imagine all the thoughts, all the worries, that may have preceded her Dr Seuss-inspired bars. From the outside, Tierra's work is obviously a labour of love. After all, she builds entire surrealist sets and makes us consider them as our potential realities. But that effort also implies she's innately certain of every concept that crosses her mind. In the video at one point, her DJ Zachary Citara simply says she's the most creative person he's ever met. "She can have three ideas before anyone can think of anything," he adds. And that might make it sound as though she just blurts those ideas out. But she juggles a duality between her explosive creative energy, as the Up Next film shows, and the residual shyness from her youth. You can see that in action a little more in this exclusive behind-the-scenes video from the shoot, too.
Speaking to Kristin Corry for Noisey last year, Tierra alluded to feeling nervous in a way that extended beyond 'regular' stage fright. “I’ve never admitted that to anyone out loud before,” she said, when Kristin asked if Tierra had anxiety. “Sometimes I just need to go in a corner and tell everyone to shut the fuck up.” Tierra's knee had been bouncing away, she'd seemed distressed. And so she inhabits both of those states at once. Yes, she's the ridiculously talented artist, who creates a kaleidoscopic world in which to flex her songwriting, performing and visual prowess. Yet somewhere in there remains a bit of the young teen who had to go from giggling at Dr Seuss' rhyming verses to performing for school friends, to freestyling road-side in all-male clusters of total strangers. She juggles both, with such dexterity – and it feels like she's just getting started.
You can find Tshepo on Twitter.