When everyone goes left, Tierra Whack goes right. Our introduction to the Philadelphia rapper were last year’s singles “Shit Happens,” “Toe Jam,” and “Child Please,” which feel like a primer on her transition from battle rapper to recording artist. The three tracks would be a sample of her knack for melodies, but none of them were exactly distinct until “MUMBO JUMBO.” The song is sung completely in gibberish, which some interpret as a playful jab to mumble rap. The video for “MUMBO JUMBO,” with dystopian imagery of a nightmarish visit to the dentist, would be the stepping stone for the rabbit hole we fall down on her debut Whack World, out now. The world is quite literally on fire and through it all, Whack manages to be herself. This week she released Whack World, a 15-song project defying normalcy, placing Tierra in a trajectory to surpass the trends of her contemporaries.
At a time where Culture II clocks in at just under two hours, Tierra is giving you nearly as many tracks in a 15-minute runtime. On the heels of DAYTONA, PUSHA-T’s refreshing 20-minute release, Whack World feels incredibly innovative as she walks us through the visuals for each one minute song. Her audiovisual is nothing like we’ve been exposed to, which is fitting because Tierra isn’t ordinary. Within 15 minutes, she wears the poop emoji as nail art, grooms a taxidermy dog, and dances in a cemetery. By industry standards, she would be considered off the wall and Whack World is her own universe that doesn’t hold her to superficial standards. She’s essentially prepping us with bite-sized versions of her songs that do nothing but make us want more. By the time you settle into the rhythm, she whisks you away to the next song.
In “Black Nails” We catch Tierra in an all pink nail salon with her head down, a self-portrait made of felt embroidered on her hood in place of where her face should be. Nail art accompanies each lyric for the opener and her message is crystal clear: “Best believe I’m gon’ sell / If I just be myself,” she says. When she reveals her half-swollen face on “Bugs Life,” the image is harrowing. According to her, she “probably would’ve blew up overnight / If I was white,” which is a message that stings both figuratively and literally in this case. Instead of dwelling on the privilege of her peers, she shrugs it off for a song that ends in with an inaudible hook that seems to be slurred and played in reverse, without much time to decode its meaning before taking us further into her interpretation of rap, country, and R&B.
Tierra’s greatest talent is her ability to make melodic songs from topics that feel arbitrary. On “4 Wings,” she turns a Chinese food order (Salt, pepper, ketchup, and hot sauce / Fried hard ‘cause I do not like soft) into an introspective song about the death of a loved one and the inevitable truth of mortality. Death is present again on “Pet Cemetery,” an eerily upbeat eulogy. “Pet Cemetery” could be paying tribute to an actual dog, but you can never be too sure with Tierra. Lyrics like, “I’m gon’ say his name” and “keeping his name alive,” run parallel to phrases used heavily in protests regarding black life, blurring the line of reality and literary license.
There’s a lot of nostalgia buried on Whack World. She seems to a nod Alice in Wonderland on “Dr. Seuss,” as she sits in a shrunken house with her voice changing octaves as though she’s taken a sip of the wrong potion. Muppet-like figures pop out in “Pet Cemetery,” and there’s even a reimagining of a childhood game on “Hungry Hippo.” Turning the otherwise savage Hasbro game into an elegant feast of diamonds and pearls, “Hungry Hippo” is pointed at people who try to imitate her style. Her formula is unexpected, making it difficult for anyone to replicate her penchant for obscurity. Tierra Whack is stepping into the eccentricities her predecessors left before her.
Whack World feels like the second coming of music videos like Missy Elliott’s “She’s a Bitch,” and Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More.” Even with 60-second tracks, Tierra’s messaging, no matter how abstract, is both peculiar yet thoughtful. Was Whack World a calculated effort to forfeit needing a streaming platform to access it? Maybe. In Tierra’s world, everything is left up to interpretation and there’s no right answer.Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.