Tierra Whack is giving herself a challenge. Not only has she just flown into New Zealand to perform all three nights at Donald Glover’s one-off Pharos festival, but she’s forcing herself to draw a self-portrait of herself with her left hand. Whack insistently explains, “I’m right handed, but what if I break this hand? I have to know how to use my left hand.”
Having just been nominated for a Grammy for her ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ music video, as well as listed in a number of Albums Of The Year lists (including ours!), her fantastical fifteen-minute-long debut album ‘Whack World’ has established Whack as one of the most exciting voices in hip-hop today. And with supporters including Janelle Monáe and Alicia Keys, you’re gonna want to get on the Whack train, like, now.
We spoke with Tierra Whack backstage at Pharos festival to discuss her album ‘Whack World’, the importance of visuals as an artist, the sentiment of love, and much more…
...I’m the person that will get you everything that you want and then I might forget to say that I actually love you. We might have an argument and then we’ll sit down and I’ll be like, ‘Well, I did this, and I did this, and this to show you, but okay, I love you.’ I have to finally say it, and different people want to accept it in different ways.
COUP DE MAIN: How have your first ever New Zealand shows been, as part of Pharos?
TIERRA WHACK: Great actually! People are actually really nice here. I’m from Philly.
CDM: Lots of Americans always like New Zealand because we’re all nice apparently.
TIERRA: I can tell that a lot of people don’t know me, but they’re being nice to me.
CDM: The vibe at your set tonight was really nice.
TIERRA: Yeah, they’re not mean.
CDM: How are you enjoying New Zealand? Have you had any time to explore at all?
TIERRA: I think I’m gonna explore on my day off. I haven’t gotten the chance yet, but this has been enough - it’s been beautiful views and everything is so cool. It’s so beautiful, the animals and everything, seeing everything is so pretty. The air smells so fresh!
CDM: How did you playing Pharos come about?
TIERRA: I don’t even know! I just know I was in Iceland and then they were like, ‘Yo, Childish [Gambino] wants you to come play at his festival.’ I was like, ‘All right! Cool!’
CDM: What’s it been like bringing songs from ‘Whack World’ to life in a live setting?
TIERRA: It’s cool, but I can’t wait until I get enough money to build my set, and act everything out. Right now, I’m just touching the people, but I can’t wait until I can get my own set built and have a whole production. That’s what I’m really waiting on. But it’s fun, I like talking to people, I like to connect.
CDM: Back in June, you told Pitchfork that you were keen to start learning production as well - is that something you’ve been working on more recently?
TIERRA: No, I just do it when I’m bored.
CDM: Have you been bored recently at all?
TIERRA: Yes. I’ve been busy/bored.
CDM: Do you have a favourite lyric at the moment from ‘Whack World’?
TIERRA: The first one that came to mind is, “Life is easy / I’m somebody hard to come across.”
CDM: Why that line?
TIERRA: I don’t know. They say that life isn’t complicated, people make life complicated. So I was just like, ‘All right, well, life is easy, I make it hard for myself.’ But also, speaking for other people, there’s so many people in the world, but when you meet me, I’m so special. I was just bigging myself up, basically.
CDM: You’ve said your mum is your biggest inspiration. Does she have a favourite song from ‘Whack World’?
TIERRA: She can never choose, she always chooses ten of them.
CDM: I saw that she’s with you in New Zealand too!
TIERRA: Yeah, she’s so cool. I love her, she’s my best friend.
CDM: I love in ‘Cable Guy’, the new acronyms you gave to ABC, MTV, and BET, it was super inventive. In music, do you like the ability to take something and switch it on its head? Like, give people something they weren’t expecting?
TIERRA: Do whatever I want, yeah! Even with Whack, a lot of people think Whack is just a gimmick and it’s not my real last name, and then they find out it really is my last name and they are like, ‘Oh my god.’ In my personality, people just think that I would make something like that up. But flipping the word 'whack'. When you say, ‘Yo, that’s whack!’ It means it’s corny, that it’s bad. But when you say 'Tierra Whack', you’re like, ‘Oh, she’s cool.’ Well, most people say that. So I’m giving the word a whole new meaning.
CDM: What was it about spicy fried chicken that made you want to compare yourself to it in ‘4 Wings’?
TIERRA: In Philly we go to the Chinese store - it’s just so convenient, it stays open until like 3 in the morning. Me being a rapper, and an artist, staying up late at night, you just run to the Chinese store and get some wings and fries, and wings and fried rice. ‘4 Wings’ - “Salt, pepper, ketchup and hot sauce,” that’s what we put on it! So I was just giving back to Philly. It’s funny because one of my friends that died, he got killed a while ago, I talk about him in a lot of the songs.
CDM: Is that on ‘Pet Cemetery’ as well?
TIERRA: Yeah. But in ‘4 Wings’ I say, “Endless nights I cried when Hulitho died,” the last time I was with him we were having a really deep conversation, we were in front of the Chinese store at night getting some wings.
CDM: I love the line in that song, “I'm not perfect but I improvise.”
TIERRA: You like that song? Yo, I thought that was so cool because it was like, “I’m / improvise.” You know what I mean?
CDM: Why do you think perfection is such an unattainable goal? It’s something we’re all supposed to look towards, but is never actually possible.
TIERRA: It’s just the media. It ruins everything. That’s why I’m like, ‘Yo, I’m not a role model.’ I just like being myself. I’m gonna make mistakes, I’m not perfect, but I improvise. It’s funny because I forgot that was my line that quick! I try to be as good as-- We all know right from wrong, good from bad, but we’re humans. We make mistakes. I tweeted the other day, ‘I’m not a role model,’ because I don’t want anybody to-- Follow the good stuff I do, but know that I am gonna fuck up. I’m human!
CDM: Celebrity culture is hard, you get placed on a pedestal above everyone else.
TIERRA: I had Twitter four years ago, and we all have crazy tweets. You go back and you’re like, ‘What the fuck was I thinking?’ And then people pull those up. It’s like, these tweets that matter to you when I was nobody or when I wasn’t popular, but now that I am somebody, you want to fucking kill me. It’s crazy. I was fucking dumb!
CDM: Everyone says dumb stuff sometimes, and social media makes it a lot harder, because there’s always receipts.
TIERRA: Exactly. You got your files. Sometimes you have to just say dumb shit to let it out, you know what I mean? When you’re arguing with your best friend or something, you say shit that you don’t mean, but in that moment you needed to express yourself. That’s why you have to find different ways to express yourself besides screaming and cursing and fighting.
CDM: In that same verse you go on to say, “If you love somebody I promise that you should tell 'em.” Do you think the expression of love is just as important as the feeling itself?
TIERRA: Yeah. With me, I will do everything in the world for you, but I probably… I started losing a lot of friends and family members. I was like, ‘I have to learn.’ Saying, ‘I love you,’ that wasn’t a cool thing to do, or letting somebody know how you feel.
CDM: Sometimes sharing your feelings can be vulnerable.
TIERRA: Yeah. But once you lose people, and you keep losing people, you’re like, ‘What’s the last thing I said to them? Do they even know how much I care?’ So I try to say it as much as possible. Me and my friends were just talking about something, and she said, ‘I love you so much and there’s nothing you can do about it,’ or something like that! We were saying when we get each other mad we’re just gonna say that, because that’s just so sweet - ‘There’s nothing you can do about it!’ It is what it is.
CDM: ‘Hookers’ is really relatable when you sing, “I’m tired of trying love / Don’t try to buy my love.” Do you still feel that sentiment about love at the moment?
TIERRA: Yeah. I had a friend who was going through some stuff with her boyfriend. He was the breadwinner and she wasn’t, she was a stay-at-home mom, so I’m just saying, he’s treating her like shit, but he’s paying the bills, food, clothes, everything. Don’t think just because he’s doing all this for you that you can’t go and get up and do it on your own.
CDM: It’s hard because the expression of love is so often associated with spending money, but there are other ways to show love.
TIERRA: It’s just what we were saying - I’m the person that will get you everything that you want and then I might forget to say that I actually love you. We might have an argument and then we’ll sit down and I’ll be like, ‘Well, I did this, and I did this, and this to show you, but okay, I love you.’ I have to finally say it, and different people want to accept it in different ways.
CDM: I think ‘Fuck Off’ is one of my favourite songs on the album, it’s so fun! What does that song mean to you?
TIERRA: I knew that song was fun, but a lot of people I know didn’t like it. I don’t usually get people to listen, it’s usually just me and my manager Kenete [Simms], we’re the only ones that say yes or no, nobody else. I never play my music for anyone, but I played it for a few people and they didn’t really care about it. There was something about it that I just loved so much that I was like, ‘I gotta put it on.’ I did it, and then everybody fucking loves it. I kinda forgot about it, but I love that song so much.
CDM: “Whenever I’m happy / it makes you mad,” is a really sad line. It’s so infuriating to me that people can’t accept other people’s happiness!
TIERRA: Yeah! It’s so bad. That’s why you just gotta smile. I kill ‘em with kindness. Me growing up, I was like, ‘I gotta kill ‘em with kindness.’ People are so mean to me sometimes, they say crazy things, and I don’t even know half of these people. People tweet crazy shit about me all the time and fans come at them, but I’m just like, I show my fans it’s not that bad. I reply to them with something kind and they’re like, ‘Wait, what?’ They’re so used to people starting trouble.
CDM: Half the time I feel like people don’t think you’re going to see it.
TIERRA: They don’t think you’re going to see it, and then I see it and they’re like, ‘Oh my god.’ They DM me like, ‘I didn’t mean to say that.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, why did you say that?’
CDM: Likewise, ‘Fruit Salad’ is a really empowering song. Hearing a young woman sing “you can't define me” is so powerful. Do you think it’s getting easier or harder to be a woman?
TIERRA: It’s just crazy. My make-up artist Tatyanna [Nance] was doing my make-up this morning, she was just like, ‘Yo, it’s so hard being a girl,’ and I was like, ‘Man, it is.’ We were going to run to the mall then come straight to the show because we only got the ride here, but the timing was bad. I was like, I should be ready - I have two male managers and they were just good, but we had so much to do as women. I don’t know, I want to get a balance with that too, I don’t want to be always perfect, I want to show up regular sometimes. I have cool ideas, and Tatyanna, my make-up artist, sews and makes some of my clothes. We find fabric and put things together.
CDM: Have you been doing that for most of your shows?
TIERRA: Yeah, I have. We have a lot of outfits.
CDM: I also love the Wiggles inspiration that you had on that song! It’s cool that you transferred that to the video part for that song with all the bright colours.
TIERRA: Yes! You know what’s crazy? I pull from so much of my childhood. It’s by mistake, but now that I’m becoming somebody - like, talking to you, you guys make me realise things about myself and learn things about myself everyday - I pull from everything that I’ve ever been through and experienced.
CDM: That’s what makes you who you are! Especially as children, you absorb so much.
TIERRA: I never ever wanted to grow up. All my friends were like, ‘I can’t wait until I’m 21!’ I was like, ‘No, no.’ If I could be 18 forever, that would’ve been fine for me. I just want to be a kid, I have childish ways. 'Childish Gambino'. <laughs>
CDM: Why is the visual side of Tierra Whack so important for you as an artist?
TIERRA: Because I can say something to you and you don’t understand, so I have to show you. That’s just it. Literally, somebody will say something to me and I’ll be like, ‘Huh?’ Just show me. I’m very visual. I’m doing it for me, I just happen to have viewers.
CDM: What was it like collaborating with Thibaut Duverneix and Mathieu Léger on the short film?
TIERRA: Thibaut is so fucking cool. All day, I’m just saying crazy shit and he’s picking up on it and using it back on me. Every little thing. He’s a cool ass dad. He’s easy, he listens to me, he’s open.
CDM: What’s it like working with your manager Kenete on a managerial level, but also in co-writing and producing your music?
TIERRA: Kenete was my engineer at first. He was the only one around me for a few years. He knows me the best, so I was like, ‘Be my manager.’ So that’s how it happened. He’s my mentor. He’s a genius. I don’t use that word, I hate how much people throw that word around, but he really is. I can’t wait for the world to see that.
CDM: If T.I.E.R.R.A. was an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
TIERRA: Tomorrow. Is. Everybody’s. Reality. Rah. Ahh!
CDM: And lastly... There are rumours that you have made music with Childish Gambino. Can you comment on the rumour?
TIERRA: Oh, no! We just played ping-pong. We just hang out. He’s cool as fuck.
Tierra Whack’s album ‘Whack World’ is out now - click here to purchase, or watch the entire music video below…