Tierra Whack’s first “real” album is a doozy

Tierra Whack’s first “real” album is a doozy
Tierra Whack's video for "Shower Song"

If you're anything like me, you've always wanted to hear Tierra Whack just release a darn album. This is not to say that what she has done instead has been disappointing. Her 2018 debut EP, Whack World, consisted of fifteen 1-minute music videos, first uploded in perfect grid fashion on Instagram. Almost every track was a hard left from the previous right: warbling autotuned country, seismic trap, vaporous ambient R&B, with visuals full of goofy puppetry and grotesque violence. She further explored the unlikely intersection of Michel Gondry and Future across a series of one-off singles — dubbed, collectively, “Whack History Month” — and then a trio of 2021 EPs that formalized her stylistic wanderlust. The question marks in the title of each EP — Rap?Pop?, and R&B? — felt like a playful rejoinder to listeners who insisted that she any fit stylistic, marketing, or formatting convention.

Compounding this is the fact that Whack is, bar for bar, one of the best rappers alive. As a teenager in Philadelphia, she was a pugnacious freestyler, dazzling old heads on the corner in a video that has since become legend. On YouTube, she’s still liable to get swept up by some old boom-bap, dropping bars on the “Smokin On My Ex-Pack” instrumental as recently as last year. But she rarely breathes fire like this on her official records, where she treats emceeing instead as merely another aesthetic wall to bounce off of, spraypaint, and maybe demolish. I will admit to quietly wanting her first official full-length LP, World Wide Whack, to go extraordinarily hard, tapping into the righteous indignance that animated her best “Whack History Month” tracks. Perhaps someday she will do so. But World Wide Whack is better than that: a true successor to Whack World, 15 tracks of dizzying stylistic diversity that nevertheless do not sound like they could’ve come from anyone’s brain but hers. 

It’s about as funny as music gets without being parody. “Chanel Pit” takes literal her claims of being the shit (“what is that shit I smell?”), and ends a tough verse with the run, “I got a bag in the bag and another bag inside my bag / Ask what’s in my bag, it’s just a bag.” Her voice, so often warped into mumbles and slurs for dramatic effect, reaches Charlie-Brown's-teacher tier absurdity on the hook for “Burning Brains.” She has an almost Tim Robinson-esque skill for turning a thin conceit into 2.5 minutes of sublimity. “Moovies” is a shimmering synth-pop number proclaiming that the key to her heart is “popcorn with the big ol’ drink”; “Shower Song” is a funky strut about the glories of singing in the shower, proclaiming, “I ain’t into taking baths,” before countering, as if for the record, “Sometimes I do / Just so I can soak my ass.” This line, and others like it, pepper a 30-minute LP that the Grammy-nominated artist has spent almost a decade of major-label money building toward. She remains frequently, wonderfully absurd.


And yet for each of these zigs World Wide Whack zags confidently into personal territory only obliquely suggested in previous work. Between “Moovies” and “Shower Song,” for instance, is “Difficult,” in which the rapper details the sleeping and eating habits of a person struggling to breathe beneath a thick blanket of depression. (Its phasing guitars wouldn’t sound out of place on a Cure record.) “Numb” sounds recorded in a black hole, referencing circling sharks, self-harm hidden beneath long sleeves, a lifetime of demons catching up in a rush. This melancholic undercurrent threatens to drown even the sillier songs — what is that eerie voice on “Imaginary Friends”? — and the silliness starts to drip, morbidly, out of the dark songs, like the deathbed confession that she hasn’t paid that month’s light bill on “Two Night.” The melancholy becomes full-on deathlust in album closer “27 Club,” in which Whack teases, “Want something to commit to?” before belting the answer, “Suicide.” It’s the darkest moment on the album — and the funniest. 

Whack has long recalled, and hobnobbed with, a previous era of hip-hop weirdo, including Andre 3000, Lauryn Hill, and Missy Elliott. But World Wide Whack taps into an even older tradition: the post-success rock-god flame-out LP. Where she once warbled kiss-offs to exes, sucker emcees, and other deadbeats alongside gonzo conceits like talking potatoes and ghost puppets, here she details a long tango with melancholy that material wealth, creative success, and friendship with Beyonce can’t extinguish. And yet the very container in which these meditations arrive offers their counter. World Wide Whack bursts with joy in defiance of its thematic bleakness. The music, minimal in arrangement but maximal in playfulness, bursts out of the speakers, full of harps, woodpecker chirrups, and trilling xylophones. Her voice warps and stretches to populate each Seuss-like wonderland. In Whack World, up is down, rappers speak in tongues, and an album about suicide kicks you stumbling into the daylight, brain bouncing with ideas.