‘You ever laugh just to keep from crying/Think less about living and more about dying’. This closing line from track “Dr. Seuss”, reverberates from the pitch-shifted maw of Tierra Whack as if it’s a narration. “Who? Me?”, I imagine myself responding in my mind. “Yes, you” the deep voice confirms. This is the odd but compelling mix of quasi-existential-isms and cartoonish imagery that Philly native Tierra Whack presents on her debut LP Whack World. The album is unique (at least to me) in its structure with a total runtime of 15 minutes and consisting of 15 tracks each precisely 1 minute in length. It flows like a scrapbook of musical vignettes showcasing Whack’s knack (hehe) for ear-burrowing hooks and cooky bars about chicken wings and Voss water.
If you need a more clear demarcation for how Whack actually sounds amongst her hip-hop and R&B contemporaries, I would point you towards the dreamy melodies of Frank Ocean, the dirty mumble trap of Atlanta rappers like 21 Savage (Whack spent part of her formative years living in Atlanta) and the surreal emotiveness of Billie Eilish. Comparisons to Eilish are especially apparent if you consider the unusual influences from kids’ TV shows and books. Constantly uprooted and moved on from area to area by her mother, Whack often became entranced by the imaginary worlds of her favourite authors like the aforementioned Dr. Seuss and his books Wacky Wednesday and Green Eggs and Ham.
What I’m reminded of the most when listening through Whack World is the malfunctioning mood of a show like John R. Dilworth’s Courage the Cowardly Dog,where dissonant art styles clashed creating absurd and often deeply unnerving results. The same is true for Whack World where tracks segue into one another in very jarring fashions, such as the amusing shift from “Silly Sam” into “Fruit Salad”. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Whack was a fan of macabre YouTube series Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared and its drop-of-the-hat U-turns in tone, where one minute you’ll be lapping up the carefree joy of a singing notepad, and another minute you’ll be gawking at a birthday cake packed with human entrails wondering where things might go next. Ok I’ll admit, Whack World isn’t quite as horror-infused as those past two examples, but they serve to show just how lucid and visual the record is.
It’s highly intriguing to me that more than two interviews I’ve read with Whack she has withdrawn into her fantasy world via the means of doodling on napkins or scraps of paper, but remained engaged in the interview almost as if the doodling ‘plugs her in’ to a space where she can communicate how she wants. In fact most of her art emanates this feeling. Some may call this a short attention span, others may call it free-flowing, spontaneous, untethered, wayward.
Whack’s art style to me is analogous to the current way many of us consume media; quick-fire, fleetingly, increasingly commodified, and yes that phrase again, with increasingly short attention spans. This in itself is portrayed in a negative manner by the media. How many articles have you read that spout that tiresome ‘the human attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish’ factoid? And how many times has reading it made you feel like shit? Well Tierra Whack and Whack World take that and own it. They celebrate the inspiration and escapism that can come from thinking something and actuating that exact thought mere seconds later.