Psychedelic rap artist and self-styled class clown Tierra Whack looks into the future with Petra Collins for Dazed Beauty
23-year old Philadelphia raised rapper Tierra Whack is a self-titled “weirdo” and “class clown”. Her approach to music is as unconventional as the twisted visuals that accompany her sound. Seemingly unconcerned with the pressures of prettiness, Whack presents herself as an artist unbridled by the demands of “looking good” even if she raps about it. We rarely catch her off duty and out of costume. Fascinated with playing dress up, with a penchant for prosthetics, wigs, fake blood, gore, class clown antics and a constant personal battle to ”remain a kid”, Tierra is a keen shapeshifter switching between nightmarish characters at the bat of an eyelash. Notably, amongst the absurd humour that skewers the record, are tracks that address the very real and relentless pressure on women in the industry and at large to work on their appearance. In "Fruit Salad" Tierra works out in a tiny colourful toy gym. On "Pretty Ugly", Whack’s face is comically examined under a succession of scientific microscopes.
She initially drew our attention in 2017, when she dropped her gorgeously gruesome video for her single "Mumbo Jumbo". Her distinctive rap style – shapeshifting, psychedelic and lackadaisical – will leave you a little seasick but also hungry for more. In fact, that’s intentional. In May she released the audio-visual album: Whack World. The record consists of 15 60-second songs in total. It’s a response to the avaricious consumption that dogs Tierra’s generation and also, seemingly, a self-set challenge. You’d think fifteen minutes of music might hint at writer’s block; on the contrary, Whack World is an economic sucker-punch of a release for generation-Instagram- and stronger for it. The album is a ticket to Tierra’s ghost train of an imagination; scene after scene of stomach-churning visuals that career through pet cemeteries, doll’s houses and nail salons, fuelled by her interstellar, off-beat melodies and pitch-black sardonic quips. You emerge out the other side a little shook up.
Below, we quizzed Tierra about maintaining her iconoclastic voice, creativity and style.
Hey Tierra, how’s it going? Will you start by telling me about Whack World and the visuals. What you were trying to put across?
Tierra Whack: Initially I recorded about 50 songs. Then I started deleting them, and I ended up with 15 songs. The number 15 just felt right. 60 seconds each. With the visuals and the tracks, I wanted to give people that feeling of that moment when you spend all your money at a crane machine. When you grab onto a prize, pick it up and you end up dropping it. I wanted people to just start to get into a song, and then it’s done. It's like life. Sometimes you have good shit and it gets taken away from you. I also wanted the layout and delivery to reflect this generation’s short attention span.
Can we talk about the costumes in the videos? You obviously like dressing up and playing characters...
Tierra Whack: Yes! Cos’ then I get to blame the crazy shit that I want to do on other people. Once I have a wig on, I become a different person. You can't get Tierra back until the wig comes off. Playing characters is fun because you get the chance to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
The visuals for this record are really intense. Will you talk to me about how you came up with those ideas?
Tierra Whack: "Black Nails" always felt like an opener. When I wrote the track, I had black nails on. Usually, I have like really bright colours on. I was in a really like dark place so that was the mood. Then I thought, “Alright cool, a nail salon, with the lyrics on my nails”. It was pretty simple. For "Bug’s Life", where my head’s all big and shit, it’s because I have something called Skeeter syndrome. If I get a bug bite, I actually swell up and turn into a puss bubble. It was hard growing up in the summer! I didn’t leave the house. It’s also an ode to one of my favourite movies growing up: A Bug's Life.
How much has growing up in Philly shaped the way that you present yourself?
Tierra Whack: I think it's just given me my raw grittiness. My ‘keep it real with yourself' attitude. Because, girl, I know people will call me a weirdo but that’s who I am. I grew up around a bunch of rappers and street dudes and they were always like: 'yo! She's a little different but she's her.’ They respected it because you know it wasn't forced, I wasn't posing to be something I wasn’t. As a kid, I was really shy. Technically I am still, but when I'm performing I want everybody to listen. Growing up I loved Missy Elliott, Ludacris and Busta Rhymes. I loved that they were freaks. I became outspoken and silly, the class clown. So I went from being really, really shy to a total maniac.
Did you feel beautiful growing up?
Tierra Whack: A lot of times, no. At 18 I was working at a car wash in Atlanta, Georgia. It was my first job after high school, I was just trying to save money so I could get a laptop and record music. That was my focus. Growing up it wasn't cool to be dark skinned, but you have to start thinking, 'You know what? Fuck that.' I just had to really learn to love myself. I wore really bright colours because it looked good on my skin. I spent so much time by myself and I just started falling in love with myself. At school, at first, I would try to fit in with students and at the lunch tables. Then I just got fed up with trying to keep up so I went and I sat at an empty lunch table and I started my own group. People started to gravitate towards me naturally. If you're just patient with yourself and you believe in yourself and love yourself, the universe will help you out.
Do you remember looking at anyone when you were growing up and being like they’re really beautiful?
Tierra Whack: My mum. She has a gap tooth like me. I look just like her – I'm darker – but I look just like my mum so it was like, “Hey if I can see the beauty in her... I come from her!” Also, Lauryn Hill gave me that guidance because she has dark skin and she was doing exactly what I wanted to do: singing and rapping. She was just my whole outline, she was like a god. She is a god to me.
Do you take time to enjoy your body? How do you celebrate yourself?
Tierra Whack: That's a really good question. I could be out here doing crack or some shit but you know I'm celebrating my life, drinking water and eating fruit and taking care of my body.
Would you change anything about the way you look?
Tierra Whack: My little sister got braces and I want to be just like her, so maybe braces. I just want to be a kid and never grow up. If I could stay 15 for the rest of my life I would.
Would you ever get plastic surgery?
Tierra Whack: I'm never getting plastic surgery, it's not for me. I'm okay with how I look. That shit is heavy. I'm light right now, I'm cool. I can run really fast, I feel like that would slow me down, having a fat ass or big ass titties.
What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
Tierra Whack: Two of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen would be my mom and an ice cold glass bottle of Starkey Spring Water.
What are the beauty products you can’t live without?
Tierra Whack: Blistex, mascara, cocoa butter, baby oil, baby lotion, aloe vera and tea tree oil.
How involved were you in the Petra Collins shoot?
Tierra Whack: Petra is a great director! She led the way and made me feel comfortable the entire shoot. I do not like taking pictures but she made me feel comfortable. The third eye meant I could see into the future!
What do you think the future of beauty is?
Tierra Whack: I was a victim of like just being sucked in by what everybody else was saying and doing. I think the future of beauty is being the true you, without judgement.
Photographer: Petra Collins
Photo Assistant: Dean DiCriscio
Intern: Ryan Williams
Stylist: Stella Greenspan
Stylist Assistant: Chris Lee
Hair: Dana Boyer
Make-up: Marcelo Gutierrez at She Likes Cutie using Marc Jacobs Beauty
FX Make-up: Nina Bellord
Executive Producer: Travis Kiewel
Production Asssistant: Mike Waxer
Photographer Reps: Lighthouse Management & Media
Special Thanks: Tierra Whack, Kenete Simms