Tommy Genesis is Awful Records’ latest signee and also our new female rap obsession
Rapper and visual artist Tommy Genesis first shook our attention last year when she was signed by Atlanta’s cult rap king Father to Awful Records — an independent label and community of DIY artists that cater to deep-web, Soundcloud nerds across the globe. After clocking her music online, Father started asking her to collaborate by leaving voicemails telling Tommy to “get her shit together”. Eventually, the Vancouver-born musician listened, and injected her undeniable talents into Father’s bleary-eyed rap jam “Vamp”, her verse a clear, soft-voiced antidote to Father’s monotone drawl.
Tommy’s first official Awful Release, her debut album World Vision, further confirmed the creative polymath as one to watch. Mixing a heady dose of ATL trap influences with a smoother, Lauryn Hill-style flow, her sound is unique yet uncanny. Although what is particularly pleasing about Tommy is her clear disregard for mainstream standards and trends: “I’m the shepherd of my flock, fuck the rest!” she spits in “Shepherd”, “That’s my whole team watch me fuck the rest.” With her oddball lyricism and Harajuku schoolgirl style (a contrast to the disobedient and anti-establishment themes of sex and revolt in her music), it’s a claim that’s easy to believe. She’s a leader, not a follower, and we wanted to find out more.
Did you have a creative upbringing?
Tommy Genesis: In a way, I lived entirely in my imagination. I would lock myself in my room when I was really young and I’d draw, paint, sing and masturbate. I remember in kindergarten, I would draw hyper-realistic BDSM nude portraits – I was very good at it. I’d say my creativity was fuelled by my heightened sense of sexuality. My mum always made sure I had art supplies and she taught me how to play piano at a really young age, which I pursued until I was too “punk” for lessons. I would listen to whatever my dad played in the car. We moved a lot and went on lots of road trips, which consisted of packing up everything we owned and hoping from city to city. On those trips, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, John Coltrane, BB King, Eric Clapton and Billie Holiday were on repeat the most.
You’re from Vancouver, right? What’s the music scene like there?
Tommy Genesis: I honestly couldn’t tell you. I know that’s strange to say, but I often feel like an alien when I’m home. Even before I joined Awful Records, I felt like I was making music in an incubator. Then this big hand reached down from the sky (Father) and picked me out of my Sim-like neighborhood where I was dying of boredom.
Tell me about how you first got involved with Awful.
Tommy Genesis: Father heard about me through Keith Charles who heard about me through Dexter who found my music online. Father had been hitting me up, but I was in a weird place at the time; I wasn’t making music, so I had been ignoring his messages. Then I remember he sent me a really over the top bossy message, like “bitch pick up your phone, get your shit together”. He was completely joking, but fortunately I took him seriously and responded. I sent him a voice note that said “forgive me father”. He ended up using it as a drop on a bunch of his songs. “Vamp” was the first track we made together. I joined Awful a few weeks after he dropped “Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First”.
At times, it’s hard to attach a genre to your music — how would you describe your sound?
Tommy Genesis: The internet is my heritage, and “genre” is just a word. My cultural lens is a blurry, undefined intimate one – like peeping through your neighbours blinds and seeing something you're not supposed to see. It’s that in a musical form.
What are the main themes that inform your lyrics?
Tommy Genesis: Pain, sex, relationships, drugs, boredom and revolt — I’ve gone to the dark side.
The hip hop world still feels quite male-dominated. How do you navigate that?
Tommy Genesis: I know it’s a male dominated industry, but other than the random haters online who leave petty comments, I don’t come face-to-face with much adversity. Maybe it’s time for female rappers to be accepted as a social norm, because that’s really what true feminism is. Don’t treat us better or worse because were girls, but treat us the same.
On your Twitter, you wrote: “There's a special place in hell for girls who bully other girls” — why do you think female acceptance and togetherness is so important?
Tommy Genesis: As females, we have the power to make each other feel confident, or we can make each other feel small and despondent. We, as a sex, have more power over each other’s self esteem than any male does. We subversively undermine and try to alter each other’s fates. We can be jealous, competitive and primitive, but we are a symptom of how others choose to treat us every day. I believe that as humans, living in the final century of a decaying world, we owe it to each other to at the very least show love, and respect. Especially girl-to-girl existing in this lucid dream-like culture of sex and violence.
How would you describe your sense of style? You often dress like a schoolgirl.
Tommy Genesis: I’d say I’m a playful demon angel baby. I like to wear plaid skirts because it’s like walking around with a sign that says “fuck you I’m young” and I like to wear crop tops because they’re really comfortable but also slightly provocative. I like combat boots because they make me feel powerful and masculine. I like to look like I could have just walked out of an anime.
“There are no rules. There are no requirements. The only way you can set yourself apart is to be yourself.” – Tommy Genesis
In addition to being a musician, you’re a visual artist. Tell me a bit about that.
Tommy Genesis: I got into art school with my paintings, but then I quickly switched to a more conceptual based praxis (i.e. film and sculpture). To me, art can be a painting, it can be handmade (like pottery) or it can be a ready-made object (Duchamp) like a glass of water upside-down, or a human being (Vanessa Beecroft, Santiago Sierra). It’s all about the conceptual idea behind the work. I guess what I’m trying to explain is that my definition of “art” isn’t any technical skill, but rather the theoretical way art is executed and documented, which can take any form.
Your track “Shepherd” is all about sheep following the herd — what’s the importance of being unique in a saturated music industry?
Tommy Genesis: I think if you try to be unique, you're not. Just like if you try to be the same, you can’t fit in. There are no rules. There are no requirements. The only way you can set yourself apart is to be yourself – genuinely, honestly, you. So, in that sense, it’s extremely important to be yourself.
Tommy Genesis: I’ve been to a lot of ST shows, and listened to them a lot as a kid, but I never grasped their lyrics or agenda. For me, it was more about the live performance and the feeling of going to your first hardcore show and seeing an aggressive, incoherent act. Live punk music is like a deep internal massage. The frequencies seep into the heaviness of my heart and console my anxiety. It gave me a feeling of power — like, don’t take that pain, don’t take that stress. Say no. Fuck it up. Get up and fuck it all up.