With her own brand of ‘fetish rap’ and art hoe swag, Tommy Genesis embraces sexual self-reliance as artistic creed – she tells us why she’ll never be less than Awful
Taken from the spring/summer 2016 issue of Dazed:
It’s a sweaty afternoon on Los Angeles Street, and sunlight floods a haunting little dollface. “A hater gonna give me a check,” she raps with a grin, punctuating the track blaring from the aux cord with a trap conductor’s hand.
The delighted woman before me in the studio is Tommy Genesis, the young Vancouver-born rapper and visual artist who added a full-length release, World Vision, to her SoundCloud oeuvre last summer. Beginning life with the name Genesis (she picked up the ‘Tommy’ a little later, because she identifies as a tomboy with a lot of respect for fellow rapper Tommy Wright III’s 2000 album Genesis), she is a Leo with a moon in Cancer and an Aquarius ascendant. She loves smoking weed, cuddling cute girls and making music for a new generation of internet kids.
“I really didn’t have an internet phase until I needed it,” says Genesis. “The cool thing about having an online presence is you could make (a song) today and it could pop off tomorrow. You can do what you love to do and if people fuck with it, that’s enough.”
Luckily for Genesis, hers is a business that allows for experimentation. In Vancouver, she studied sculpture and filmmaking while working in art galleries, traversing media as frequently as her own moods, all of which shared the same emotional-collage aesthetic her music and videos have.
“I eventually realised that, even though the art community was lit, the demographic for music was so much bigger,” she explains. “I started fucking around with friends, doing DIY shows in parking lots. My first rap group was called (moan), which was me and my friend, another girl. After that I joined a group of guys. I had always done art but the reaction I got from music was different.”
Wherever possible, Genesis plays her music live and raps without vocal backing. “I began doing pretty raw performances,” she explains. “I would have my songs set up on analogue and mix them live. I’m still trying to do more of that. I’ve always looked up to Grimes because that’s how she performs.”
The reaction Genesis has had to her own burgeoning success is simple – it’s pleasure. “I get such adrenaline from live performances,” she says. “The rush I get from performing is better than sex and is what fuels me to get back into the studio.”
Genesis’ vocal delivery is like a sharp whisper, a flow that wanes unapologetically whenever she feels like it, only to become rousing again when she’s ready. Her single from last month, “Art”, perfectly mirrors the sentiment of the refrain – “It’s that arthoe swag.” The track casually bumps with thesame matter-of-fact confidence and sense of self-identification that can be found in her followers’ tweets and Instagram captions: “We are children of the internet, we kinky and we weary.” Genesis, a self-proclaimed art hoe, is making music for other art hoes, one of the most persistently popular aesthetics among young girls online at the moment.
“The rush I get from performing is better than sex and is what fuels me to get back into the studio” — Tommy Genesis
On Twitter, she calls herself a ‘fetish rapper’. “I don’t even know what that means, I just made it up,” she explains. “But if you listen to my lyrics, I personify a lot of objects. I say things in ways they aren’t usually said, and I use words in ways they’re not usually used.” In this way, she fetishises her own thoughts, relishing in the transformation of her fantasies into new objects: crystallisations of her own, often sexual, experiences.
Genesis says the term ‘fetish rap’ first came to her after writing the track “Angelina” for World Vision. Hanging in the empty studio once her photoshoot has wrapped, she performs a few lines for me. “She tell me he gon’ flip me like he flips his cousins back south,” she raps, making playful eye contact. But how much of the sexuality she flaunts in her songs is a persona? And how much is real?
“Sometimes when I hear my own music, I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m a freak!’” she says with a giggle. “My art and music can be shocking, but I’m at peace with it because I don’t mind just being myself.” Talking to Genesis, it’s evident that “all the kinky shit” she’s into is just another aspect of the personality she’s accumulated by following her own passions. She’s not a ‘freaky princess’ belabouring her own libido for the cameras, she’s a true freak who gets off on processing her sex life through music. Genesis tells me she has some daddy issues and submissive tendencies. Luckily, she has a Father in her life and he’s Awful.
“Do you want to be Awful?” the rap clique leader, musician and media entrepreneur known as Father asked Genesis last year, inviting her to join the fold at his Atlanta label. Given Genesis’ signature mode of twisted self-reflection, she already knew the answer.
“I don’t trust new collaborators easily,” she says, “but Awful is like a family business. Once Father invites you in, the love is real. It’s southern hospitality.” Now, Genesis travels city-to-city to link up with Father, Abra and other Awful affiliates as much as possible. On “Vamp”, her 2015 collaboration with Father, she tells listeners she’s up at the club like she’s walking on water, a nod to Jesus’s own role in her highly religious upbringing (affirming my personal belief that Christian backgrounds create the best fetishists). As an artist, it was lucky for Genesis that her parents chilled out on their tight conservatism as she and her “anime-looking pretty girl” older sister grew up. “Hair Like Water Wavy Like the Sea”, her track with Abra, Awful’s leading R&B artist, begins with a prayer-like incantation:
“As I lay me down to sleep, I dreamt this muthafucker saying to me…”
Genesis, who produced the track, also directed and edited the video: a grey, stormy ode to the ocean’s feminine mystique shot in grainy VHS style by the sea. It feels like a sad ode to their exhausted but powerful selves. As young women signed to a predominantly male rap label, the pair’s camaraderie feels exciting (“She inspires me to be a bad bitch,” gushes Genesis).
“Hair Like Water” closes with the line “...and I never met a muthafucker that I need”, reminding us that this generation’s feminism is encapsulated by a buoyant self-reliance. “It makes me happy that my music can make girls feel better about their own situations,” says Genesis of the creatively ambitious young women who sink their teeth into her work most intensely. “I love when they remember my lyrics. I feel humbled that people are listening to what I’m saying and not just looking at me.”
In a world where proud female sexuality is still met with opposition, Genesis recognises the power she has as an openly bisexual woman to make girls feel less ashamed of their bodies and desires. “When I see a girl do things that make her feel beautiful, even when she might be perceived as a hoe, I cherish that. I love when people who hear my music feel empowered. That’s what sexuality should always be, a way to empower yourself,” she says.
Like a lot of bisexual people, especially bisexual women, she’s also spent a lot of time having to clarify how her orientation ‘works’. “When I’ve been with guys who tell me it’s ‘OK’ for me to have a girlfriend, I’m like, ‘Don’t assume that if you give me that freedom, you’re going to keep me,’” she explains.
“When I’ve been with guys who tell me it’s ‘OK’ for me to have a girlfriend, I’m like, ‘Don’t assume that if you give me that freedom, you’re going to keep me” — Tommy Genesis
Genesis may like to submit (sometimes) but for her, nothing is certain. “As my music evolves and goes through different phases, I know I will too. I like to leave my future open to whatever I feel like doing next,” she says. This year, that means unveiling World Vision 2 and supporting Father’s I’m a Piece of Shit North American tour this spring, before travelling to Europe and Asia later in the year – taking her further from home than ever before. “I think we’re going to start seeing more artists out of Vancouver,” she says. “There’s a lot of young kids who are just coming up.”
In other words, Genesis is on some Drake shit, hoping the expansion of her own cultural reach as a Canadian will lead to more opportunities for other artists she respects in Vancouver. Genesis opens her own doors, but keeps them unhindered for the artists that follow behind her – bedroom doors included.
“My sexuality just gets in there,” Genesis remarks slyly, referring to just about… everything.
World Vision 2 is out in May
Hair Ramsell Martinez at Streeters using Bumble and bumble, make-up Gia Harris at JK Artists using M.A.C, photography assistant Robbie Corral, fashion assistant Kelly Harris