Tierra Whack: Rap?
In a world where rappers are all but encouraged to drop music as often as possible, Tierra Whack is content to play the long game. She cut her teeth on the Philadelphia cipher circuit under the name Dizzle Dizz before embracing her birth name and bowling over the music industry with her 2018 debut album Whack World. Part rap album and part experimental film exhibition, the project—15 songs, each only 60 seconds—birthed elaborate worlds from Whack’s demented imagination and sheer rapping skill. It was delightfully weird, catchy, and colorful.
Whack didn’t exactly disappear after Whack World, but her output remained mercurial. She recorded unreleased songs with Meek Mill and Childish Gambino and briefly toured with 6LACK. She dropped a handful of singles through her Whack History Month series in 2019 and found creative partners in Adobe and Adult Swim. Instead of barreling ahead with another project, Whack took advantage of the time and resources afforded to her by Whack World’s success to metamorphize within a technicolor cocoon of her own making.
That sense of fun and feeling things out has permeated the nearly dozen singles Whack has released since 2019—which have seesawed in quality. It’s strange to consider that with all this baggage, Rap?—her first proper project in almost four years—has touched down with very low stakes attached. This isn’t a Whack World sequel; in fact, these three songs have more in common with loosies like “feel good” and “Dora” than a shapeshifting collaboration like the Flying Lotus-produced “Yellow Belly” from 2019. Rap? may be more straightforward than usual, but even at her most conventional, Whack is at least attempting to keep you off-balance.
The most disarming aspect of Rap? is how little of it actually disarms. There are no surprises waiting to be unpacked and few risks taken across its barely 10-minute runtime. Whack’s vocals remain the most exciting part of her music; she’s constantly searching for new pockets to settle in and new melodies to turn into earworms. “Stand Up” and “Millions” are flex anthems that tease at the impish nature of her infamous Instagram freestyles without rocking the boat too hard. That’s not to say she doesn’t occasionally impress—“Millions” has a handful of clever bars (“I’ma do ’em nasty like sugar and grits,” “On these nigga’s head like a white boy beanie”)—but Whack sounds content to push along at a lower gear. “Meagan Good” sidesteps these problems with a story about finding space for self-love in the ashes of a failed relationship, Whack’s growing confidence shining through in her words and steely delivery.
Whack is still rapping well, but the production leaves much to be desired. Producer and frequent collaborator J Melodic handles two cuts, including “Millions,” whose bouncy piano keys and vocal coos make it the most inviting beat of the bunch, while the minimal synths and kick drum of “Stand Up” offer the song a pulse but little else. The submerged sounds of “Meagan Good”—produced by T-Minus, J Louis, and Sam Gellaitry—feel like they were sourced by searching “Meek Mill introspective rap type beat” on YouTube. Whack’s earlier singles like her breakout hit “Mumbo Jumbo” or 2019’s “Unemployed” were as jittery and expansive as Whack herself, their respective pools of personality pushing both higher by association. By contrast, most of the production on Rap? either sounds ready for an Apple commercial or seethes and fades into the background like afternoon shadows swallowed by approaching dusk. It’s a strange dichotomy.
Since she first made it big, Whack has thrived on unpredictability. Her output has been on a hyper-controlled drip, which trains audiences to expect the unexpected and gives her room to expand in any direction she wants creatively. That said, while Rap? has interesting moments and Whack is still engaging as a vocalist, its production renders it largely lowkey and indistinct. Whack’s music doesn’t have to be experimental or off-kilter for it to be good, but these songs are largely lacking in personality, especially compared to those loose singles. Whatever comes next, maybe this will prove to have been a stopgap worth taking.
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