This is the rare project that’s truly unmoored from genre.
Tierra Whack is a former freestyle champion who has since veered into a style somewhere at the intersection of pop and neotenous indie rock. Her debut album Whack World is a 15-song, 15-minute collection accompanied by an elaborate music video featuring Whack grooming dogs, snipping balloons, and dancing in a cemetery. This is remarkable on its own. But when the shock of its novelty wears off, the album resonates not for what it is but for what it does.
This is the rare project that’s truly unmoored from genre. Whack is a fearsome rapper, but that doesn’t mean her music’s necessarily rap; she’s so far out on her own limb that she treats the discipline that made her famous as little more than a fanciful detail in a bigger picture. Interestingly, much of the album is sung or rapped over little more than a single instrument, usually an electric piano, so it sounds as much like a singer-songwriter record as anything else.
Whack World is full of enticing little in-jokes, a few of which poke fun at the album’s own structure. “Pet Cemetery,” an affecting tribute to her dead dog, is scored by frenzied barking but ends with the incongruous mewl of a cat just before the clock runs out. On “Silly Sam,” she lists games her lover plays: “tic-tac-toe, Mario… and LUIGI!” Cue the next song.
Tierra Whack likes cute things: not just the cheap signifiers of millennial nostalgia that are all over modern rap (one track is titled “Bugs Life”) but things like Dr. Seuss, patty-cake, tacos, video games and hand puppets. As the bulk of these songs are either about self-doubt or former lovers that came up short (“where’s the other half?”), there’s the sense that Whack is drowning herself in creature comforts to fend off loneliness, substituting one kind of absurdity for another.
In that sense, Whack World neatly parallels the “wholesome” aesthetic that’s pervasive on the internet, which we can find in Bjenny Montero cartoons or those “heckin’ good boy” memes. The implication of this school of memery is that in a world gone to shit, any positive vibes count for something. And as off-the-wall as Whack World is, its most pervasive feeling is of melancholy.
Chords hang pendulously or hover miasmatically in the air, as on “Flea Market.” Drums are optional. Whack leaves long spaces in the music as if to gather her thoughts. It’s fitting that one of the kids’-movie classics the rapper references is All Dogs Go to Heaven: like Don Bluth, Whack draws a paper-thin line between whimsy and sadness. Her music is affecting even at its most ridiculous, as when she likens an ex to her deadbeat dad in an outrageous Southern drawl.
The album ends not on a dramatic finale but with the solemn tick of an 808 petering out, as if its battery has run dry; the album doesn’t conclude so much as obstinately refuse to keep going. It’s a little anticlimactic, especially given how short the album is—and the simple fact that some of these songs could have been longer. Maybe she’ll expand them on later albums. But when Whack World ends, we think not how little time has elapsed but how much was experienced.