Over the last month, Tierra Whack has dropped three 3-song EP’s appropriately titled Rap?, Pop?, and R&B?, with each EP answering the question, what would it sound like to have a Whack project that is uniformly one style?
Whack’s artistic intent here is somewhat a mystery. She has the songwriting chops and musical ability to be a pop/hip-hop superstar like Beyonce or Nicki Minaj but continually veers into left-field artistic areas where the mainstream listeners dare not tread. Take her last “full length” album Whack World, whose fifteen tracks clock in at under 15 minutes, with less than a minute to each song. These pop nuggets were highly praised by critics and would maybe be a good way for the most attention deficit of us to appreciate her music in the shortest amount of time. But the general aesthetic is more fitting of experimental bands like Guided by Voices who revel in take artistic paths that won’t lead to mass appeal. Because of their brevity, these tracks weren’t going to get her any radio-play, even though the style is in the same vein of what’s hot right now.
Aside from having guest spots on some notable songs by artists like Meek Mill and Childish Gambino and filling mid-tier spots at national festivals, Tierra Whack’s output has been sparse since Whack World. For her next project(s), Whack decided to create songs that are of more traditional length, but rather than assemble them into a cohesive album chose to create three separate genre-specific EP’s. In an interview with Apple Music, Whack credits her producer for pushing her to make these abrupt lane switches. The question is, did the experiment work? Well, let’s take a quick look at each of the projects and how they stack up against the musical styles they purport.
First up is Rap?, which dropped on December 2nd. Rap? is a 3-song exploration of hip-hop, and each track is focused, catchy, and does exactly what she intends it to. “Stand Up” kicks of the trio, with a simple bassline reminiscent of Muse “Madness.” She’s making a statement here, the words are simple, the staccato flow is standout, and it’s catchy as hell. “Will the real n****S please stand up, and all the fakes sit down!”
This transitions into “Meagan Good,” which is her attempt at a drill song. Basic drums with barely audible instrumentals. It’s an extremely catchy song, playing off the pun of “I’m doing Meagen Good,” (She plays the antagonist to Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2). Rap? closes with “Millions,” a trap song with trap sensibilities: “Y’all want millions we want billions, y’all want millions we want trillions.” In three short tracks, Whack covers quirky empowerment rap, drill, and trap, and all of them would stand out in their respective fields.
Next up is Pop?, which was released on December 9th.
This EP starts with “Body of Water,” which taps her inner Nicki Minaj flow. “Let’s start a fire baby, I’m so inspired baby…Don’t try to fight it, I know you like it. Taking over like a virus, let’s start a riot.” Don’t fight it, you’re going to love these songs. Poppin’ drums, straightforward organ synth. Continues the unfussy vibe of the previous EP without sounding empty. In fact, it sounds incredibly full for something that’s very simple but not simplistic.
Whack said she got the inspiration for the next song “Lazy,” after watching “School of Rock.” Calling it “rock” is being generous, the guitar line sounds like a generic ATT ringtone labeled “rock,” and there’s no percussion. On paper, it shouldn’t work, but this girl power anthem against lazy men absolutely does.
Pop? rounds out with “Dolly” (probably a nod to Dolly Parton). The track starts with banjos and the temp slows down significantly from the previous two songs. The lyrics here are sparse. This is Tierrra Whack’s answer to Taylor Swift’s Folklore. Initially seems like a strange end to the EP, but it makes as much sense as anything else that has come before, and shows Whack can stand head and shoulders above her contemporaries in anything she wants to do.
If her goal was to show she could write pop music, then mission accomplished. Imagine what it would be like if she actually tried to release this in the pop market? She could be the next Lizzo, but I don’t get the impression she is going for that level of success.
The final entry into this genre experiment, R&B? came out on December 16th, and is the strongest of the three releases, which is saying a lot because there’s very little to criticize about Rap? and Pop?
The vibe is set with “Heaven,” an undeniably sultry tune, stark but not basic, and reminiscent of Frank Ocean during the Channel Orange era. “Heaven has all my favorite people, I wanna go there.”
Next up is “Cutting Onions,” which immediately distinguishes itself with unique voice modulation as she pleads “Can you hear my crying for you?” The track features a humble bass-snare combo that continues throughout the EP layered with ethereal synth loop. The vocals hit the sweet spot between singing and rapping, in-line with R&B gods like D’Angelo and Lauren Hill via Miseducation. But she still translates past stylings into modern sounds. R&B? concludes with an apology song “Sorry,” which is both sad and reflective but hopeful.
December was a banner month for Tierra Whack fans, as she released 3 EPs within a few weeks of each other, each channeling a different style of music through the lens of hip-hop. But rather than simply aping what is popular she makes it all her own. So was this a gimmick, a flex, or an experiment? Maybe she accomplished all 3 at once. These EPs show Tierra Whack at the top of her game and in control. And they throw down the gauntlet for other artists in her arena. If she can put out music this good when seemingly unconcerned with the outcome, what could happen if she made an intentional album with the best elements of each style? I don’t know the answer, but I’m excited for what’s next!