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Tierra Whack springs to the forefront of hip-hop creativity on a new album

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Philadelphia rapper and singer Tierra Whack is known for her playful side. She was nominated for a Grammy a few years ago for a music video about a surreal visit to the dentist. But Whack's new album, titled "World Wide Whack," widens her subject matter with emotions ranging from ecstatic happiness to the deepest despair. Tierra Whack says she was influenced by the music of Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Eminem and Stevie Wonder. Rock critic Ken Tucker says this collection of 15 songs displays a dazzling variety of moods and sounds and places the 28-year-old artist at the forefront of hip-hop creativity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "X")

TIERRA WHACK: (Singing) When I'm around you, I'm not satisfied. You got the job, but you're not qualified. Find someone better or, baby, I might. Find someone better or, baby, I might. Yeah. Just wait and see.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's Tierra Whack letting a guy know he is just not cutting it as boyfriend material. Over a drum beat you might hear from a marching band, she bites off that opening line - when I'm around you, I'm not satisfied. Her jokes here are solid. Explaining why it's not working out, she says, like Justin Timberlake, we're not in sync. But there's a firmness in her voice that conveys an underlying seriousness and urgency. On the very next song, she switches to a pretty croon and a pretty melody to yearn for a happiness she fears may only be something she sees in a movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOOVIES")

WHACK: (Singing) You never take me to the movies. Take me to eat. I'm a foodie, boy. Enjoy. You never take me to the movies. Take me to eat. I'm a foodie, boy. Enjoy. Yeah. Larry took me to see something scary. Maybe we could get married, merry-go-round. David took me to see "The Matrix." Got me picking out a gown. Mister, can you take me on adventures? Treat me like your sister. Gotta show me love. Show me respect. Let's make memories we'll never forget. I need love. It ain't hard as you think. I want the popcorn with the big ol' drink. I need love. Let's catch the premiere. Tickets on sale, and there's love in the air. Yeah. You never take me to the...

TUCKER: The range of emotions and the variety of their expression only begin to suggest the pleasures of Tierra Whack's new album. She put out a collection in 2018 called "Whack World" that consisted of 15 songs, each of which lasts exactly 60 seconds. That 15 in 15 minutes was at once a clever, attention-getting stunt and a perfect showcase for her witty range. She refers to the new "World Wide Whack," however, as her debut album. It, too, contains 15 songs but of much more varying length, and both the music and her lyrical concerns have deepened. She's capable of a delightful lightness, as on the tune "SHOWER SONG." It's like the best "Sesame Street" song Kermit or Miss Piggy never recorded.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOWER SONG")

WHACK: (Singing) I sound great when I'm singing in the shower. Soap and water give me powers when I'm singing in the shower. This is funky. Getting ready for my day. So I got to get fresh. Got to exfoliate. You know Dove is the best. I ain't never in no rush. I'm performing like a major. And I heard my phone ring, but I'll call them back later. Sing it like Whitney. Sing it like Britney. Sing it like Aretha. Sing it like Alicia. I sound great...

TUCKER: In one song after another, Tierra Whack describes situations and relationships she'd like to have and which frequently elude her grasp. She wants to be taken on an old-fashioned date to the movies, or she'll say she wants a male friend who'll relate to her in a brother-sister way. Or she wants someone who'll be as kind to her as her imaginary friends are.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINARY FRIENDS")

WHACK: (Rapping) How can I be lonely when I'm hanging with my homie? His name is Tony and he's wearing blue saconys. He's standing right next to me eating ravioli. He's my only friend because the rest of y'all are phony. My last best friend said he wished he didn't know me. His name was Oscar, and he really hurt my feelings. When I grow up, I want to hang from a ceiling. The roof is leaking. The roof is leaking teardrops always available. The perfect companion. Very understanding and swore to never abandon. He fills the gap in my teeth. When I'm sour, he's sweet. The better half of me. No one else can compete with my pal. We argued today...

TUCKER: As sunny as Tierra Whack can be, three songs here - "NUMB," "TWO NIGHT" and "27 CLUB" are about depression, death, and at least once specifically, suicide. The conviction she brings to her performances is chilling. On "NUMB," she's so listlessly despairing she can barely bring her mouth to enunciate the words. And the song titled "27 CLUB" refers to the age at which a number of pop stars such as Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse died. And Tierra Whack sings with delicate beauty about the possibility of joining them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "27 CLUB")

WHACK: (Singing) I can show you how it feels when you lose what you love. When the world seems like it's against you. When your friends and family forget you. It ain't really hard to convince you. Looking for something to commit to? Suicide.

TUCKER: I'm very glad that Tierra Whack is now 28 years old, and that the rich, imaginative world she builds over the course of "WORLD WIDE WHACK" has become a place in which she really wants to live.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker reviewed Tierra Whack's new album called "WORLD WIDE WHACK." On tomorrow's show, why Oregon's groundbreaking experiment with decriminalizing possession of hard drugs is coming to an end. In 2020, voters overwhelmingly approved decriminalization, but painful results generated a backlash that spurred lawmakers to reverse course. We'll speak with New Yorker contributing writer Tammy Kim, who's covered the issue. I hope you can join us.

To keep up with what's on the show and get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram at @nprfreshair.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIERRA WHACK'S "SNAKE EYES")

DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support this week from Adam Staniszewski. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Meyers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross and Tonya Mosley, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SNAKE EYES")

WHACK: (Rapping) Break a leg what they told me. I'm just riding with my OG. Did a deal with Adobe. Gold ring around the rosie. Roll the window down slowly. Let them know that he owe me. They call me the one and only. Hard times just mold me. I just more. Comme des Garcons cozy. Yeah. North Philly with a hoagie. Treat the fans like homies. Give a tip, Ton Mozeby. Keep it clean like soapy. Turtleneck try to choke me. Too sharp, can't poke me. I'm with Zack like Cody. Feet white like Jody. Teeth white like Joey. Ever since we lost Kobe, I been balling on my lonely. Horsepower, that's a pony. Do it big, Mick Foley. Phone dead if you phony. My phone dead, you can't phone me. They all upset 'cause I'm a threat. You want to bet? Coming up next. I work so hard. Blood, tear and sweat. I work so hard... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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