A conversation with Tierra Whack about self-confidence, Philadelphia and that last name
The rising artist is unpredictable and encouraging self-acceptance.
by Samaria Bailey
At the age of 10, Philadelphia-raised hip-hop artist Tierra Whack began writing “words that rhyme.” By 15, she was grabbing attention as “T Dizzle” or “Dizzle Dizz” after a 2011 We Run The Streets video surfaced, showing her freestyling on a street corner for as many as seven men, some amused, others just observing. With a rapid, clever flow, “Dizzle” eventually gained the attention of deejays, and a co-sign from Meek Mill.
Now, at 22, she’s recording under her given name, Tierra Whack, with a sound that can best be described as, well, her. Melodies, sound effects, and deft percussion are the backdrops for storytelling lyrics one has to actually pay attention to, to understand. “Child Please” references “thinking about the ding-a-ling” at 13. “Mumbo Jumbo” is incoherent, the ultimate mumble rap song. And “Toe Jam” warns “crack kills; if it don’t get you, Whack will.”
Whack currently envisions performing in arenas and acting in movies, with the ultimate goal of paying her mom’s bills, but for now, we talked to the rising star about her hometown, inspirations, self-confidence, and more.
How would you describe your music? I actually can’t pick a specific sound because I’m always just experimenting. It’s all about a mood I’m in or an emotion, like me trying to express an emotion. Right now, I’m kind of relaxed, thinking.
You started in spoken word. Do you still perform it? Sometimes I write little a capellas, but it kind of moved on. That was the first step. And then it became doing the poems to the beats. And then it turned to rap and singing, mixed together.
And you performed in church, too? Yeah, my aunt was in the church choir. I was singing in the choir. It was fun. I did see people catching the Holy Ghost. I wanted to catch it too, but that didn’t happen.
What was it like growing up in North Philadelphia? It was crazy, but it was regular to us. I remember hearing gun shots but not even running, you know what I mean? It was just like, ‘It’s cool, everybody know each other, somebody just had to get their beef over,’ you know?
What influence did Philadelphia have on you? Just having that rawness and being ready for any and everything. I feel like Philly really builds you up for the real world. They say if you can survive and make it out of Philly, you can make it anywhere.
Was Meek Mill an inspiration for you? He’s a mentor for everybody in Philly. He was the template. You got to get out and rap to whoever you got to rap to and get to where you got to go.
After Eve, you could be the next major woman rapper out of Philly. Is that a lot of pressure? No, it’s no pressure. I’m me. I’m only in competition with myself.
How did you gain so much confidence? Doing this so long, you’ve got to build yourself up. My mom, she’s a tough mom. She got me ready. She pushed me to believe in myself and love myself because she loved me. It’s natural to be scared, but you got to keep going. You can’t let your fears hold you back.
So, who is your inspiration? I love Lauryn Hill. Outkast is my favorite rap duo. Missy, Busta, Eminem.
What is your favorite Outkast album? Maybe Stankonia. The cover is just fire. That’s what I’ve been listening to the most. But then I do love The Love Below because I love Andre 3000 so much. They get his crazy side. He just does what he wants, but you can still tell [that] after all these years he still gets shy. I like to see [that] he is still human after all the success he had.
What do you want people to get out of your music? I just want them to feel, to know, that it’s okay to feel a certain way. That’s why for awhile I was anti-social because I felt like no one really understood, or wanted to understand, where I was coming from. That’s why I started writing, to express myself. I always had random thoughts and people would look at me crazy because I just had random things in my mind. I would say it aloud sometimes, but instead I could just write it down and not be judged for it.
What’s your dream? To be successful enough to support my family. I want to pay my mom back for everything she did for me. I want to reverse it.
Lastly, did people make fun of your last name in school? All the time. I hated it. But then I learned to accept it because I am who I am. They said my middle name is ‘is’: ‘Tierra is Whack.’ Whack was just bad. But I, naturally, was Whack, but I was cool in school. It gave people a different perspective of what you think of the word.
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