On Tierra Whack's Surrealist Hip-Hop World


by DeAsia Page

I arrived to Tierra Whack’s Whack World world a bit late, six months after its release to be exact. Nonetheless my arrival introduced me to an artist who fused playful yet thought-provoking lyrics with avant-garde visuals. Who used juxtaposed images reminiscent of work by artists like Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes. Who carved out a space for herself aside pioneers in Afrofuturism and Afrosurrealism so that she too could create her own world.

Whack World, with its 15 one-minute long tracks, invites listeners to the world of the Philadelphia native. On “4 Wings” she compares her toughness to spicy chicken wings. On “Pet Cemetery” she tells listeners that she’s mourning the loss of her homie and fellow Philadelphia rapper Hulitho, who passed away last year. On “Fruit Salad” she proudly sings about loving her body and not changing it for anyone. On “Hungry Hippo” Whack raps about how she doesn’t need a man to give her the finer things in life because she can already afford them.

The accompanying visuals incorporate both Afrosurrealism and Afrofuturism, as juxtaposing colors tied with futuristic clothing is a dominant theme throughout her videos.The term Afrosurrealism was originally coined by poet and music critic Amiri Baraka in 1974, but the form of expression is further explained in a manifesto by D.Scot Miller in which he explains that Afrosurrealism focuses on creating a juxtaposition between images in the present day, while Afrofuturism focuses on the intersection of blackness and technology.

Much like these two philosophies, Whack’s world is not bound by conventional notions of creativity, representation, or white structures of “normalcy.” 15 scenes, from decorating a taxidermied dog to dancing with sock puppets in a pet cemetery, magically connect tales of love and loss with the desire for success and healing. It’s an affirming representation of Black womanhood, reminding listeners and viewers that we can and will feel multiple things at once. An affirmation that is important in Hip-Hop, where Black women are often sexualized, stereotyped and rarely given autonomy over their narratives. In her “Whack World,” Tierra independently creates an avenue where she has agency over her body and her image.

Whack’s “Mumbo Jumbo” was nominated for Best Music Video at this year’s Grammy awards. Her debut as a whole landed on multiple year-end music lists-NPR (ranked #10), Rolling Stone (ranked #37) and Complex (ranked #16). However the mainstream attention Tierra Whack has received doesn’t validate the quality of her music. “Whack World” would’ve still been one of 2018’s best albums without the recognition from NPR and other music outlets. However, it certainly adds another woman to a pool of women rappers who often get overshadowed by their male counterparts or the now “dead” competition between Cardi B and Nicki Minaj. Tierra Whack, with her surrealist imagery and beautiful storytelling, is setting the tone for the future of how Black women in Hip-Hop should be received in the mainstream.