Live Review: Tierra Whack

After a triumphant, Grammy-nominated 2018, Tierra Whack has spent the year touring the festival circuit and spontaneously releasing more music from her strange and wonderful mind.

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One of the best of the new singles, ‘Clones’, starts with a sneeze in the background of the studio and her instructing her engineer to “keep that, I’m serious”. She then launches into a distorted, raucous chorus of

Westbound, eastbound

Everybody walkin' like me now

Everybody talkin' like me now

Heard I'm who they wanna be now

and this serves as a good preview of her unique style of live performance. Whack had her first ever UK show at Village Underground on the 5th of June 2019. Legendary hip hop DJ Tim Westwood, who had recently interviewed her on his channel, opened for her. His traditional trap and UK grime set, while fun, felt a bit 2016 and off the tone of Tierra’s surrealist sound. The audience consisted of fans of contemporary eclectic, experimental hip hop à la Tyler the Creator, KAYTRANADA and Rico Nasty. The tickets had sold out in a minute for the 700-capacity venue, so it was surprising to see the energy of the crowd be so-so until Westwood took in requests. Calls were made for City Girls, Lizzo, Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion and the room quickly came alive as the female voices began to dominate. Tierra’s DJ Zach’s energy was crazy throughout the show and he further set things off with some Kid Cudi and Gnarls Barkley. 

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Tierra simply materialised on stage with little announcement and the room exploded. We had been handed crossword puzzles with pens when we walked in, and she was dressed in a crossword puzzle dress with the word “whack” highlighted in red, red leather boots and metal wire in her space buns. Tierra’s aesthetics and visuals are inseparable from her music. Whenever I recommend her, I insist that you watch the entire visual of her breakout album Whack World as you listen. 

One of my favourite things about the wave of women in Hip Hop and R&B of the last two years is how much time, conception and effort they put into their production. For artists like Rico Nasty, Megan thee Stallion and Tierra, their presentation is a major part of the performance itself. I have endured enough half-hearted strolling across the stage in hoodies and Yeezys for a lifetime and I appreciate the spectacle of psychedelic graphics, crafts and themed makeup and hair that Whack brings to the show. 

Tierra’s set began with one of my favourite singles, ‘Only Child’, which she performed in a somewhat melancholy fashion, belting out the lyrics with the overjoyed audience. The vibe continuously escalated over the whole show. She had performed in Paris the day before, but she was vibrant and extremely interactive for the entire hour and a half long set. I do not think anyone was expecting the sheer energy of that show - including her team, which included people who sang along just as excitedly as the rest of us who has never seen her before. She even took her boots off after a few songs, declaring “this is family” and performing the rest of the show in “W” embroidered socks.

Tierra Whack’s music is sort of like a collection of wholesome snacks. Her songs are small (all the Whack World songs are a minute long and most of the post-Whack World tracks clock in at less than three minutes), wrapped in brightly coloured packaging and filled with delightful whimsy. Each performance of a song felt like a wacky fruit burst and that was the essence of the show. There were visuals of plasticine Tierra Whacks, balloon turtles and candy fruit. In lieu of giving water bottles to the crowd, Tierra literally handed out strawberries, bananas and grapes. She launched herself into the crowd and was pulled back on stage without missing a beat, played crossword puzzle games with the audience members on stage and bantered her DJ with child-like glee.

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Tierra’s new song ‘Unemployed’ was the closer of the set. Even after the extremely energetic show so far, she ended it showing off her incredible technical ability, rapping in rapid-fire pace about her usual bizarre subject matter of weave closures, Coca-Cola, Rick Ross, skiing and tippy-toes. She left almost as abruptly as she came in, but the audience refused to leave, chanting for an encore until she suddenly reappeared on stage. She granted her fans a final performance of ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ - a fairly morose song that was received like a huge dance track - until she finally, hilariously begged everyone to “go home!”. As we trudged out, high on the surreal energy that is Whack, we were handed free branded boxes of fish and chips, aptly referred to as Whack Snacks. This confirmed to my very exhausted, Ramadan-fasting self that no 2019 show would top this one in my eyes. 

Tierra Whack’s first UK concert was a joyful celebration of one of the most interesting voices in black music right now. It made me so proud of the female rappers who are finally being granted major platforms to show off their incredible creativity. I am more sure than ever that Whack World was the best project of 2018 and I continue to encourage everyone to stream it for clear skin.

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