Digital culture means there’s too much of everything.
Too many tweets, too many status updates, too many podcasts, too many millions of songs available on too many music streaming services. And maybe most of all, too many multi-season TV series that people insist you really need to be watching.
Yes, I’d like to start at the beginning and watch the entirety of The Americans. I’m sure it is amazing. But I don’t have 75 hours to spare!
Into this overabundant world we welcome with open arms the astonishingly to-the-point Tierra Whack. The North Philly rapper and singer — and, yes, that is her real name, she’s the 215 musician with the most born-for-stardom moniker since Kurt Vile — self-released her quarter-hour long debut album, Whack World (*** 1/2) this month.
Whack World is a “visual-auditory project” that’s as much fun to watch as it is to listen to. And it’s making plenty of noise for its creator in the hip-hop universe. ‘Tierra Whack is the Philly Surrealist Taking Rap Into Another Dimension,’ Noisey enthuses. ‘Tierra Whack is Making Beautifully Strange Rap Music,’ Pigeons and Planes proclaims.
Influencers are on board. A$AP Rocky has said she “has that Kendrick flow.” When Billboard asked, “What musicians excite you?” Solange replied: “Tierra Whack. She sent me a shirt that says, ‘Tierra Whack is my mom,’ and I wear it proudly.”
The playful outrageousness of the 22-year-old’s talent is immediately apparent. The rapper who used to call herself Dizzle Dizz made her reputation last fall with “Mumbo Jumbo,” a single inspired by a visit to the dentist’s office that resulted in an intentionally indecipherable mumble rap gem.
Whack World dabbles in doo-wop, trap music, old-school soul, and even exaggerated hillbilly-accented country in the cute and catchy “F- Off,” which makes use of this cutting rhyme: “Whenever I’m happy it makes you sad / You remind me of my deadbeat dad.”
Whack’s talent is hard to miss, and it was on display during her early-afternoon performance at the Roots Picnic. There, she mocked VIPs watching from the side stage for not knowing her lyrics as well as the regular punters who seemed to have memorized all her songs, even though Whack World had been out for only one day.
But Whack is getting attention not just because she’s good. It’s also because Whack World is so weirdly and wonderfully short. The entire 15-song, 15-minute album takes the all-killer no-filler concept to an extreme.
How many times have you pressed play intending to listen to a whole album only to bail after three or four songs due to external stimuli? Whack World is the antidote designed for listeners with severely limited attention spans. The other night, I streamed the album while driving to my car mechanic, three and a half miles from my house. Thanks to a few lingering red lights, the whole thing was over by the time I got there.
I listened again on the way home, from the opening “Black Nails,” in which Whack asserts herself with “Best believe I’m gonna sell / If I just be myself,” to the closing “Waze,” that uses GPS as a life-directional device: “I was lost till I found my way / You can never say I love you too many times a day.”
Whack, who is among the opening acts for Lauryn Hill at the Festival Pier on July 13, is the sharpest rising star smart enough to realize that the ease with which music can be released online doesn’t mean you have to put out a lot of it to have an impact.
On the top of the hip-hop totem poll, less is more has also become an abiding concept for Kanye West. Beginning with Pusha-T’s Daytona, the rapper has released albums on his G.O.O.D. Music label on consecutive Fridays beginning May 25, and all of them have been only seven songs long.
>> READ MORE: Is Black Thought better than Kanye?
Unfortunately, with the exception of Daytona, none of the music let loose this spring has been exceptional. Less has turned out to be less, whether West’s own Ye or Nasir, his disappointing collaboration with revered rapper Nas. An album by R&B singer Teyana Taylor due June 22 was set to complete the series.
But there’s more to the shorter-is-better trend. (Though let’s not pretend that maximalism is going out of style: Jazzman Kamasi Washington has just released the forbodingly titled Heaven & Earth, a two-volume set that stretches over two hours.) On the same day that West dropped Ye, Roots rapper Black Thought released Streams of Thought, Vol. 1, a five-song set he had the decency to call an EP. And Everything Is Love, the surprise album that Beyoncé and Jay-Z released as the Carters that trounced everything in its general vicinity as an event release is closer to traditional length at just under 40 minutes. But it’s still only nine songs and feels intentionally compact and intelligently not overblown, especially as it combines the talents of two superstars.
And, of course, high-speed super-fast songs and short albums have always been in style in punk rock, ever since the Ramones cut out the folderol and began boiling rock and roll down to its essence with “Blitzkrieg Bop” in 1976. That tradition of being as economical and adrenalized as possible can be heard in bands like Philadelphia’s Marisa Dabice-led Mannequin Pussy, which clocked in with 11 songs in 17 minutes on 2016’s Romantic.
What separates Whack from the pack is that her debut is such a carefully conceived, exactingly executed project. It’s brief, but loaded with varied flows and flavors, as Whack proves herself something of a vocal chameleon. Each song could easily be extended to three or four minutes. West’s Ye felt like less than a real album because it’s slight and half-baked. Whack World is shorter but packed.
And the North Philly rapper’s debut is also every bit the audio-visual project it purports to be. The trippy, cartoonish video component, which was directed by Thibaut Duverneix and Mathieu Leger, recalls MTV hits for rappers like Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, and Eminem, all of whom Whack named as heroes in an Inquirer interview in November.
Each mini-video flows into another, amplifying the songs in question but also conveniently fitting neatly into Instagram’s one-minute-limit video format.
Whack hangs out in an animal graveyard, mourning the death of her dog over a jaunty piano loop in “Pet Cemetery” while Muppet-like creatures chime in with backing vocals, and she raps about lowering her cholesterol while peddling away on an exercise bike in the goofy “Fruit Salad.”
And in “4 Wings,” Whack gets serious, mourning Philly rapper Hulitho, who died in 2016 in a clip set in a Chinese restaurant while rhyming: “My city needs me, I promised I wouldn’t fail ’em / If you love somebody, I promise you should tell ’em.”
The entire moving and amusing Whack World experience is a winning, completely original version of the “visual album” concept that Beyoncé has made her trademark. But Tierra Whack has one key advantage over Queen Bey: She’ll take up only 15 minutes of your time.