If you ask Tierra Whack what she’s been up to during the pandemic, she’ll first enlighten you with her newly acquired knowledge of Black History. After indulging in several documentaries, most notably, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday and Tina Turner’s Tina, Whack can proudly give you a crash course on the importance of Black women in music. After that, she’ll delight you with her thoughts on family and how her little cousins shaped her spacey new video “Link.”
For Whack, the making of “Link” wasn’t just a creative bonding moment with her loved ones or a timely collaboration with LEGO, but it was a highly valued experience that fed her inner child at a time when she needed it most. “It’s crazy because when I get a little off time, I’m always at the family’s house,” she tells Billboard. “I got a big family, so if I’m feeling chill or sometimes down, I’d go see what my little cousins are doing. Nine times out of ten, they’re calling me to come over there. So they keep me feeling alive, fresh, and just fun. They remind me to have fun. I’m always looking to them for — I can’t lie — happiness.”
Since the release of her ambitious 2018 effort Whack World, the precocious lyricist has earned a Grammy nomination, worked with Beyoncé on The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack, became a XXL Freshman and netted partnerships with Apple and LEGO. Despite her rise in popularity, Whack remains unfazed, and refuses to let the outside noise ruin her peace.
“Sometimes you gotta separate real life from social media life — because you’ll get too consumed, and that’s not healthy,” she says. “I don’t wanna play keep up with nobody else. I wanna play keep up with myself.”
In a new interview with Billboard, Whack speaks on her collaboration with LEGO to shoot “Link,” the importance of family, valuing her off-time, her appreciation for female rappers, and why she loves being a Black woman.
You recently involved some kids out of your hometown of Philly to take part in your newest video “Link.” That looked like a fun experience.
Yeah, you gotta keep it in the family. My little cousins, they look up to me. To them, I’m like a God. So for me to finally be able to use them in something they like and something [where] they were able to kind of see themselves get loose and do them, I was just like, “We gotta lock in.” LEGO was like, “Hey. Can you find some kids?” I was like, “You know how many cousins I got?” [Laughs.]
I got a big family, so it was really cool to be working with them — because, like I said, lots of times I’m on tour. I’ll come back and might do a little family gathering or dinner, and my little cousins would be talking [like], “I saw your video. I saw this,” but for them to actually be on set with the cameras on them, they were like, “Wow.”
I had two cousins call me like, “Wow. That was a lot. That was a lot of pressure,” and I was like, “Yeah. See. Y’all got a little taste of it.” Kids are shy. It was cool to see them on camera because like I said, most of my cousins are crazy. When the cameras came, they got a little sweet and innocent. It was funny. It was cool to see.
They definitely enjoyed themselves.
You know what? Kids just amaze. I was just so happy I was able to bring them into my world because they were already trying to tap in. It was cool to see. After we released the video, they said they went to school and they were like famous. I was like, “All right now.” They spiced it up a little bit like, “Everybody knows my name now.” It was funny though.
Talk about the luxury of having this extra time off with the pandemic, and how it’s been beneficial for you mentally — because I saw you tweeted about the importance of taking a break on social media the other day.
Yeah, you know what? Sometimes, you get consumed by everything that’s going on. Sometimes, you just gotta shut everything down and go into your world and your mind. That’s when I’m really like it’s crunch time and I’m working. I’m in the studio, 12 to 12 everyday for two weeks straight. I’m not on my phone. I turn my FaceTime feature off. I’m just in it. There’s so many things that I’ve been through and that I’m going through, I want to put it in the music. I want to give people the real me — the best me.
You saw the success you created with Whack World in 2018. How have you removed yourself creatively from that space to now focus on your new music?
The thing is I’m always growing. Whack World is me. That’s even why I put Whack World out first — because I wanted people to not be surprised with this next group of music I’m putting out. I have so much to offer in terms of styles and genres. I never know what I’m going to put out myself. I surprise myself all the time. I think my fans are pretty much prepared for anything. They’re willing to expect the unexpected. That was just the whole outline for me and my career.
Were you surprised by the new layer of creativity you were able to unlock about yourself during this pandemic?
Yes. I was surprised and I’m always surprised about myself. That’s how I know I’m growing, because I’m trying new things all the time and I’m experimenting. Right before the pandemic and COVID, I was running. I was never home. I was always non-stop on tour. When so much is going on, it’s hard to reflect and really take everything in.
Since we’ve had this long break and I’m not moving around as much, I am able to talk about all the things I wasn’t able to talk about before. I didn’t get a chance to reflect, like, “Oh. I really did a song with Beyoncé? We really shot the video. Oh. I was nominated for a Grammy.” Just things I knew had happened, but I wasn’t able to really sit with it. Now I got a chance to sit down, put everything on the table, and acknowledge everything one by one. That’s been a really cool thing for me.
You know who would be proud? Dizzle Dizz.
Yo! [Laughs.] Why would you bring that up?
Because these freestyles you’ve been doing on Instagram have been fire. What inspired you to go that route and remind everyone of what you can do on the mic?
Because, you know, sometimes, people forget. You have to remind them. It’s just crazy. People will say they want something and then you give it to them and they’re like, “Ahhh.” I honestly did it for myself. I was just in the mood to see if I still had it. [Laughs.] I was like, “Let me see” — because there’s not really nobody that I listen to right now that I hear that makes me wanna rap, besides the greats like Hov [Jay-Z] and Black Thought. I’ll hear them and be like, “Oh, OK. That was hot. I might have to put something together.” It’s just a competition. We’re all competitors.
Hov is one of my biggest inspirations. He’s the one who told me to do Dead Prez’s [“Last Dayz”]. When Hov tells you to do something, you gotta do it. That’s my guy, though. I really appreciate Hov. Anything I ask, he’s always willing to break everything down for me. I appreciate it so much.
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What have you seen from female rappers that you’ve been impressed with over the last few years?
I don’t know if you seen my post for Women’s History Month, but I’m overwhelmed with how many new hot female rappers that are coming. I literally had to come and put together a list. A lot of the new and up and coming [rappers] are all fire. I love it. I was so upset when there was only one or two. I felt like I was by myself but just to know that if I wanted to do something big with the females, I could.
There’s like a handful that I can call — at least 10 rappers that I can think of. I’m just really proud to be a female rapper, female artist and I’m proud to have my peers rocking with me. Everybody is in their own lanes and we all respect each other. It’s all love.
Listen, I’m gonna need a cypher with you, Noname, Chika and Rapsody very soon. I’m going to manifest that and put it in the atmosphere.
[Laughs]. Yo. That’s crazy. I might really have to try right there. Listen, the females are going to give me a round for my money more than the guys are.
Switching gears, what have you learned most about yourself as a Black woman these last 12 months?
In the last couple of days, I’ve been giving myself homework. Like I said, I’m in the school of life, but I ain’t in college or in school. That’s not what I’m doing, that’s not where I’m at. I make sure I give myself homework so that I know that I’m continuously growing and learning.
I just recently watched The United States Vs. Billie Holiday. Crazy. I watched the Tina Turner documentary, Tina. I watched What Happened to Nina Simone. These were like back-to-back. I watched some of Toni Morrison’s [The Pieces I Am]. Then, I went to the guys and I watched James Baldwin. I’m really into my Black history right now, man. And I’ve always been.
It’s always been my favorite class in high school. We’re just powerful. We’re so powerful. It’s crazy. I’m just making sure I do good with my powers and the powers that I’m creating. I just want to do the right thing. I’ve never been selfish.
Even when talking about female rappers, I’ve always felt that there could be more than one — I preferred that. We’re so powerful and we just have to be smart about how we use our powers. Use it, don’t abuse it. If I can help somebody up, then that’s what I’m doing because my whole thing is I’m a giver. I like making other people happy and seeing them happy. It’s for myself most of the time, too. I get more joy from helping somebody than doing something myself. That’s just in me. We’re the original. I’m just so proud to be a Black woman. I wouldn’t have it any other way.