Tierra Whack Doesn’t Want Her Creativity Boxed In

The visual curiosity of television called to Tierra Whack at a young age. “I was glued to the TV. If it wasn’t cartoons, it was music videos from Missy Elliott to Ludacris, Busta Rhymes and Eminem. They were my favorite people to watch,” she said last week at LiveWIRED, the 30th anniversary event for WIRED held at The Midway in San Francisco. “It just drew me in. I’m like, ‘I want to be like them. I want to be in the TV.’”

In the years that followed, the Philadelphia-born rapper made good on her girlhood ambitions. An experimentalist with a taste for the Black avant-garde, Whack broke onto the music scene in 2018 with Whack World, a 15-track, 15-minute-long mini-album brimming with invention and whimsy. Its release—acclaimed by fans, critics, and veteran music artists like Flying Lotus and Erykah Badu—was unlike anything else at the time: a twisting, playful trip through Whack’s jamboree of a mind. It was a concept immaculately primed for a generation of digital natives raised on Instagram and fluent in the transitory nature of social media trends (each song was capped at one minute apiece).

Speaking with WIRED’s design director Alyssa Walker about the comforts and challenges of creativity, Whack explained how the genesis of her artistic process often begins with a visual. “I have to see something—whether it’s an image, a color, a pattern. Just anything. I just have to feel [it], and then I start to form this almost movie clip in my head,” she said. “Because everything I’m doing, it has to be a movie, it has to be a film.”

Tierra Whack performs at LiveWIRED in San Francisco.

Photograph: Kimberly White/Getty Images