Tierra Whack Overcame Her Lowest Moments to Make ‘World Wide Whack’

Tierra Whack opens up about overcoming dark thoughts about ending her own life before ultimately making a vibrant full-length debut album.


Everything that glitters in Tierra Whack’s world isn’t gold. 

The animated multi-hyphenate paints vibrant pictures through her music and visuals, but her debut full-length album, World Wide Whack, shines a light on the darker hues that have always lurked beneath her bright and colorful surface. 

“I used to write things and be like, ‘Nah, I'm not going to say that.’ But now I don't care at all,” she tells Complex, explaining that she’s the most vulnerable she’s ever been on this new album. “Music is my therapy. You can't show up to your therapy session and not tell the whole story. You can't leave the details out.”

Tierra Whack has been rapping since she was young, cutting her teeth in Philadelphia rap cyphers as Dizzle Dizz before switching to her birth name and introducing the game to Whack World in 2018. The 15-minute, 15 track project, which bended and reshaped genres, put Tierra on the map, but she released music sparingly after that, occasionally hopping on other people’s songs and releasing a handful of EPs as she crafted her debut album. Tierra says she “was always working” and never slowed down since Whack World, patiently waiting for the right time to drop a full-length.

Six years of work resulted in World Wide Whack, a house of mirrors that takes us on a winding journey through her darkest thoughts by way of vibrant beats. Tierra likens the album to movies like A Series of Unfortunate Events and Willy Wonka, where every song contains its own fantastical realm, but upon a closer look, the bigger picture is actually much more grim than its individual parts initially appear. Tracks like “Difficult” and “Two Nights” sound like lullabies on the surface, with soft chimes and gentle production, but they illustrate her battle with depression, anxiety, and mortality. The themes of the album culminate in its powerful outro, “27 Club,” where Whack reveals she contemplated ending her life at the age of 27.

“I did a deep dig on some of my favorite artists, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix years ago, and it was just always in my mind,” she says of the song’s origins, referencing artists who all died at the age of 27. “Then as the years went on, I was like, ‘Yo, I'm not feeling this fame thing.’ And then it just kind of clicked to me and I'm like, ‘Oh, maybe this is why these artists made that decision.’ So I started to feel like I was relating to that situation and I was 27…I was going to end it all, so why not end the project with the song that I was going to end it all with?”

Now at the age of 28, Tierra Whack made it through the lowest point of her life with the help of her mother and the music she’s passionate about. World Wide Whack is a cautionary tale to not judge a book by its cover, but it’s also a triumphant reminder that the lowest moments of your life do not define who you are. With her debut album finally out in the world, we talked to Tierra Whack about making the cathartic project, where she finds inspiration, and what rap needs more of right now. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.

This is debut album week for you. How do you feel?
More stress and more anxiety than normal, but only because I care. I'm nervous. I want everything to go right.

I feel like you’ve mastered the art of effortlessness, though.
That's a great compliment, but it takes a lot of work and thought. This is a process.

Well, one thing that you make look effortless is when you freestyle on Instagram. What made you want to start doing that?
I'm just always trying to sharpen my skills and make sure that I still got it, and sometimes I’ve got to remind the people. It's mainly for myself, but then I'm like, “They need to hear this, too.” So I'll write to some classic beats. It's like exercise.

Is it true that Jay-Z told you to rap over Onyx’s “Last Dayz” beat?
Yeah, I texted him like, “Yo, I need some beats,” and he just sent me a few. That was one of them. He’s the rap God. Top 5 for me, easily.

Did your battle rap days as Dizzle Dizz help train you for these IG freestyles?
Definitely. That's where I started. I started in cyphers, just writing poems, to rapping a capella. That's how I really became, like, “I'm a rapper. I'm an MC.” And then eventually I put the poems to beats, and I'm like, “Alright, this is the real thing. Now I'm really doing it.”

It feels like you’ve lived multiple lives up to this point.
Yeah, first I was coming up in Philly as Dizzle Dizz. Then I was like, “Alright, I have to rebrand. I'm ready to take this artist role.” Because I was just a rapper around the city, and I was ready to take it to the next level, so I decided to use my real name.

I always thought it was interesting how you would never curse in your raps back then. Was there a reason for that?
This is the first time I've ever really said this. I always forget to say it. I remember watching an interview with Will Smith, and he was like, “Yeah, it's just cool to not swear. It's actually harder.” Just out of respect for his mom, he said he just keeps it clean. I like a challenge, so I wanted to do that. At first, early on, I was saying whatever I wanted to say because I was trying to be like other rappers. I was raised around a bunch of MCs, and in the streets of North Philly, everybody can rap and everybody's talking about the same thing. At first, I thought I had to rap about what they were talking about so I could get cool and get popping. But a few people told me that wasn't the way, and it sucked to hear, but it was the truth and it was what I needed to hear.

How would you describe the Philly rap scene now compared to how it was when you were coming up?
When I was coming up, you had to have bars. If somebody threw on a beat, you had to be able to just go. But now you don't really got to know how to rap. Everybody's singing moreso, and not really freestyling. The scene has expanded. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s just different. 

I hear that you love iMessage games. Who is the best at iMessage games on your phone?
Remy Ma beats my ass. I beat Erykah [Badu], I beat Alicia [Keys], I beat Donald [Glover]. Remy beats me, and I don't talk to her that much anymore because of that. [Laughs]. Like, why are you beating on me like that? I'll send her like three games and then she'll text me the next day and just wipe me. I’ll wake up to three L’s in a row.


Tierra Whack talks about playing iMessage games with Remy Ma, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, and Donald Glover. Our interview with #tierrawhack is on Complex now

♬ original sound - ComplexMusic

Is Tyler, the Creator any good at iMessage games?
I don’t play word games with Tyler. He don’t text back. He doesn’t care about his phone, which is great, so I don’t take it personally. 

You were recently on tour with Tyler. What was that experience like?
Tyler is a great mentor. You just listen to him talk and you pick up game. I watch and observe the way he moves, and I'm just taking notes.

How did you go from being the girl wearing red and yellow mismatched Converse to school for the first time to developing the entire universe of World Wide Whack
I think it was innate. Like, it was always going to happen. It was just a matter of time

Why was now the right time to release your debut album? 
Because it feels right to me. It didn't feel right before. I wasn't ready. But now I'm ready, so I'm giving it.

Was there any pressure on you to release it sooner?
No pressure at all. My label loves me. I work on my own time, no one else’s. Ideas come to me at the most random times. I don't always execute them in the first attempt, so it's a process.

I interpreted World Wide Whack as a cautionary tale about how everything that glitters isn’t gold. Is that right?
That's it. Right. You got it. That's exactly what it is.

Even with the production choices, there are bright, fluttery beats behind really heavy subject matter. Was that intentional?
It's all about how something makes me feel. I start, and a pattern starts to form, but it's just how I feel. When I created “27 Club,” we were in the studio listening to music, and the producer was playing some sounds. We just kept flipping through beats, and then he started playing with some drums and I'm like, “Wait,” and it made me feel something. Then the words just started pouring. 

Similar to Whack World, this album has 15 songs, but they don’t have the same run-time. Why did you want to approach this album differently than the 60-second theme of Whack World?
That was just an introduction for the people and for the world, to just show them all that I'm made of, with so many different styles and genres that I like to take part in.

If it were a place, what does World Wide Whack look like in your head?
Hmmm. I have like three different places in my mind, but they're all combined. I'm thinking of movies, like A Series of Unfortunate Events, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and Willy Wonka. You open a door, and you never know what you're going to see behind that door. Beautiful chaos.

When you zoom out in all of these movies, the beautiful world that you’re in isn’t what it seems. 
Definitely. It’s what you said initially: “Everything that glitters isn’t gold.” Don’t judge a book by its cover.

What was it like writing “27 Club”
I didn't know where I was going until I said “Suicide.” The first line, “I can show you how it feels, when you lose what you love,” I'm like, “Okay, where do I go from here?” And the words just started flowing, and then I said, “suicide,” and I'm like, “Wow, this is what I've been wanting to say. This is what I've been wanting to do,” and I felt light like a feather. For so long, I was just heavy, like sunken in. But after I was done recording that song, I was like, “Yeah, this is it.” I felt a release.


Tierra Whack opens up about including heavy lyrics on her new album, including the final song "27 Club." Our interview with #tierrawhack is on Complex now

♬ original sound - Complex

Why is it called “27 Club?”
I did a deep dig on some of my favorite artists, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix years ago, and it was just always in my mind. Then as the years went on, I was like, “Yo, I'm not feeling this fame thing.” And then it just kind of clicked to me and I'm like, “Oh, maybe this is why these artists made that decision.” So I started to feel like I was relating to that situation, and I was 27.

Why did you want to close the album with “27 Club?”
Because I was going to end it all, so why not end the project with the song that I was going to end it all with?

What shifted or helped you get past that point when you were 27?
I have to give most of the credit to my mom, just her support. It's my mom and I want to make her proud, and she just reminded me of how far we've come. She held a mirror up and was just like, “No, remember why you started.” Something just clicked, and from that day on, we had a conversation, and I just made the conscious effort to want to be better, to want to feel better. To love myself, to care more about myself, and it's just something I have to practice every day. It's like a routine.

Do you feel it's easy for that practice to get lost in the monotony of the industry and being an artist?
Definitely. You can get swallowed up. But I think you just have to always remember why you started in the first place and just keep that. Hold on to that.

It's funny because the artists that you named earlier, like Tyler, Vince [Staples], Erykah Badu, Remy Ma, are also people who don't fully lean into being famous. Do you think that's why you all connect with each?
Definitely. That's literally it. I went to Target one time with Erykah and fans knew who she was and knew who I was too, but it just was chill, and that was like a few years ago. We were just hanging out, we were driving, normal stuff. 6lack told me, “Yo, it's all about the aura you give off.” If you're chill, the fans are chill, but if you're like [crazy], then everybody's [crazy]. You can catch me out shopping by myself just hanging out. I just don't like attention when I don't want attention. If I'm not on stage, if I'm not doing the whole Tierra Whack thing, I don't need any of it. Just keep a cool vibe.

“Difficult” was another heavy song that was followed by the bright “Shower Song.” Was that intentional? How did you choose the sequencing of the album?
Definitely. The sequence was very important for me. It's like a roller coaster ride, always. That's life. “Difficult” is one of my favorites because if you really listen, you can tell that I'm starting to get better. I'm like, “OK, this is what life is.” I figured it out, but I still have a thing that I have to figure out, if that makes sense. This is the game, and now I’m just going to have to play the game.

There’s a quote that I think about often that reads, “At our lowest point, we’re open to the most change.” Does that quote connect with you at all?
I love that. Like I said, when I hit rock bottom and had that one conversation with my mom, it just helped me. She pulled me up, because I needed something. I was in a dark place and she came with this light that I needed, but I think that's what it's all about. You have to want to be better. You have to take those actions and reprogram your brain, your mind. Those negative thoughts, you have to flip them. It feels cheesy at first, but eventually, you can trick yourself into believing all of those positive thoughts.

I also think about your bar “Death is real, life is fake” on “Two Night.” What’s the story behind that?
We were making the beat and I'm just writing my lines down. To me, I've been losing a lot of people and that feels more fatal than living. I got people that I really love that [I’d do anything for]. So your death is real and this life is cool but death is deep for me.

And in some ways, it's harder to carry on living when you've lost someone.

What were the studio sessions like when you were making this album? Were you alone or did you have a lot of people around you.
Probably three people max. It was me and my engineer-manager. We started off recording and then I was like, “You have to manage me, because I trust you with my life.” And then it's a producer, and then maybe my film guy Nick, just documenting everything. Ever since I watched Kanye's documentary [Jeen-Yuhs], I was like, “Yo, I have to start documenting my life,” because I'm moving so fast. I don't get to fully absorb or digest what I'm really doing in the moment.

How long did this album take to put together? Did you step away from it at any point and come back?
I was always working, always recording since Whack World. I never stopped. I never slowed down. I had to just keep going until it felt like it was completed, and only you know, as an artist, when it's done. Then I held it for a second.

How have you seen social media evolve as a tool to promote your work since Whack World?
I think this time around I’m having way more fun in the process. I can just do anything and everything. My guy, Spencer, he's my digital guy, but we work on everything and we brainstorm all the time. I'll text him at 4 a.m. in the morning with a random idea and then he's like, “Alright, let's get that done.” And then the next day, we're releasing something, but I think my team allows me to be me, and no idea is too crazy. I'm just having fun.

Where do you find inspiration these days?
I literally don't find it; I feel like it finds me. I'll just be walking and see something and be like, “Alright, I need to write that down,” or something affected me and I just go with it and I use it later down the line in some way, shape, or form.

What is it like seeing your little cousin going viral?
That's my guy. It's crazy because the older he gets, he doesn't really like the camera as much, so I'm respecting his privacy. Because before, I think he was just oblivious, like he didn't really pay attention to the camera. But now he's like, “Oh, I don’t want the camera, put the camera down.” So people have been asking, but I'm like, yeah, I'm just respecting his privacy. Letting him be a kid.

Are you ever fearful of how virality affects a kid?
Yeah. I mean, when he first said, “Oh, put your phone down,” we were playing one day and I picked my phone up, and he didn't like that. And ever since then, I don't pull my phone out, because he doesn't really know he's funny—he's just being him. I'm just like, “Wait, this is kind of good. I’ve got to capture this.” Or I would tell people when they wouldn't believe me because he's three years old. I used to hear people say, “That little kid's been here before.” It feels like he’s an adult trap in a kid's body. It's crazy. He’s a genius.

What do you think is your strongest trait as an artist?
It's crazy, as an artist I don't think about my strengths. I don't think about that. I'm always trying to get better at something that I feel like I'm not that good at. 

Well, what do you think you've improved on the most between Whack World and World Wide Whack
Just being more vulnerable. I don't hold back. I used to write things and be like, “Nah, I'm not going to say that.” Now, I don't care at all. Music is my therapy. You can't show up to your therapy session and not tell the whole story, you can't leave the details out.

Would you credit that growth to anything in particular? 
I think I’m just growing up. 

What do you hope World Wide Whack does for the people that listen to it?
There's nothing specific, I just want people to just listen. Give it a chance and listen a few times. Don't just listen once and be like, “Oh, this sucks.” Listen maybe three times, and if it still sucks then okay, fair. But just give it a chance.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about you? What do you think people get wrong?
I think people think that I'm more confident than I actually am. People will say, “Oh you're so confident,” and it's like, “No, I'm not.” I’m just faking it.

Why do you feel like you need to put on that facade of confidence?
Being from Philly, you have to be tough, and you have to walk with your head high, because if you show any sign of weakness, somebody's going to run all over you. Just naturally, that's how I was raised and that's where I came from. Even down to me wearing the two different color shoes [in middle school], I'm in the house, I'm getting dressed, and I'm like, “Oh yeah, this is fire. I feel good.” I'm looking in the mirror and then I walk in school and I see people looking at me like, “Oh, it's pretty strange,” and I'm starting to put my head down. But it's like, “No, no, no, you like it.” So you just have to keep going. A lot of my teachers in school gave me so much support credit, and they poured into me. Kids are cruel, but a lot of my teachers would tell me they saw something in me, so I held on to that and that allowed me to just keep pushing through and learn to be sure of myself.

You've dropped a few music videos already. Are there any more that are coming that you're excited about?
My favorite one is coming and it's coming soon. It’s for “Two Night.” That's like my favorite song. I say that about all the songs when people ask me and I don't mean to, but each song is like my kid, so I can't choose a favorite.

How much time goes into these visuals? They’re so layered. 
We have a bunch of meetings, Zoom calls, storyboarding, conversations, everything. But Alex [da Corte], it was so easy working with him because he just understands. He just gets it and we we have similar tastes. So anything he came to me with, I was like, “Yup,” and he was like side eyeing. I'm like, “Alex, we're twins.” And anything I brought in, he's like, “Yup.” So it was a match made in heaven.

Do you feel like the art of the music video in rap has been lost? 
I don't know, I don't focus on anybody really. I just remember what I liked and what inspired me, and that’s Ludicrous, Eminem, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Keli, Erykah Badu. Those were the videos that made me be like, “Yo, I want to be an artist and I want to make crazy videos, crazy visuals.” They’ve got to be like top of the top. 

Given the amount of time and energy that you put into the music and the visuals and everything, do you feel like you should be appreciated more?
I feel appreciated. 

What does rap need right now? 
Just everybody being themselves, staying original, and staying authentic no matter how that looks. If it’s truly you, then that's what you should be doing.

What is one thing you want to tell the people about the album before they listen to it?
Be nice to my baby. It's all I have. That's it.

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