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Tierra Whack Delivers on All of Her Potential With Kaleidoscopic ‘World Wide Whack’: Album Review

Even before TikTok singles were a thing, Tierra Whack had already mastered the art of the nano-song. Released in 2018, “Whack World” is a debut mixtape as compact as it is brilliant: a kaleidoscopic, 15-track joyride where each song checks in at exactly one minute — and remarkably, most of the tracks are complete songs rather than snippets, even though they zoom past so quickly. It’s mesmerizing, but it scans as a preview for a climactic release that never came.

In a way, her career itself has played out like a half-decade-long snippet. Since unloading her first tape, Whack has released music sporadically, dropping occasional loosies along with three tantalizing but brief EPs three years ago. She’s been a XXL Freshman and earned comparisons to hip-hop legends, but the scarcity of her music has halted her classification as a star while insulating her from the scrutiny that comes with a full-length project.

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The safeguards and hypotheticals can be cast aside with the release of “World Wide Whack,” a debut full-length album that expands the creative vision she introduced six years ago. Checking in at around 40 minutes, it’s a fully realized portrait of Tierra in all her idiosyncratic glory. If her first project was “Whack World,” this one is Whack Universe. She goes all over the musical map as she oscillates between retro jazz funk, sprightly raps, and quirky everygirl R&B scribbled in crayon. Depending on the track, she can be a goofier SZA, or an untethered Kendrick Lamar who colors even more wildly outside of the lines. The varied soundscapes, elastic tonal inflections, and diverse structural approaches render the album as a neonic funhouse, except the distortion here only brings more clarity to the personal and creative DNA of the 28-year-old Philadelphia artist.

Whack’s stylistic genetics snap into focus from the jump. Noted for her vocal quirks and sonic shapeshifting, she proves the Missy Elliott comparisons accurate with “Ms. Behave,” a pulsating anthem that feels like a dystopian “Pass the Dutch.” She serves up adventurous punchlines with a symbolic hook for bad girls: “I can never behave — or I’ma be late.” The braggadocio is distilled through an intermittently childlike delivery; on “Snake Eyes,” she invokes a Lamar-esque vocal tic when she pronounces “Mmm” like she’s trying to learn the alphabet.

A master of tone and aesthetics, Whack shifts between sounds and levels of diction depending on the mood. On “X,” she wields her animated flow to let listeners know just how she feels about her former significant other. Skittering over a stuttering post-punk soundscape, she pushes her vocals into an ascending ether of romantic exasperation, with her frenzied shouts being stitched into each drum kick to evoke exploding tension. Harnessing the thrill of singing in the bathroom, “Shower Song” brims with all the exuberance of “Blue’s Clues,” with Whack leading a childlike sing-along. That Technicolor innocence melts into desolation on “Numb,” which fuses an astral beat with wounded murmurs and themes of regret.

These are all extreme emotions, but her control allows her to inhabit them convincingly, and at its most nuanced, the writing only enhances the effect, even if it’s sometimes a bit heavy-handed. Tidy and potent, the lyrics for “Difficult” render depression with the matter-of-fact demeanor and missed calls of someone too weary to deal with their trauma: “I’ve been looking for somebody I can vent to/ Tell me, who can I vent to?/ I forgot to call you back, but I meant to/ Momma told me that it’s all in my mental.” Embedded with layers of forlorn melodies and sullen acoustic guitar, the track is a masterpiece of melancholy.

But Whack is at her best grafting trippy, half-sung raps onto dazed beats, drifting somewhere between reality and “The Secret World of Tierra Whack.” Within these surrealistic spaces, she uses semi-impressionistic lyricism to code emotional overflows in hidden meanings. Floating over a disembodied, dream-like instrumental, Tierra uses the imagery of an “Imaginary Friend” to describe a supportive sneaky link. Meanwhile, for the ominously titled “27 Club,” she seeps into a mush-mouthed performance for a rumination on depression and suicide. The lullaby wails and fading bells imbue the track with a layer of sunken whimsy — like the moment a child realizes Santa isn’t real and nobody lives forever. As a whole, “World Wide Whack” is tender, fatalistic, colorful, and endearingly weird, a balance that can only be managed by someone with supreme curatorial instincts, and the talent to swirl all the elements together.

The topical shifts can be as jarring as the sonic variance, but through her conviction, adaptability, and deft vibes control, Whack makes it all cohesive while sustaining the energy of her best releases. In the years following her debut project, the notion of Tierra Whack the Rap Star was more of an idea than a crystallized reality, with many people wondering when the hell her ceremonial full-length LP would drop, and if it would cement status as one of rap’s top creators. With the release of the stellar “World Wide Whack,” all theoretical outcomes can recede into the glory of the real thing.

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