Tierra Whack wants more than 15 minutes of fame

Depending on the elasticity of your attention span, listening to Tierra Whack’s 2018 debut, “Whack World,” might have made your brain feel like as if had been tossed inside a bouncy castle the size of a jewelry box. As conceptual rap albums go, this thing seemed unprecedented — dizzy-making in scope but hyper-succinct in form, with 15 tracks lasting a mere 60 seconds each, Whack rotating through a cast of voices so omnichromatic, it was as if we had been invited to the secret puppet show inside her mind. Since then, she’s dropped new songs only here and there, allowing “Whack World” to stand as her grand statement. Was 15 minutes of fame too much?

Thankfully, no. The Philadelphia native’s relatively epic new album, “World Wide Whack,” lasts an entire 38 minutes, but give it the level of attention Whack seems to be asking for, and you won’t be watching the clock. There’s an untethering emotional riptide to be felt straight away on “Mood Swing,” with Whack rapping about her existential alienation in a tangy singsong: “I cannot trust a soul, so I stay lonely.” On “Burning Brains,” she describes a headache triggered by overstimulation — “grass too green, sky too blue” — then melts her words into a nonsensical slush that evokes Yoda cycling through all the vowel sounds. Typical romantic inertia gets her down, too. During “Moovies,” she complains about a boyfriend who won’t even take her to the multiplex on Friday night. “I need love,” she raps. “It ain’t hard as you think. I want the popcorn with the big old drink.”

End of carousel

Turns out, the more mundane the subject, the more Whack’s music begins to feel weirdly sublime, like during “Shower Song,” surely the greatest rap cut ever written about the virtues of daily hygiene. “I sound great when I’m singing in the shower,” Whack announces over an electro-boogie bass line that refuses to spin down the drain. “Soap and water give me powers.” It’s as simple and playful as a children’s song, but it also speaks to that mysterious surge in confidence we manage to summon in routine states of naked vulnerability — a confidence that not only allows us to sing out loud but to love what we hear.

And while “Shower Song” stands tall on its own, its placement deep in the track list gives “World Wide Whack” its late-arriving narrative arc. She just spent the first two acts mulling disappointments in her romantic partners and her neurochemistry, but now Whack is feeling refreshed and alert, ready to rap about life and death. First comes “Invitation,” a zesty sequence of brags that proves precision and goofballing aren’t mutually exclusive modes; then “Snake Eyes,” a song where the alternating affirmation ad-libs (“Mmmm,” “Mmmm”) sound like two cows playing on a seesaw.

After that, Whack makes the surprising pivot into “Two Night,” a trap-tinted ballad about how “death is real” and “life is fake”; and finally, “27 Club,” a lullaby about suicide so devastating, you’ll wonder whether you’re hearing it clearly. And maybe you aren’t. More than most, Whack knows that imagination is our most powerful shield against the cruelty of existence. Here, she would also like to remind us that it isn’t invincible.


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