By Grant Golden
September 15, 2019
Tierra Whack is a powerhouse performer; a paradigm-shifting artist that’s blazing her own path amidst a crowded music industry. From the moment she Razor scooted onto the stage at UNC’s Memorial Hall, Whack had the crowd in the palm of her hands. While the set was relatively short– which is to be expected, given that her 2018 breakout album Whack World sit’s at a brief 15 minutes– her performance was engaging, energetic and immersive.
By the time doors were opening, Memorial Hall’s lobby was already packed in tight with college students donning grins and a palpable anticipation for Whack’s arrival. Raleigh-based hip-hop standout ZenSoFly opened up the evening’s offerings with a set filled with dance-ready hooks and infectious beats. Zen’s output may have slowed a bit this past year, but her set at Memorial Hall felt invigorating and vivacious. Zen’s music is as vibrant as her personality, which is an outright necessity when you’re opening up for an act as boisterous as Tierra Whack. Zen sprinted through bops from her 2017 release Sunflower like “Getting Started” and older standouts like “Like That,” but also introduced some new tracks that promise an evolved sound with more grit and glam. By the time her set came to a close she had fans engaged in call-and-response vocals, clearly accomplishing the difficult task of maintaining a college audience for more than 30 minutes on a Friday night.
With excitement at a peak after ZenSoFly’s set, you could tell Memorial Hall was barely holding in the anticipation. Frankly, it’s rare you see hip-hop shows at seated theaters, but Whack skewed the venue’s limitations and egged on concert-goers to pack in tight and let loose for her wiley, cartoonish antics. Kicking her scooter from under her feet, Whack jumped straight into her hard-spat single “Clones,” and attendees leapt from their seats and began to fill the aisles, shouting along the whole time. Whether she was bringing fans on stage to rap and sing with her, jumping into the seat barriers to dance with the crowd, or taking phones and keys from the front row fans until “after class is over,” Whack put on a clinic on how to keep your fans active and engaged.
For just under an hour, Whack’s set explored every corner of her musical output, from the buoyant, nostalgia-tinged “Pet Cemetary,” to her self-empowerment anthem “Wasteland,” Whack built a carefully constructed set that felt like a party as much as it did a concert. With a certain air of nonchalance, Whack’s lyrics seem to bounce along to the instrumentation, like a slinky bumbling down a set of stairs, but at the same time feeling meticulously crafted and delicately placed. One moment she’s jovial and playful, the next she’s reveling in her own bravado or calling out to her own inadequacies and self-doubt. Whack’s got a specific way of commanding your attention through brief but poignant musical excursions.
By the time Tierra closed out her set with an encore of her breakout single “Mumbo Jumbo,” you couldn’t help but feel like you’d just witnessed a transformative experience. On Whack World, Tierra crafts densely packed musical landscapes, and while most tracks clock in under two minutes, each still feels like a fully fleshed out exploration into the mind of this rising emcee. Her transparency and forwardness is a breath of fresh air, and if her outing at Memorial Hall proved anything, it’s that this is truly Whack’s world and we’re just out here living in it.