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Lil Yachty and Tierra Whack Are Ready to Rethink Everything: ‘I’d Rather Take the Risk and Take the L’

il Yachty and
Tierra Whack are two of the more inventive artists in hip-hop today — two wildly original talents who have charted their own paths without following anyone else’s trends. If you’re going to compare them to anyone, though, it might as well be each other. Both started their careers in places with rich musical histories: Yachty began rapping as a teen in the hitmaking playground of Atlanta, while Tierra sharpened her pen and earned a spot in the history of slick MCs who call Philadelphia home. Both found success suddenly, both challenged preconceived ideas about rap stardom, and both are now at a crossroads in their careers, searching for new heights and making way for evolution in their work. 

As they sit together on the stage of St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn for Rolling Stone’s first-ever Musicians on Musicians event — Tierra loudly in her red era, with spiked scarlet tresses, and Yachty with jewelry sparkling on his wrist and ears — the two frequent collaborators are at ease. “I think that’s why we’re here,” Tierra says. “It just all makes sense.”

There’s an atmosphere of mutual respect in the air. There’s also a little tension — especially when Yachty points out that his adventurous, acclaimed psych-rock album Let’s Start Here was snubbed in the Grammy nominations a few hours earlier. That oversight seems worlds away, though, as he and Tierra joke, riff, and argue like the old friends they are. Both of them share new music with their audience: Yachty pulls out his phone to share some unreleased heat, while Tierra screens the absurdly original music video for her single “Chanel Pit” and a teaser for her Hulu documentary, Cypher.

Blazer by Comme des Garcons Homme Plus archive.
T-shirt: Tierra Whack merchandise.
Vintage glasses and pants.
Boots by Balenciaga archive.
Earrings by Celeste Starr.
Rings (green stone & yellow stone) by Veneda Carter. All other jewelry is Tierra’s own.

The whole conversation feels like a glimpse into the future that leaves everyone eagerly awaiting more. But first, the two artists kick it off by talking about some past influences.

You both draw a lot of inspiration from a lot of places. What’s a piece of art that transformed the way that you view your creative lens?

Lil Yachty: For me, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon … I heard that album, and it altered my perspective on music, in its entirety. After hearing that album, it sunk into my brain that we have been so limited with our content, compared to the things that we are able to do. Man, there’s endless ways to form a sonic wave. That album came out when there was no Auto-Tune, no ProTools, no FruityLoops. This is all hardware, you know what I’m saying? Like, these niggas is old. I realized that through the years, while we got all this great, amazing advanced technology, my personal opinion is that it handicapped us as creatives. Back then all you had was your brain and your skills, you what know I’m saying? I got really obsessed with watching old artists’ live performance videos. I just think about, “Man, them niggas had no in-ears.”

Tierra Whack: Just rawdoggin’ it.

The Studio: Engine Room Audio, New YorkHit List: Maxwell, BLACKsummers’night; Mobb Deep, The Infamous; Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II

Lil Yachty: I could never do that. And it was on key, in tune, in arenas. It’s all kinds of reverb. That’s real talent.

Tierra Whack: I’m thinking about Busta Rhymes, “Gimme Some More.” That video is crazy. It makes you feel like a slo-mo, but fast-paced at the same time. And it just puts you in a trance. You spoke on performances — I used to watch all of Busta’s live performances. That’s the reason I get so animated. Because people feel that, you know? You gotta be over the top and turn it up. 

Lil Yachty: [Indicating Tierra.] I’ve always been one of her biggest fans.

Tierra Whack: I have a lot of rapper friends. But this is, like, my real friend. He’s been there since day one. When people weren’t sure about me — like, “Yo, she’s kind of weird” — he was posting me, showing me love, reaching out, checking on me. The most genuine artist that I know. And I’m so happy that people are finally seeing what I saw in you also. You are a megastar. 

Lil Yachty: I just want respect. For so long, I feel like I’ve yet to get it. And the older I get, the more important it is to me, because music is my life. This is what I’ve cared about most of my life. A lot of people may have not taken me seriously for different reasons. Maybe because of the era I came in, or maybe because I had red hair and I was a kid —

Tierra Whack: Hey. 

[Audience laughs.]

Lil Yachty: I’m talking about at the time, 2016.

Tierra Whack: He’s like, “Red hair is so old news.”

Lil Yachty: [Laughs.] I completely forgot you got red hair.

Tierra Whack: I’m bringing it back.

Lil Yachty: I don’t know what it is, but I just feel like people always kind of treated me like a kid. Like some Kidz Bop rapper or some shit. I’m like, “I really do this shit!” I was always the kid to be like, “OK, cool. You think this trash? I’m gonna go fix it. I’m gonna get better. I’m gonna come back.”

Tierra Whack: I just want to make music and art that I’m proud of. That’s it. Period. I can name “Caught Out There” by Kelis: I love that song. I wish I made it. If I can make a song and be so proud of it, like I can’t believe that I made it, I’m good. That’s all I need. I just want to be proud of my own art.

Lil Yachty: Hell yeah, that too…. People say some shit. They be like, “Oh, man. Yachty, I fuck with your shit.” Like, nigga, you don’t fuck with my shit. You just know who I am. I want it to feel like I’m contributing some good shit to the world, you know? Good art.

Where do you think hip-hop is right now? 

Tierra Whack: It’s very diverse. You can do whatever you want. You can be whoever you want. Just freedom.

Lil Yachty: This shit sucks. The place that hip-hop is in right now is a terrible place. What are you talking about? … The state of hip-hop right now, it’s a lot of imitation. It’s a lot of quick, low-quality music being put out. It’s trendy. It’s a lot less risk-taking. It’s a lot less originality.

Tierra Whack: This is the viral post. I always call it, like, that’s gonna be the viral post of this.

Lil Yachty: I’m just saying people are too safe now. I’d rather take the risk and take the L.

Tierra Whack: I love it.

Lil Yachty: I want you to tell me. Tell me about the artists who are really, really pushing the culture and trying to be original and really trying to take risks — without naming Tyler.

Tierra Whack: Or Tierra, or Yachty.

Honestly, one of my favorites is J.I.D right now …

Lil Yachty: I love J.I.D. J.I.D is such a beautiful person. He got the spirit of, like, a real Atlanta negro. And he is such a good, kind person. He just always embraced me with open arms. I’ve never heard a bad verse from J.I.D ever.… I got a verse from J.I.D in my phone.

Tierra Whack: Which phone? How many phones do you have?

Lil Yachty: I got enough.

Tierra Whack: I have all his numbers in one group message. So he has no choice but to reply.

Lil Yachty: I want to ask you a question, T.

Tierra Whack: What’s up?

Lil Yachty: It’s a serious question. I want to talk about being a woman in hip-hop. And not only being a woman in hip-hop, you’re a dark-skinned woman in hip-hop. And praise to that, right? But I just want to talk about what comes with that. I just feel like, and you can correct me if I’m wrong … I just feel like being a dark-skinned woman in hip-hop, it gives you certain obstacles that I think if you were light-skin — 

Tierra Whack: I can make that happen. I can arrange that. No, I’m just playing.

Lil Yachty: How do you feel? Where’s your standpoint on it? Like, do you feel like niggas be playing with you?

Tierra Whack: Everybody knows I can outrap, like, almost everybody. Everybody knows that.

Lil Yachty: Of course, but … Nowadays, sometimes it’s not even about talent. It’s not even about skill.

Tierra Whack: That’s true.

Lil Yachty: I don’t know what woman can rap better. I personally don’t know one that could rap better than you. Do you ever feel like something ain’t adding up? Because I do.

Tierra Whack: Sometimes. But not for the most part. I think sometimes people force that on me. Like, that question — I get asked that often. And baby, the people love me. The brands…. I be on everything. Listen. They love Whack. And I’m following your footsteps. What year was your XXL cover? 

Lil Yachty: 2016. 

Tierra Whack: You got good memory.

Lil Yachty: It’s my career. [Audience laughs.]

Tierra Whack: You were the best rapper on that cover, if I’m being all the way honest. You were able to keep a clean image. You weren’t really promoting drugs or violence or any of that. You were literally my twin, you know?

Lil Yachty: Do you think not talking about those things makes it harder?

Tierra Whack: The people that I looked up to growing up — my mom is a really strong, independent woman. She’s Black, of course. Black, strong, independent woman. She worked hard. She wasn’t selling her body, showing her body. I had a perfect role model. And then musically, Lauryn Hill was my everything. So I’m just following the people I look up to.

Lil Yachty: It’s not what I asked you at all.

Tierra Whack: What? What’d you ask me? I’m sorry.

Lil Yachty: I’m asking you, do you think that …

Tierra Whack: It’s not hard to not talk about sex.

Lil Yachty: That’s not what I’m asking.

Tierra Whack: OK, I don’t understand. I’m sorry.

Lil Yachty: You’re not fucking listening. [Smiles.] I’m asking you, do you think it’s harder to gain certain traction?

Tierra Whack: Yeah, I’m taking the hard way. Is that what you’re asking? Yes, I’m taking the hard way.

Lil Yachty: Fuck you.

[Audience laughs.]

Tierra Whack: Is that it? Can somebody else explain?

Lil Yachty: I keep trying to tell you from my perspective …

Tierra Whack: And I’m talking. Let me shut up.

Lil Yachty: What I was trying to say to you is that when I was 18 years old, right?

Tierra Whack: That was, like, yesterday.

Lil Yachty: I’m 26. Almost eight years ago, OK. It’s been a long time … still here, by the way. They said I had one song. When I was younger, and coming up, the class I was a part of glorified drugs, face tats, everything under the book, you know. And what I learned as I got older — I’m grateful for the fan base I have. It’s a huge fan base, and the love is real. But I always realized that I never had the fan base of certain peers because I didn’t glorify negativity. I didn’t glorify things that I didn’t stand by, you know. What I was trying to see is if you felt like that was something you [experienced] because you don’t glorify shaking big booty …

Tierra Whack: I could.

Lil Yachty: Right. But did you, too, see any of those challenges? Or not really?

Tierra Whack: No. If I’m just being myself and following my own path, I can’t see anything else. I’m just focused on me and having fun and being myself.

Lil Yachty: I love that. … By the way, I was snubbed on a Grammy nomination today.

[Audience claps.]

Lil Yachty: What the fuck is y’all clapping for?

Tierra Whack: Let’s talk about it.

Lil Yachty: I said I was snubbed. Fuck y’all. Y’all supposed to boo. 

[Audience boos in solidarity.]

Lil Yachty: Exactly. OK, anyways. We kind of talked about it, but I was just gonna talk about not getting the credit that we deserve. Because I just think you are the best.

Tierra Whack: Thank you. You see how he’s sharing his platform with me? I love that. People don’t do that anymore. I really appreciate it.

Lil Yachty: Why are you holding the mic with two hands?

Tierra Whack: I don’t know. I need a mic stand. I wanted to start singing. [Starts singing Drake a cappella] “I can see it in your eyes, you’re angry …” [Starts imitating Lou Rawls] “You’ll never find …”

Lil Yachty: So where are you in life right now?

Tierra Whack: I’m really excited and happy. I just dropped a new song and video. I’m proud of it.

Lil Yachty: First time in how long?

Tierra Whack: It’s been a while. It’s been a long time. But it’s a badass video. One take. I went through a car wash — like, I actually went through a car wash. I was so afraid. I had anxiety. I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But I did it.

[Tierra screens her “Chanel Pit” video.]

Tierra Whack: You know what I love about us, too? We’re not afraid to look silly or get embarrassed.

Lil Yachty: She’s so cool.

Tierra Whack: It took a long time to get my videos done. I have a lot of videos stacked now. And before that, I just wasn’t making stuff that I was proud of. I’m not just going to put out bullshit. It’s gonna be stuff I really care about.

[Yachty plays an unreleased collaboration with J. Cole off his phone.]

Tierra Whack: Yo, yo, yo. Add a third verse, yo! Let me get a piece of that, yo. I don’t ask for shit, but I want a piece of that. Talk to Jermaine for me. I feel like I can hold my own. Cole is crazy.

Lil Yachty: Cole is crazy. Me and Cole just recently just connected on a different level … I think we both fell in love with the idea — like, on paper it doesn’t really make sense for us to be making records together.

Tierra Whack: Literally the odd couple. I love that.

Tierra Whack: You gotta play one of ours, though. We’re here together. You have to. Oh, hurry up and play it.

Lil Yachty: Girl, fuck you.

Tierra Whack: Oh, you’re so mean. Is it that time of the month?

Lil Yachty: This is how me and her are, just all the time.

Tierra Whack: Yup, he’s a bitch.

Lil Yachty: She’s just as crazy as me. You think I’m crazy? She’s crazy. 

[Yachty plays an unreleased collaboration with Tierra Whack.]

Lil Yachty: I think I hit you a month later, like, “Bruh, I’m still learning new bars you said in that song.” I love putting her on records because I want anyone who fuck with me to be like, “This is what you really need to be listening to.” I swear to God, I be so happy bro.

Tierra Whack: You got balls. So many men are afraid to get on a song with me.

Lil Yachty: Yeah, but you know what it is? I don’t think it’s “I got balls.” I just don’t have ego. I want to see you win. I want to see you at the top of the mountain.

Tierra Whack: I appreciate it. It is so rare. So that’s why I thank you every chance I get.

Photography Direction by EMMA REEVES. Whack: Hair by JAMILAH CURRY. Whack Makeup by MICHELA WARIEBI for SEE MANAGEMENT. Whack Styling by SUSAN WALSH. BTS Videography by LAUREN MENDOZA. Photography assistance by HAYDEN BULLARD. Whack Styling assistance by ETHAN GEKOW and LIZAVETA KOZYRAVA.

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