Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Tierra Whack – Only Child

And we conclude our Songs Whose Subheads We Can Vaguely Tie To The Idea Of Parents Wednesday (we’ve had more cohesive theme days), something we like a bit more…


Julian Axelrod: Tierra Whack made her name on small songs — not just the bite-sized bops on her breakout Whack World, but vignettes that inspect everyday problems through a surreal storybook sheen. So while “Only Child” tacks on a few minutes to her average song length, it still feels small-scale, like a fight you’d overhear walking through Target. The concept of “only child syndrome” was weirdly omnipresent in my last relationship: Every time my partner and I would argue about where to eat or what movie to watch, they’d fall back on their lack of siblings as an excuse for being stubborn. The issue was a tiny bug that got under my skin over time, much like this unassuming earworm burrowed into my brain. It’s simultaneously scathing and empathetic, gleeful and morose, a deathly serious standup routine. Above all, it’s a minor-key sentiment from a major talent.

Alfred Soto: My mistake for missing Whack World eight months ago. The ease with which the Philadelphia teen changes timbres and approaches is impressive, and after dealing in minute-long vignettes it’s a pleasure to listen to a four-minute track she sustains without strain. 

Josh Love: Tierra Whack has already demonstrated a level of conceptual bravado that ensures she’s worthy of notice. Four times lengthier than anything on Whack World, “Only Child” is a fairly promising indication her work will translate to more conventional formats and structures, though I can’t say for certain she can reward attention for an hour or even 40 minutes (though, to be fair, maybe that won’t be her goal). In keeping with the general thrust of Whack World, “Only Child” is a vehicle for its creator’s colorful personality and admirable ear for a hook (I’ve been singing “I should work at Friendly’s” in my head for days) that nonetheless doesn’t offer you many places musically to get lost. Basically, she’s a theater kid, like Chance or Tyler; their shtick has had a relatively short shelf life for me, but I’m cautiously optimistic Whack proves more resilient.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Only Child” leaves me skeptical about how well Tierra Whack can craft songs that are longer than a minute. On Whack World, the songs were quasi-interesting because they were vignettes, the dearth of ideas readily apparent if one imagined any track stretched to longer runtimes. This is baby-voiced twee with a backing track fit for lullabies. More than anything, it reminds me of work by various Chicago rappers if they were less charismatic.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Only Child” is the sound of Tierra Whack playing with her food. She’s been more focused than this before– when you release a tape of minute-long tracks, you learn precision well. But “Only Child” represents the Philly rapper at her most creative. She stacks two gorgeous hooks– one rapped, the other crooned– on top of each other, barely leaving space for verses. But when those verses come, they’re almost hookier than the hooks themselves, full of quick flow changes and charming turns of phrase. It’s an almost effortless flex, the kind of warm-up loosie that’s more telling than an album track.

Thomas Inskeep: Not nearly as good a rapper as she thinks she is.

Nortey Dowuona: Pulsing, bulbous synths linger behind a skipping drum beat as Tierra coos, hisses and snarks over it.

Iris Xie: Slam the door in the face of your arrogant lover who starred in Post Malone x Swae Lee’s “Sunflower”, take over the chill downtempo vibe, and propel yourself into your own narrative, and that’s “Only Child.” I see “Only Child” as a direct reply song to “Sunflower,” and the simpering coos and pleading has dissolved into selfish inattention. The protagonist of “Only Child”‘s irritation boils over into personal attacks about his childhood history, held loosely by the measured beats and the little flourishes Whack adds throughout. The lines “Used to arch my back for you and now I’m your arch-nemesis/All men should be feminists, Donald Trump fucks immigrants/I don’t want to work it out, so cancel our gym membership” are fun, political, and witty, but the line “Darling, darling, I’m praying for you” stands out for its caustic compassion, of trying so hard to be nice and understanding while suppressing bitterness. If I were the music supervisor for Insecure, I would definitely play this song for the next messy post-breakup crying scene, overlaid with all the permutations of dysfunctional lovers. 

Iain Mew: Repeated pleas of “what about me” and assorted low-key jabs send one message, but the philosophical tone and the placid, lovely loop send another. It’s not a song that sounds detached from the situation, exactly. It’s just she gives it a perspective that suggests its attachment is a tether that has now extended all the way out into space. 

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