Taking from something our editor Evan Pricco once said about Radiohead in our Winter ‘22 Quarterly, “Iconic bands have, one would say, an iconic aesthetic.” Although Tierra Whack is a one-woman-wonder, I would insist that this list includes the rapper as well, known for her musical flow as much as the colorful and cartoonish visuals that accompany her music. One thing that I love about being a Whack fan is losing your shit when the visuals drop–stunned by the elaborate worlds she builds as say, a youth looking for her pup within a creepy pet cemetery, accompanied by dog puppets on glass cat figurines, or a fitness fanatic getting their get sweat on, surrounded by watermelons and a white man taking the easy way out on a vibrating belt machine. There are levels here.

Meanwhile there is Alex Da Corte, a conceptual artist who I first came across through his work in which he embodies the rapper Eminem–a near lookalike for the musician when he dyes his hair blonde. Da Corte’s art has always been a bit fantastical and funny, loving to undergo prosthetics and costuming to situate himself amongst his work, or calling on pop culture moments like Kermit the Frog’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon debacle to create larger than life immersive installations. For me, Da Corte is the definition of aesthetic perfection–an eye for details with impeccable technical skills to execute. It’s no wonder that Whack would call up her friend Da Corte to direct the videos and visuals for her new album World Wide Whack.

Whack and Da Corte are reuniting after working together back in 2019 on her song Dora, where the two Philly fanatics realized that their collaborative spirit was one of the same. It was a no brainer when Whack finished her new album to rush it over to Da Corte’s studio, where they conceptualized and storyboarded for only one week. The result is a series of 3 videos that illustrates a day in the life of the character rapper–punctuated by morning, noon, and night–an arc that starts with bright collage, moves into sad dancing clowns, and ends with AI violence upon Whack’s balloonist body. So caught up in the striking visuals, you might forget to listen to Whack’s music closely, in which she opens up about her mental health struggles and the costs of fame. It’s dark inside Whack’s head, but her collaboration with Da Corte brings in the sunshine. And in reality, Da Corte and Whack’s friendship brings the sunshine, too. There’s something special about work between two artists who creatively, intuitively, and emotionally get each other. If artmaking is the ultimate healer, then making it with a friend is the ultimate cure.

I spoke with them about their collaboration process, the artists that inspired the moodboards, how their friendship influences their artmaking, and their deep love for the underrecognized art city of Philadelphia. 

Shaquille Heath: I'd love to hear how the two of you first connected. And what your first thoughts were when you decided to work together on this album? 
Tierra Whack: So a good friend of mine John Janick at Interscope, he basically put me on Alex. He was like, Yo Tierra, there’s this artist I love and I collected some of his pieces, and we're good friends. I ended up asking John about him. ‘Who does he love? Who are his favorite artists?” And he just happened to say my name! So John connected us and it so happened that Alex is also Philly based. The next day I was at his studio and man…I had a blast! I was just a kid at Candyland. I know it's his hub and his safe house, but like, I don't know, I just didn't want to leave! I was digging through all of his books and art pieces and everything. It's amazing. I was so happy to meet him.

Alex Da Corte: Yeah, John has been a supporter of my work for a long time and I had expressed my love of Tierra's music to him. And because we're both in Philly he was like, this is a no brainer, you both should connect. Tierra and some of her friends came to a rehearsal before a performance that I did in Philly and to see my studio. I was rehearsing for a live performance that would happen in early 2020. It involved 15 dancers and a band, and I was in it, as well. It was quite a thing to stumble upon. I don't think Tierra or her friends knew what they were getting into. But after that it sort of felt vibey and she reached out, right when lockdown happened, and was like “Hey Alex I have this new song…What do you think about visuals for it?” That was for the song Dora. I had just closed my studio due to the pandemic, so I was working alone for some time and was like, I'll think about making a video but it'll be difficult because there's no one around… and you know, how will we do this? I was able to work with a whole community of animators to make this video while everyone's still remote, and that was a real labor of love, and obviously a very hard time for many folks. 2020 was just a nightmare. And this really became a sort of source of life for us. Working together and collaborating. So since then, we've just kind of stayed friends. 

Last year, I did a big art show in Philly and Tierra came. Whilst at the opening she mentioned that she was working on some new music. So she came to the studio and played the album. And I was getting ready to go to Rome for the year–I had won this prize called the Rome Prize, where you go and you study at the American Academy in Rome. I told her I only have a week before I go. Tierra spoke to us about the movie, The Joker with Joaquin Phoenix. So I let that sort of be in my brain for some time, and within a couple of days I had sketched out, you know, ideas for all the videos for all the songs and how the album might become a kind of visual world. 

Holy shit. So from the conversation of “here's the music” to the ideation of the visuals, you guys really came up with the bulk of those ideas within one week!?
ADC: Yeah! Haha! I always work really fast, my brain just fires off when I’m making. I have my studio which has thousands of books, and so I just go through them and I'll pull books that I think might be interesting to Tierra. I just pulled alot of images and some storyboards. And then from there I just had her speak to what moved her. Speak to what you like in terms of the costume ideas and colors, and also just what strikes a chord in your heart. It was very conversational from that point. I think as things go it sort of blossomed into something beautiful kind of organically. From that initial meeting that we had, after I storyboarded everything and went to Rome, I worked down all of the videos and how they might become a reality, knowing that I would be shooting them later in the year.

TW: I don’t wanna say it's hard to explain but it's not any profound answer. We just click! I'm pretty sure you know, it's hard to be in a first meeting and it's love at first sight! Me and Alex just clicked. Honestly, I'm a little wary of collaborating with people. Because you can think you guys are on the same page, on the same vibe, and they get in the room and it's just like, nothing is really blending. But with Alex almost every idea he had I was like, “Yes, yes, yes!” And anything I thought of he's like,“Yes, yes, yes!” So we kind of had to tone it down a little bit because we're just both full of ideas. And we're always so excited and we just understand each other. 

Both of you have these deep ties and love for Philly. Y'all pull up for Philly so much.
TW: We love Philly so deep! That was one of the main attractions to Alex. Like he is in Philly too?! I couldn't believe that I didn’t know him. Because I know pretty much everything that goes on in Philly. I'm literally the queen of Philly. So it was crazy that it got past me and I didn't know about Alex. But he knows how much I love Philly, and he's always trying to include Philly in any way we can. So many references to Philly in the Shower Song. Like Tastykakes, Good and Plenty. The first Black woman to appear on the cereal box. Every video, even if you go back to Whack World, Philly is always in there somewhere.

ADC: Always with Tierra, even when I did Dora, both of us have a lot of Philly pride. We love Philadelphia. So I always like to start there. In the Shower Song I was referencing artists like Horace Pippin who had spent time in Philadelphia and made paintings up and around the city.  Thinking about sights or references that could be specifically located in Philly because it's important to sort of celebrate and dig where you stand. And mine who you are and how you are because of where you're grown, where your roots are. So I was thinking about the history of the Philadelphia Sound and new futurist ways of being with Sun Ra Arkestra. All of these things kind of got sewn into the sort of spirit of this character that is Whack. That's sort of how the visual language kind of developed. 

Always a piece of home that you're taking with you. Philly is not one of those cities that you think typically as an art city but it obviously has so deeply inspired both of your art making practices.
TW: Yo, that's the thing! Like you said, some people make it and they leave. But I owe all the credit to Philly. I would not be who I am or how I am if it wasn't for where I'm from. Philly is everything. One of my close friends Jill Scott, she's an icon! I give her her flowers every chance I get. We got The Roots. We got Eve. We have so many great artists, I just felt like we need to shine the light on Philly. And I'm gonna be responsible for keeping the light on Philly.

I know that there were many artists referenced within the videos. For example, within The Shower Song you had referenced The Great American Nudes series from Tom Wesselmen–can you talk through your artist inspirations and references more? 
ADC: When it became clear that it was going to be a trilogy–it was meant to reference the arc of a day, I was like, well I'll reference early 20th century filmmaking and film motifs, and was thinking about the human body in motion that Eadweard Muybridge conducted at the University of Pennsylvania. So I thought about rotoscoping, stop motion animation, original film animation, the invention of the camera. I ultimately thought, okay this will be The Shower Song. It is flat, it is dry, it is collage, it is analog. 

And then thinking about the late 20th century, this will reference Hype Williams and Missy, Busta and Janet. It’ll be fisheye lens and viscous.This is the space where you are growing beyond your flat form, but you're an embodiment of a being and you're human. So that's what became of 27 Club. Of course, as you saw with Two Night it becomes something that's aligned with this new future where your ego is inflated, where you're beyond your body and beyond yourself, and your life is not your own anymore, but it is shared with many people. And what does that look like? That to me is the embodiment of 21st century ideology and humanity. Also taking into consideration that the gravity of the stories are so great, and there is an urgency. It's real life. It’s Tierra’s life. So I couldn't take it lightly at all–and I never do with any of my work, but this particular album at this particular moment in time, sort of under the pandemic and on the heels of George Floyd. It was such a heavy time to be thinking about what it means to be in the world and participate, and also be mindful. I didn't take that lightly. It was real. It was something that I carried all last year with me and with this is something that I've put my whole heart into.

I feel like you can really feel that–when you’re both listening and paying attention. Tierra, the three videos have this morning, noon and night arc that goes through the day of the life of Whack. Can you talk to me about where that idea came from? And if that was something that you had in mind before or if that's something that y'all collaborated on together?
TW: That was definitely the collaboration. I did not have that in mind when I had all the music done, but like I said, I went to Alex's studio and we started finding pictures and themes and stuff that we liked, we were just having real conversations about real life experiences. And Alex, he really gets it and he listens to the lyrics. We're friends, so he really felt it. So he's like, Yo, this is literally a story. And I'm like, yeah it is! It's my life! 

He said let's figure out a way to formulate this and make this into like a full day, and I'm like alright. We started storyboarding. And we picked our favorite songs. And of course, he had questions about what certain lines meant and he wanted me to break down the topics and themes. We came up with the Shower Song being the opening. You know, just naturally it just feels good. It feels like you're starting your day off. And then we went into 27 Club, which is where you see World Wide Whack character going through the motions and being affected by the wider world. It's like I'm being cheered on, but also like, it's wearing me down. You know, being a public figure, it has its pros and its cons and that's what I'm learning everyday. I started this with it being this cool thing that I do and thought it would be cool to share this with the world. But I didn't know what came with that necessarily. You know what I'm saying? I just wanted to have fun and create cool things. But on a whole other side of it, you got the critics! And the critics, they don't hold back. So it's a little rough sometimes. And I mean just me being the most vulnerable that I've ever been… It was rough. It was like a storm I went through. But I came out of it and now it's like sunshine–and sunshine is not gonna last forever! But just to be able to look back and say “I did that!” I overcame that. It feels really good and I pray and hope that I can help someone else who may be going through a similar situation. 

We’ll take the sunshine as long as we can have the sun shine!
TW: Right! Embrace it. 

Alex, what is the difference for you in your art making process when you're creating art that is going to be representative of yourself, versus the process when you were collaborating and making based off of someone else's work?
ADC: That’s a great question. Because what's wonderful and extremely challenging about working on music videos and with musicians, is not only is it their life and their vision, it's also live and active. I mean, I always wanted to be a musician, but I'm tone deaf, haha! What I love about music is it's so instantly shareable and recognizable and moves through the world in a way that is so free. Whereas much as I do love making art for museums, it has a different type of life. Most of the work is much slower. You have to go visit it. My work is sculpture, so oftentimes you can’t see all sides of it unless you’re there. And these are all good things, but it just has a different way that it goes through the world and I'm appreciative of all different types of labor. But for me to also participate with a musician, in a way that I can share their vision and then have it go to many people's ears and many people's eyes…It's so exciting. It's the most righteous and kind of free way to share their ideas and connect with people.

Absolutely! Probably also seeing how the work flows throughout the world and how it reaches people is such a different process.
ADC: Haha! I've made a lot of art videos in my life. I mean, none of them have a fraction of what one music video has in two hours!

Haha! I was wondering what was toughest for you both? Making the videos in terms of technicality or vulnerability? Tierra is talking about some deep shit in these songs…
TW: So I have been listening to 27 Club on my own and with my inner team. We're like family, so they know me. I can listen to my saddest songs around them and not really break. So when we were rehearsing for the 27 Club video and we brought the dancers in and I just was hearing the song out loud, I just broke down in front of Alex. I just started crying. I was like, I don't know, I'm scared. I feel weak. It was harder than I thought that it would be. Like, I was proud of myself for speaking on this thing that's just weighing on me so heavily. And I finally was able to find the right words to just really express how I felt and how I've been feeling for so long. But when I got out into the world, and I was in front of strangers that I didn't know, I was like, Oh wait! I wanted to go back into hiding. But it's all a part of the process. 

But like I said with Alex, we don't just work together, like that's my friend. I love Alex so much. He pours into me. And that's important too–he doesn't pour onto me, he pours into me. He fills my cup. I did Webster Hall in New York and I was so nervous, I was having a panic attack. He came into the room right before I was about to go on and he was like, “Tierra, this is what you work for. We talked about this a million times. If you make a mistake, it's okay. Don't be afraid. Just go out there and be yourself. We love you. We want you!” That was all I needed to hear! I was talking to other people and they weren't really saying the right things. But Alex said the right thing to me. He's like, “It's okay if you make a mistake!” I was performing on the same day as the album was coming out, and with Whack World I didn't do a show the same day. So that was a lot of pressure. Usually I just release something and I don't have to like to see or talk to people, or be in people's faces. But the album just dropped and now I'm in everybody's faces. That was weird for me. It ended up being an amazing show. But leading up to it, my anxiety was through the roof– I was ready to cry! But it's been an emotional journey. So I mean, this is what comes with it. The tears come. And they come whenever they want to come. You never expect it.

That's the funny thing about being a creative sometimes. You make something and you're like, Okay, I released that. I got it out. And then you realize, Oh, now I have to kind of relive this over and over.
TW: Yes! Yes! Oh my gosh, it’s like torture. Like I said, you just don't know when it's gonna hit you. I don't mind talking about it, but like… back to back to back. It's awful. So yeah, I have to be very careful about how I say things. It’s real life.

Alex, what about for you?
ADC: It was 27 Club. I have lost a family member to suicide. The day that Tierra reached out to me about doing the music video was the day that my cousin died. And it broke me. I thought, I don't know if I can do this. I had to really dig in and curl my toes. I'm going to do this because I can find joy still, and I will put that into this work. And so I carried it with me and I really fought for it. When you're already sad, that song 27 Club ripped through my heart in a way that I was like geez, like, life can be so impossible! I thought about how we show the complications, what it means to be alive and what it means to struggle? And there's a choice. You have to choose to get out of bed. You have to choose to find the light. And it's very hard. So for me, working on that video mattered so much because my whole family carries that hurt still. It means so much to be there for Tierra. To hear her and to celebrate her vulnerability–but also her strength and her ability to keep working and keep getting out of bed. Being alive, it takes work. So much of it was about work and recognizing the work that goes into everything. I mean every single one of those costumes was handmade in my studio, every single one. Every feather that was put in. Every single shoelace. Every single thing was made by hand with love. And in the same way a lot of our dancers are not treated equitably. They're not treated fairly. They're under-appreciated. Here the dancers were incorporated. Their bodies were being recognized. And their efforts and their labor is being celebrated. We’re all there to support Tierra and for me that was everything.

I'm so sorry about your cousin. It feels like it's such a beautiful example of how the universe often brings us exactly what we need, even when we don't see it at the time. Ways that just help heal us and that's what this experience kind of allowed for you. My last question for you… What does Tierra bring that makes the collaboration process so rich and rewarding?
ADC: Tierra’s just family. She’s so funny… and I love a joke. But she keeps it honest. I admire her insistence on being in Philly and keeping her family close. You know, she really has a small group of people that she shares her ideas with. And that her music was born out of. And all of that is so inspiring. And I don't know, I think I just was a fan for so long and I love her music. I listen to her on repeat all the time, as many people did. And was just happy to know her even a little bit. I've been able to collaborate with her so many times now. She brings me great joy. And as you said, the universe provides and I believe in following the kind of cosmic path, and for me, I’m glad Tierra’s a part of it.

Shower Song, 27 Club, and Two Night are available to view here. World Wide Whack is out now.