Vancouver-bred artist Tommy Genesis is not someone you can categorically label. Though her look radiates saccharine femininity, her brand of “fetish rap” boasts a complex aggro-sexuality that challenges anyone looking to undercut her creative authority. Tommy tells us why she can’t be put in a box.
The music industry has made ample strides to fan down the testosterone-fueled fires that’ve guarded its gates, but the question as to who still demands their operation remains: is it Hades or Persephone? In a perfect world, the two share equal responsibility, and while we’ve seen improvements in the distribution of power throughout the years, the former still holds the staff – and he doesn’t show signs of handing it over, or even breaking it in half, anytime soon.
Although reality attests to Hades’s prevailing control, Persephone’s own clout is not something to undermine. She may not have the full set of resources to snatch the staff completely (yet), but she’s certainly catching up. Tommy Genesis knows a thing or two about keeping Hades in line, but while she may be adamantly going the distance for her own kind, calling her Persephone wouldn’t be a fitting title.
Born and bred in Vancouver to a South Indian father and Scandinavian mother, Tommy is a figure laden with contradictions. At first glance, the artist has all the trappings of a bonafide pop darling; a doe-eyed beauty with ombré curls and a penchant for pleated skirts, cropped T-shirts, glossy lipstick and combat boots. But underneath the schoolgirl allure lies something far more esoteric. Sure, she may look like the kind of girl you’d want to sit and smile in the bleachers while you score the winning touchdown at Homecoming, but in actuality, she’s the girl scoring the touchdowns, blowing you a kiss, then taking home the game’s head cheerleader.
Openly bisexual, Tommy’s music eschews nearly every hetero-normative motif commonly affiliated with the rap genre, spitting verses such as “She tell me he gon' flip me like he flip his cousins back South / But she don't know that I went from cunt to dick early this month,” only to follow up with “When you leave me I need to go take my mind off your dick / Get some yogurt covered pretzels and a pound of a clit.” The graphic volatility of Tommy’s lyrics seamlessly parallels the production of her songs, which swerves and slides across a slew of subgenres – witch house, IDM, trap – found in the darkest trenches of the SoundCloud underworld.
It’s the very unhinged, otherworldly quality of Tommy’s work that caught the ear of Atlanta’s leading underground rap king Father, who, after hearing a series of bedroom-produced singles while zipping through cyberspace, asked the artist to join his idiosyncratic label Awful Records in 2015. With one-third of her World Vision mixtape trilogy complete and the remaining two on the horizon, Tommy’s brief albeit potent mark in the music sphere has her leading the wave for the next generation of artists who are not only looking to fight the system, but leave it scratching its head while thirsting for more in the process.
The term "underground" is thrown around very loosely these days. How do you react when someone describes your music as such? What does the term mean to you, personally?
If mainstream music is an oral orifice then underground music is the torso, where things pick up speed and digest. Mainstream appropriates from the underground because we keep generating new material. It's untapped and raw. There is no system, there is no law. If you want war, you make war. If you want art, you make art. There is trash and there is gold, but it's just another way to label someone at the end of the day. Just another box.
You once tagged the words "fetish rap" to describe your sound. What did you mean by this?
Oral fixation. Sexual deviance. Saying things to get a reaction or coveting sexual experiences. I didn't know how else to say, “You think I'm rapping but I just sex talk.”
Your style, that is, the whole schoolgirl uniform appeal, can be viewed as something that entices the male gaze, yet your persona as an artist is very alpha; almost intimidating. How do you use your sexuality and, by extension, your gender as a way to flip the role of power in a field dominated mostly by men?
I don't use my sexuality as a tool, it’s a part of me. I am most interested in conversations about sexual ambiguity. In a way, my schoolgirl attire is my own personal drag. I dress up to crossover to another world, I have a masculine and feminine duality (we all do). The male gaze is like Mordor… the great eye is ever watchful, but I'm on the outside completely. I'm just watching the movie.
You have a background in film and sculpture. How did you start making hip-hop music? How does your art background translate into what you're doing now?
I never started making hip-hop music. I've never made hip-hop music. But if this is hip-hop, then I really have to reevaluate my music. I try to make art. I try to do a lot of things. Some things come across the way I hope. Others fail violently.
How has the internet shaped or guided your artistic progression?
The internet picked me up, but it didn't guide my artistic practice. I think I'm too liberal at times with conversations about the internet being my home. I live inside my head. I often feel like I am digressing the more I put out, because less of me exists inside and more of me exists outside in the public.
Will DIY always be something that applies to you as an artist? Do you fear that as you get bigger, you may lose certain freedoms/control that you have now?
Yes. I do things DIY because I have control issues. I’m not afraid though. I’m more afraid of love and death. I rarely think about music. Music is a tangent.
You approach sexuality in your lyrics in a way that's a bit more complex and abstruse than most female rappers. What role does sex and its position in society have in your work?
Ever since I was little people would tell me "don't sit like that" or "don't stand like that,” or "don't eat like that,” and as a kid, I'd ask myself “why?” They'd say because it's too sexual.
I am a product of society, but I've shed certain predisposed notions of who I thought I should be. My sexuality is simple to me – it’s black and white. But explaining it to someone else is like transcribing an abstract painting into essay format. I don't think about "sex and its position in society" when I write, I think about what exists between me and the person who holds my gaze.
You said that your first three albums – World Vision, World Vision 2 and World Vision 3 – will act as a trilogy. Will all three albums act as chapters that tie together one particular story, or will each one explore a different theme?
There is no overall narrative. The themes go: World Vision 1, weird; World Vision 2, weirdly mature; and World Vision 3, melodies overlaid on top of cacophonous symphonies.
What kind of mark, if any, are you hoping to leave both within the music industry and on the people who listen and admire your work?
I hope they trip and fall inside my mind for a while. And I hope the hole does not fill them, but that they fill the hole.