Rebellious rapper Tommy Genesis has just dropped her self-titled debut album. Canadian-born with Tamil and Swedish heritage, Genesis has significantly only ever done a handful of interviews and is careful about revealing personal details, keeping all the focus on her music and visuals. Retaining this kind of mystique is rare in an industry that claims successful artists must have a “story”.
She may be known as a “fetish rapper”, but Genesis is defining a strongly individual style, describing herself as a “playful demon angel baby” as she fleets between masculine and feminine energies, plaid skirts and combat boots, and dark beats that contrast with her light soft, sultry, half-sung hypnotic vocals. One line that sticks out is: “there’s a rope around my pussy / just hold me just to kiss me”. She obviously wants to talk about sex and some sexy things, which she addresses in most of her songs and admits to being a sexual person – but why is this even a big deal? If Tommy Genesis is openly sexual in her songs then that’s good! We’re living in a time where there’s still a gender gap in rap, where women are subject to sexism and slut-shaming, but Tommy is reclaiming that and owning it. She’s being just as bold as male rappers – except that they’re never questioned on rapping about sex.
A few singles preceded the record: ‘Tommy’ went viral after the Cardi B comparison and the erotic bathtub video. ‘100 bad’ featuring Charli XCX and most recently my favourite off the album ‘Bad Boy’ which is reminiscent of old school M.I.A.
The album is full of mood shifts and surprises, as the pendulum swings back and forth between turn up tracks and slower, vulnerable songs. Tommy Genesis displays genius in these grooves, moving between pop and rap in a way that shows she’s more than capable of writing across stylistic boundaries as an uncompromising alt-pop rap artist.
She was initially discovered by rapper Father on SoundCloud, signing to his DIY independent label, Atlanta’s Awful Records and releasing her first body of work, World Vision. Since then she has been signed to Downtown/Interscope, making it all look so easy – but this is an artist who has full control in all aspects of her art, from curating photoshoots, to directing her own music videos and actually editing them herself. I had a chat with Tommy about the album, growing as an artist, the songwriting process and social media.
gal-dem: Why did you self-title your album?
Tommy Genesis: This album came together on its own in a lot of ways. I feel like as an artist you have phases and I was in my pop phase. It also just fit in terms of the concept with how the music sounded: half turn up and half slower pop. My real name is Genesis, and Tommy was the name I gave myself, so it represents that duality – the person you really are versus the person you are for the public.
How have you grown as an artist from your first mixtape, World Vision?
I had never been in the studio with a producer until recording this album. Apart from two songs, World Vision was created in my bedroom from beats someone sent me over email. I was really making music on my own and up until this project I had never been in the studio, it was so awkward for me to be initially in the studio. I was so nervous, I was like wait a minute…I have to record all this shit in front of other people! It was a trip for me, a completely different thing.
The album goes through this journey where it starts off with killer tunes like ‘Bad Boy’, ‘100 Bad’ and then steers into a more vulnerable direction, can you talk to me through this journey?
The first half is such a high, you literally would put it on the club and walk away – ‘You Know Me’, ‘Naughty’, ‘Drive’ and ‘It’s Ok’. I just really felt all the songs in the project fit together, even though if you take a song like ‘Drive’ and you compare it to ‘Tommy’ they’re completely different genres. For me it’s my own little ‘fuck you’, even though it’s not really cos it’s like the most vulnerable, easy-listening shit. It’s everything someone told me would not work. I’m always gonna do what feels right.
Would you ever write for other artists?
A lot of people wanted ‘Drive’. It’s sort of like a country/pop song. Eventually I would love to write for other artists, but right now it’s important for me to do my art first.
You worked with Charli XCX – how did that come about?
I really respect her as an artist, I think she’s really talented. I played her ‘100 Bad’ when we were hanging out and she loved it so I sent it to her. My thing with the album was I was trying not to have that many features, so I didn’t reach out to a ton of people – but the Charli one happened organically. For the first project I felt like I need to prove myself to myself, I want the songs to be good first and if they need a feature then that’s secondary. There’ll be some features coming out as remixes.
How did you discover your rapping style and flow?
The flow is whatever I’m feeling. The rapping style I actually get quite criticised for. Some people love it, but some people say I should rap hard. I have a soft voice when I’m rapping, I’m on the tipping point between singing and rapping – I’m singing it but saying it. For this album that was where the sound was comfortable for me.
Do you think you’re moving from rap?
No. I will for sure straight rap again. I literally sit down and it’s like: ‘how am I feeling today?’ It’s an emotional process. If I were in a different mood I’d write a different song. Just like every artist, they go through their phases. This is my good girl phase – before I go bad.
What’s your writing process?
I used to rap off the top of my head – for example, the song ‘Angelina’ was freestyled, but my process has changed and I don’t really do that anymore. With this album I sat down more with it – apart from ‘Tommy’, which was freestyled. I was in the studio and really tired, but the producer made me stay for one more song, he made the beat in five minutes and I got in the booth and cut ‘Tommy’ and that was it…‘Tommy’ was done. That’s why I say ‘Tommy’ so much, cos I’m just freestyling saying ‘Tommy…Tommy…Tommy’, so many times [laughs].
Why did you drop ‘Tommy’ as your first single? Talk to me about the video?
Actually ‘100 Bad’ was supposed to be the first single, but I had an issue with the video for it, which I eventually re-shot. Because that didn’t come out, ‘Tommy’ came out. I was trying to convince my label to let me do my own video – I had always done my own videos. They were really hesitant to let me do it, so I told them to give me whatever budget – they gave me like the smallest budget ever. ‘Tommy’ was my first video directed and edited whilst being on a label. After that they were like, ‘you can do all your videos’.
In terms of social media, do you think it’s a good tool? Have you experienced any mental pressure from it?
I don’t really have a filter and never really have. I don’t have anxiety about posting. For me, I hate the shit I see if I’m on Twitter – I hate the shit people say to each other and all the bullying that happens. I hate the idea of a kid, a fresh young mind, going online and getting bullied. I hate cyberbullying so much. Honestly, if I didn’t have to use social media to promote myself and my music, I wouldn’t. I really don’t fuck with it a lot of the time. Yeah, it’s fun to have shoots and posts, but on the flipside there’s so much unfun. By the way, if you’re a cyberbully reading this interview…STOP! You don’t know how much you’re affecting someone’s life, years from now.
Lastly, when you will be touring the UK?
I have a huge tour lined up 2019 springtime with support from Amrit.