Photos by Ebru Yildiz.
“Tommy Tommy Tommy Tommy this is about Tommy I am Tommy Tommy Tommy Tommy Tommy.”
This album is about me, remember?” Tommy Genesis says of lead single ‘Tommy’ from her upcoming album, Tommy Genesis. If Tommy seems inscrutable it’s because she refuses to be defined by anything other than what she is. At the start of her career, when early Soundcloud recordings were discovered by Father – the Atlanta rapper and head of indie rap clique ‘Awful Records’ – she indifferently tagged her music as ‘fetish rap’. She’s since been marketed as such, to the point where the words ‘fetish rapper’ might represent her better than ‘Tommy Genesis’, despite them hardly correlating to her at all.
In truth, Tommy Genesis is too elusive for genre or taglines or even a single art form. The art school graduate has her line drawings and nudes scattered about her home in LA, and models for the likes of Calvin Klein on the side. While her music is rooted in a sleepy, trap style, each song exhibits a personality of its own. On her new album, you’ll hear mizzled West Coast guitar loops, scuzzy sub-bass lines, fake orgasms, and synths that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Fever Ray song. While she may well be this year’s next breakthrough rapper, the trappings of fame and the oversimplification and symbolisation that it entails don’t suit Tommy. Tommy Genesis is the full spectrum. Tommy Genesis is entire.
Even still, wouldn’t she like the fame just a little bit? “I don’t think about that,” she says after a little laugh. “I’m not obsessed with that or worried about that, I just make shit and I’m just thankful that people care. Music’s such an open-ended thing that allows me to be so many other things, and I just enjoy doing it. And I think that as long as I’m genuine and put out stuff that I know is my best then that’s all I can do. If nothing happens then I’m cool. I just draw and make music.”
That cool nonchalance is down to her star sign, she says. “It’s my Leo-ness. I’m very brave and blunt and confident, but because my moon and rising are Cancer I’m extremely introverted. Like, if you ask any of my friends, I don’t ever wanna go out. I’m not social in the way I should be.” Her self-assertiveness and her shyness are a perplexing mix. While she talks with authority and assurance, she does so in a voice that’s small and flutters with nervous laughter. She also peppers her sentences with enough instances of the word ‘like’ to fill this magazine four times over.
But when she demands “a pound of clit” as she did on 2015’s ‘Angelina’, or nowadays when she raps “oh you wanna get it, daddy” she does so without hesitation. And while they might sound like the words of a ‘fetish rapper’, Tommy disagrees. “People will say my music’s just about sex, but it’s really not. It’s not about me fucking someone. It’s about me and my identity. I have always gone where other people don’t. It’s not to shock you, it’s just who I am. It’s something that I’ve struggled with because when I’m just being myself, a lot of people have an issue with it.”
Tommy’s music isn’t there to shock, nor is it a statement. “I’m not into saying something to disrupt someone else’s ideology, because I don’t believe that my view on something is more important or better than someone else’s. So when I make songs that are kinda crazy, I’m never gonna rub it in your face. Everyone has their own things that they like to listen to, and so, it’s just about being genuine to me.”
Tommy’s been told “‘oh my god you’re so weird'” throughout her life, “So it’s something that I’ve always had to think about, how do I not intrude on anyone else’s beliefs or boundaries? How do I not make you feel uncomfortable when I’m feeling comfortable? Who I am isn’t normal, and I know it’s not normal because I’m always fighting this sense of ‘oh I should do that ‘cos it’s normal’, and I do certain things because I know that’s the normal thing to do, but normal is a learned behaviour. And I’ve always grown up struggling with it because I knew I liked both girls and boys, like they were some of my first memories.”
Her music has been a way for Tommy to grapple with her identity in the very horniest way, but is it something she feels comfortable sharing with her parents? “Yeah, I know my dad listens to my music and my mum is like ‘whatever makes you happy’. They’re really open-minded. I come from a family that’s really close and we’re really spiritual, so they’re proud of me. And I’m probably a kid that was hard to raise. If I was my own parent I would be worried about me. But yeah, my parents are super supportive of everything I do. Because my parents know that I am this way, they just accept me.”
“I have always gone where other people don’t. It’s not to shock you, it’s just who I am.”
Some days you’ll find Tommy dressed up in a Lolita get-up and the next she’ll be wearing ripped up band tees and jeans. It’s something she’d been talking with her management about the day before. “It’s difficult with marketing,” she says, “I’m not confused. You just don’t have the right system to understand who I am. I identify as masculine and feminine. I roleplay but I am who I am certain days and I just swing between them.
Growing up people thought I was a boy, then later on people thought I was a girly girl. But I don’t see things as black and white, I live in the grey space. And it’s so important to be in the inbetween, and that’s between what you think is right and what others think is right. Things don’t always have to be one way. I think that humans are beautiful because we have choice and options.”
Ultimately, Tommy just wants to say something and say it effectively: “Like, I really love Abba, and I love Abba because you can listen to a song and – I might not love the way they sing it – but lyrically they say the deepest things in such a colloquial way.” Her new album errs much further towards catchy than verbose, and you won’t find any of the precocious hooks that some of her previous records tended towards. On this self-titled album, Tommy’s wordplay is deviously simple but oftentimes brilliant (‘Naughty’ might well be genius), and Charli XCX has been rapping along to her latest single ‘100 Bad’. It raised enough suspicion to ask: Have you worked with Charli? “Yes.” When’s it out? “Soon.” Can we get any more out of you on that matter? “No.” She’s similarly reserved when Cardi B is brought up. This year, Cardi allegedly ripped Tommy’s flow on ‘Tommy’ for her platinum-selling single ‘Bartier Cardi’. What does Tommy think about it? She hesitates, and answers half-Leo, half-Cancer: “All I’ll say is… I wrote that song and it came out before.”