A TiaCorine song is an immersive experience: a kaleidoscope of luminous colors, larger-than-life anime characters, weed smog, hilarious sex metaphors (“Italian n****, eat my pussy like cannoli”), and psychedelic trap drums that make you feel like your pupils are dilating. On addictive bangers like “Lotto,” “Chanel,” and “Mine,” the rapper’s vocals are instantly distinctive. Tia’s raspy coos dissolve into a high vocal register that sounds like a thugged-out baby with a doctrine in shit-talking.
“When people listen to my music, I want them to escape their reality and come right into Tia’s world,” the 27-year-old explains, letting out a giggle. “I want people to feel like they are on drugs without even taking drugs. I’m naturally animated and try to treat my life like one big colorful cartoon, so that probably comes across in the sound of my music.”
Part of a vibrant, smoked-out rap scene in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Tia’s music feels like a re-up of positivity for those tired of mainstream rap’s increasingly dark, nihilistic urges. Her 2020 album 34Corine was among the year’s most original rap releases, combining hardcore 16s (“30”) with sticky, free-flowing R&B melodies (“34 Faucet”). It’s no surprise Tia has a shared love for Boosie Badazz and Jill Scott.
It feels like TiaCorine’s cult fanbase is ready to mutate into something far larger. When she’s not watching The Amazing World of Gumball with her daughter, Zoe, Tia has been recording new songs with in-demand producer Kenny Beats. “I’m so excited about the future,” she admits. “I’ve been recording with Kenny, and he always says to me: ‘You’re a fucking genius.’ I’ve heard that a lot over the years, and I’m always like, ‘No, no, no!’ But now I am fully owning it because I think the music I’m making really is genius.”
I know your parents are a mix of cultures. How would you say that has added to the diverse sound of your music?
My mom is a Shoshone Indian who was born on a reservation in Idaho, while my dad is both Black and Japanese. I wasn’t really around my real dad, not until high school, but my stepdad put me on to so much music, and he would support me in talent shows. He would play me music like Slick Rick, the Sugarhill Gang, Usher, Ginuwine.
My mom would be cleaning the house while listening to Tia Marie and Queen. That mix is where I get that melodic but funky feel to my music. I feel like I really understand music. I used to play the flute and the piano, so when I am rapping or singing, I’m not just trying to do it over the beat; I’m trying to become one with the beat. I’m trying to use my voice as an instrument and hit those notes you don’t normally hear.
Has the originality of your music ever been a problem?
One day I will wake up dressed like an emo, the next, I will look like a thug queen; that’s just me! I have perfected every inch of me, so I tried to channel every side through my music.
When “Lotto” went viral, all these labels were asking: “Where do you see yourself? What genre? What is your vision?” They tried to tell me I had to choose a single sound, but I was like, “Fuck no, I am never doing that!” I am all these sounds, and you will never be able to box me in. I am my own wave, and that is a good thing. I literally sound like no one else, so why would I change?
It can feel like women in mainstream hip-hop are sometimes given a lot less space to experiment musically than their male counterparts…
That’s a fact. I feel like I am sexy, but I also cover up, and that makes things harder [for me]. The labels say, “Why don’t you have any backup dancers?” Why the fuck do I need backup dancers? People are here to see me. I am not about to put that shit on just because that’s what might sell better. Either you like what I have, or you don’t.
I don’t make music for other people. I make it for me. I want to make an R&B album. I am going to have a punk rock album soon, too; I’ve been working on mosh pit music. I am going to have so many different types of albums that it’s going to be ridiculous.
Why is it important to flip the male gaze?
Because we have the power! We run this shit. We can make or break someone. We have babies in our stomachs. We have babies come out of our vagina. We feed them from our titties. I think society has forgotten just how powerful women are. They still don’t respect us. We are under everybody, every time. We are always last. That is not fair.
We need to take that power back, and I want to help with all of that. A lot of people are like, “Oh, my god, all she does is rap about her pussy,” but they said nothing when men were rapping about their dicks for the last 20 years. Why can’t we do the same? I love that it’s becoming normalized now.
How would you describe the rap scene in Winston-Salem?
Winston is just so diverse. There is this hippie, psychedelic vibe. Everyone here is so fucking cool, but they all have their own vibe too. A lot of people get big on IG, and people cannot believe they come from Winston, which is just this small town in North Carolina. We really be setting trends! People always say, “When are you going to move to Atlanta or LA?” Nah, I am going to build a house here, as this is the motherland for creativity. It keeps me grounded, and it keeps my juices flowing. I am where I need to be.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? And does being a parent motivate you to go even harder?
It’s tough. I have a lot of support from her dad. We co-parent. My family and friends help out, too. When I was trying to get through school while making music, they all looked after her, and I’m so grateful.
I guess it’s about prioritizing your time. I’d love to have fun with my friends, but there’s stuff you have to sacrifice, too. I could sleep in, but if I want to record something and also take Zoe to daycare, then I need to wake my ass up early. You have to pull your finger out, but she gives me extra motivation.
In 10 years, I see myself doing soundtracks for animated movies. I will have my own cartoon. I will design furniture. I will set up an organization to help the artists in my city, as they deserve one. All of that. At some point, I want to cross over to performing at Beyoncé or Michael Jackson-level. It’s nice bouncing around the stage, but I want to really put on a show that people won’t forget.
Photos by Hunter McNeely.
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