Tommy Genesis Executes Her Vision
Holding Court With the Queen of Fetish Rap
- Interview: Reva Ochuba
- Photography: Amanda Charchian
Emerging from Vancouver’s independent art scene, the work of rapper Tommy Genesis is a tight braid of performance art, poetry, and fashion. Coining her genre of music as “fetish rap," Tommy Genesis is building a specific style of female empowerment, using her sweet, unassuming voice to stain the conventions of feminine vocal performance. Ever-confident, her music finds her coasting down the expansive avenues of defined selfhood. Genesis’ second album, World Vision 2, is her latest descent into the darker realms of counter-exploitation. Sitting comfortably on her throne of self-will, she is beauty, she is grace, and she is not to be fucked with.
Reva Ochuba met with Tommy Genesis in L.A.’s Garment District where she sat patiently in preparation for her shoot for SSENSE. While hair and makeup artists set to work, Genesis chatted with Ochuba about the derivations of her identity and the caveats of coming into existence.
You’ve talked a lot about isolation. Has loneliness directly influenced your work as an artist?
I’m not really a lonely person. I don’t get lonely, but I would say more boredom and that sort of isolation is not really an emotional state, it’s more of a restless one. Within all emotional tendencies, I tend to fulfill myself. Growing up in Canada, the isolation is more of not feeling like you belong and not really knowing your purpose or why you make things or why you’re not satisfied. I think a lot of creative people have childhoods like that. It feels almost like a creative process because you’re sort of building the base for who you are.
Do you think that sense of restlessness and not belonging has a lot to do with Canadian introversion?
A lot of Canadians have an easier lives than people in other parts of the world, so we’re spoiled to an extent. Having everything handed to you can make you introverted, and instead of being humble we resort to being nice. A lot of things get watered down, but what’s cool about it is there’s a lot of potential. You’re free to be anyone you want to be. You can make music, you can make art, you can go to school.
Did that feeling of being free encourage your transition from writing poetry into becoming the rapper, Tommy Genesis?
Music gives art legs. I don’t think you have to define it as just music, because it can also be art and fashion, too. Fashion can also be music; music can also be fashion. It’s all integrated, and for me, the objects or installations I created didn’t transcend my community. It was all fun and good, but there was a point where I organically started making audio works. I would use my voice a lot. I was also writing poetry on the side, so then I integrated that and it became music. It just kind of happened. I don’t listen to rap music, but music is a part of my life because I chose to make it so.
SoundCloud exists anywhere and everywhere. It’s a global community. Was it helpful in helping you reach those places you couldn’t access within an arm’s reach?
My live show is the strongest exhibition of my art, not Soundcloud. It’s visceral, it’s real, it’s human-to-human, it’s raw energy. I can scream if I want, or I can stop the song. I’m not interested in just playing my song and being present, I’m interested in giving you a performance. Everything is so structured and controlled online, but I can be completely wild at my shows. I get my adrenaline from giving that, which, I feel, is the most fun.
You can be a lot of people through music.
It’s like a transformer—this arm performs, this arm can rap, this leg likes to do this, it all comes together when I’m walking around doing this one thing. It’s cool because it lets me get to model, like this, and it allows me to stick my pinky in all these different things that I like.
You’ve branded your style of music as “fetish rap”—
Yeah, I just made it up. People have always thought I was too sexual. It isn’t intentional, I just have a way of taking it there. I have a lot of fetishes and often feel that girls in the spotlight are fetisihized, so by calling it “fetish rap” I’m letting everyone know that I’m aware. I’m aware that I’m being explicit, aware that you’re sexualizing me, aware that you’re objectifying me. But also, it’s just a cute term. Almost like an erotica novel became a rapper. There’s so many like sub-genres and subcultures and I’m coming up in my sub-genre and because I felt like there wasn’t a term for what I’m doing.
There’s a strength in being actively cognizant of your objectivity. Are you purposely sending a message advocating for the exploration of sexuality?
I think I’m presenting a very genuine message. Sometimes I do feel negative, but being negative, angry, aggressive can influence positive change. A lot of people have intricate desires and long for ways of expressing themselves. I don’t think I’m doing anything new. It’s shocking to somebody because it feels like maybe a sexual underground is crawling up and out, but it’s always been there. My sexuality has helped me deal with phases in my life. I’m just trying to exist in the purest, most genuine form of who I am and what makes me happy and where that falls will change as I evolve.
Is your personal style an expression of this? I read that you typically do a crop top and a mini skirt for this anime school girl look.
My outfits really do empower me. When I was in Europe, they lost my bag for three days. All I had was a white t-shirt the airport gave me. On the plane I was wearing sweatpants and a sweater, but it was really hot once I landed and they were like, “Here’s a white tee.” I didn’t think I cared about clothing and fashion, but if you take away my ability to dress myself how I want to, I don’t feel like myself. Even when I’m like visiting my grandparents and I have to cover up, I’m a different person.
But yeah, I like to pretend that I’m an anime princess. I’m obsessed with anime girls’ personalities. They’re always really fun-loving and jumping around in skirts and it’s like, Hell is opening and the world is falling apart but then the main girl has heart eyes whenever she sees the guys she likes. And the guy she likes is a demon. Nothing can penetrate her bubblegum soul. For me, that’s kind of how I feel. Nothing can bother me when I’m in my outfit. I’m like, “Well, the world is falling apart, but I’m just going to go dance.”
- Interview: Reva Ochuba
- Photography: Amanda Charchian
- Styling: Mar Peidro