Traditionally, North Carolina has been commonly referred to as “The Hoop State” amongst many basketball recruiting circles, and hell, even on a national level at this point. From Michael Jordan’s unparalleled dominance as a professional athlete to LeVelle Moton’s game-changing character as a leader, on and off the court, the goal for Carolinians has always been more. More in the sense of never being satisfied. And who better to personify this insatiable hunger for success than TiaCorine, Winston-Salem’s buzzing artist on the rise.
Yes, North Carolina is home to a bevy of notable hitmakers within the music industry. In the same breath, a number of artists have risen to prominence and quietly faded into the dark abyss. Witnessing TiaCorine’s come-up from a distance is like binge-watching your favorite Netflix series, you never want the show to end. Seriously, how can you not root for her? She’s a phenomenal mother, an HBCU graduate who loves anime, and she possesses a sense of tonal versatility that’s uniquely embraced. But if you ask Tia, it’s the melodic riffs for me, or as she states, “My music and my voice are a breath of fresh air.”
In the midst of tumultuous times, maybe TiaCorine’s pop-tinged vocals are what’s needed to save the world. After all, not all heroes wear capes, some just require a recording booth and opportunity.
Growing up in North Carolina – the home to J.Cole, DaBaby, Rapsody and many more – TiaCorine started rapping by chance, not trade. “When I first got in the booth, I was like 16. I was with my homies who were always recording,” Tia shares. “They were recording in the closet and I decided to give it a shot, just to see how my voice would sound,” she continues. After a two year hiatus from making music to raise her daughter [Zoë], Tia returned to that experimental moment in her life that ultimately led to birthing the record that would catalyze her career to new levels, ‘Lotto.’
Since then, Tia has managed to purchase a home with no deal while supporting her day-to-day life with streaming money and features, which is the abridged version of her captioned Instagram post thanking her fans for their continued support. With the subtle controversy behind Drake’s imitative feat [‘Popstar’] leading up to the release of 34Corine, Tia’s debut project, her pre-existing wave of momentum was amplified ten-fold, eventually translating to nods of approval from the likes of A$AP Rocky, Rico Nasty and SZA.
The music speaks for itself. On wax, Tia’s voice serves as an instrument that enhances the overall production value of whatever she touches. At the drop of a dime, she knows just what to say, swaying between spacey ballads and warped 808s. “It’s like my mind is a dictionary flipping through the pages and it just all comes together.”
At this stage in her young career, Tia doesn’t get caught up in the hype. Don’t get me wrong, she’s wise enough to see the value behind being mentioned in the limelight, but humble enough to still desire more.
After speaking with Tia for nearly 30-minutes, she seems like the kind of person to know exactly what they desire but isn’t hellbent on making it obvious: she just executes her vision.
Our conversation, lightly edited for context and clarity, follows below.
It’s been nearly five months since 34Corine came out. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an artist since that debut EP release?
Content is important. You can drop something and you can have fans, but if you’re not consistent – even if it’s just photos – you can’t rely on just your management to make you go up. You can’t relax, you still have to think like you’re alone. So, the biggest thing for me is still knowing that I have to go harder and harder. Never being relaxed, not even for a second.
When did you first begin to realize your full potential as an artist?
Really when I was younger, like around fourth grade. I wanted to be a singer, so I started out singing. When I first got in the booth, I was like 16. I was with my homies who were always recording. They were recording in the closet and I decided to give it a shot, just to see how my voice would sound. I wrote something, got on there and heard how my voice sounded and that was it. It was so fun and just easy, then I fell in love. I didn’t know where I was going with it but it’s like yo, it just made sense. I had style. Back then, I always dressed weird. I look different, my music sounds different, I’m funny, I got charisma, people always gravitate towards me. She’s [Tia points to her daughter, Zoë] almost just like me, everybody loves her. When I was a kid, I was at everybody’s birthday party, I was cool with everyone.
How do you feel about social media and its role in our day-to-day life? Personally, I feel like we can’t live without it.
Yeah, and it’s kind of fucked up. I feel like as an artist, I won’t say some people aren’t that talented, but it’s just the fact that they’re consistent on Instagram. Some people are just comfortable doing clout chasing shit, doing stuff to get attention. It’s not even like they care. A lot of artists don’t even care about the music, they just like the fact that you can make a lot of money, be famous and wear cool clothes. I feel like there’s no real passion. Cuz’ a nigga like me, they think it’s easy to post everyday – yeah, if you’re not doing nothing. I still do shit: I still direct my videos, I edit, I record myself, I got my kid, I just be doing shit. If I strictly just had to make music and not take care of anything else, then yeah, I would be bored and probably post myself the majority of the time. I have a life outside of this and I care about my music, so I’m just not gonna do stuff for attention.
‘Avril Lavigne’ amplifies your love for that rockstar aesthetic. With this in mind, do you plan on merging punk subculture and Hip-hop more often?
Yes, that’s the main reason why I put it in the EP and I only have one song like that. I wanted people to get familiar with “Oh wait, she does this sound too!?” I didn’t just want to randomly pop out on the album with some cyberpunk rock type stuff and they be thrown off. I want to ease people into all these different sounds that I do. The album is definitely going to have more rock sounds, more guitar, more of that P!nk feel, almost like a Gwen Stefani feel. That’s what I’ve been experimenting with lately. So yeah, I’m riding that line between rap and pop.
Speaking of your album, how soon can we expect it?
I’m in album mode. I’ve literally been working on an album since last year because the EP was pretty much already done. I just had to put it together. I might be dropping a project with Kenny, maybe before the album. Me and Kenny [Kenny Beats] have two more songs left.
Personally, what do mainstream mentions do for your ego? I know that has to be a gratifying feeling to get acknowledged by someone that’s literally in your playlist.
Honestly, it’s weird because everyone is like, “How do you feel,” and I get excited, but then it’s like ok, now what? I have a long way to go, it’s just more like motivation. Dang, these people are really listening to me, and they inspire me. At the same time, not to sound ungrateful, but it’s like does it really mean anything? They can shout me out all they want, but is that putting more money in my pocket right now, is that making me stream a lot right now – I still have the same amount of followers. It’s cool, but it’s just cool. I want shit that really matters: I mean, I’m grateful – it put me in magazines, it’s cool, but I have to set my mind on longevity shit and be realistic with myself. People get lost in the sauce, I don’t want to get lost in the sauce just because people that fuck with me shouted me out. It’s almost like having a lot of money but you tell yourself that you’re broke, so you don’t do too much.
Your sense of individuality arguably brought you to this point in your career. In a trendy industry where clout tends to outweigh talent, what makes TiaCorine unique?
I really think it’s the fact that I don’t sound like anybody. People will say I sound familiar to somebody’s sound, but I can switch up so many times. I have great versatility: I can rap hard or I can sing-rap, I can do this, I can do that on any beat. I have a Tia sound, I add my own twist to everything. My music and my voice are a breath of fresh air, it’s something fresh. That’s what makes me different, and also my videos. They’re not basic, me half-naked shaking my ass, just doing the regular thing you see females do. Not saying that’s not cool, but because I do take a different approach, I’m comfortable wearing baggy clothes because I know I still look good. I don’t need to be sexy all the time to sell. I feel like it’s cuz’ I’m all the way myself, I don’t care what nobody thinks.
Sonically, your music exudes a badass demeanor, but with melodic riffs. Are you more of a lover or fighter?
I feel like I’m right in between because I’m a Gemini. We have two different sides. We can be really sweet sometimes, we can be really mean or we can be in the middle, we can switch [Tia laughs]. It just depends on the situation, it depends on the element.
Outside of the typical studio environment, where do you allow yourself to tap into your creativity?
Really just through experiences: living in the moment. Sometimes I’ll just be driving and I’ll hear an old song or see something that gives me a bar and I’ll put it in my phone. I have random bars scattered throughout my notes. Just living, just existing and having conversations with my friends. I really try to live life in every moment. I have a photographic memory, so when I write music or listen to beats, I close my eyes and I see pictures. I’ll see these pictures and then I’ll create a story and just start seeing words. It’s like my mind is a dictionary flipping through the pages and it just all comes together. I’m matching these words to a picture, but then at the same time I have to fit these words into a pocket, switch em’ around like a puzzle and find the best words to put in each spot.
The phrase “life imitates art” gives off the notion that real-life events are inspired by some form of artistic expression. Do you see any connection or parallel between anime and the real world? You’d be surprised how many lessons are hidden within televised animation.
That’s crazy, I swear to God I just said the same thing last night. Me and my friends were literally just having this conversation. If you pay attention close enough, you’ll see this is what’s happening right now. I definitely think that, that’s why I fuck with anime.
What’s the craziest experience you had while attending Winston-Salem State University?
The craziest experience was really the day I graduated. That same day, I had a performance in Ohio at this college. As soon as I walked off stage and graduated, I had to get in the car and drive eight hours to this college in Ohio to perform. It’s like I got off the stage and got right back on the stage the same day. I had like an hour to change and everything, that was it. I had people looking out for me, so I hired a driver.
At this stage in your career, do you consider yourself famous?
It’s crazy cuz’ people think I’ve been doing this for years, but really I just started dropping music two years ago. I’ve been practicing, I’ve been tryna get a select sound. When I first started rapping, I had this rap sound, but I knew that wasn’t me. I worked so long because I knew that was important, I studied this shit. You have to have your own identity before you get in the game. You need to have your own vision before you have people managing you and telling you what to do or you will be all over the place. And then you won’t know who you are and just be lost.
When did you first identify that TiaCorine sound?
I had stopped rapping for two years because I had my daughter. I just figured I wouldn’t rap no more, I’d probably just graduate. Then one random night my homie invited me to the studio. My first time making something, that voice just came back by itself, it was just there. Right after I had her [Zoë], it was at that moment. I just knew when I heard my voice again after two years, I just couldn’t let it go.
With having a five-year-old daughter, how have you managed to balance life as a parent and creative?
That’s hard, because now that I think about it: going to school full-time, working full-time and having her, it’s almost like I don’t know, I might be a superhuman. I don’t know how I do this. It’s like in my mind, I don’t have any other choice, you have to do it, that’s all I know. You have to make time for her, you have to make time for music, you have to make time for yourself. It’s just in me. I think it may be a reflex. I just know what to do and when to do it. I feel like I really might just be chosen, it’s just in me to know what to do. I’m just spiritually connected to the universe and myself. Before I make decisions I think about how it affects everybody, I don’t just go and do stuff.
Some people wanna bring up my age and it’s like, I feel like it was meant for me to be this age at this time because if I was 21 tryna be like this, I don’t even know how that would be. I think I was just meant to be here at this time. It’s all about timing. I had to go through these things. I went through a lot of fucked up shit, even with my music when I first started. But I had to go through that stuff to learn. Now that I’m in this space, I know what to do, I know what to look out for. I could’ve been on when I dropped ‘Lotto’. Every label flew me out: Interscope, Def Jam – bruh, any label you can think of – Sony, everybody.
That seems like a dream come true, having that many different offers on the table. Why South Coast Music Group?
Well, just because you’re getting signed that doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. In order to have a deal that makes sense for you and your future you have to have a thing called leverage. You don’t really have that much leverage when you have one song. Even though I had over five million streams, going viral on TikTok, everything was natural – it’s just that those deals don’t benefit me in the long run. It was just like okay, we see you poppin’ now, we’ll sign you and might just put you on the shelf because we don’t really know, because I didn’t have a project out. You need a thing called artist development, and at that time I needed more financial help to push me, but I wasn’t ready to sign a deal, because that would’ve f’d me up. If I would’ve signed, I would’ve risked being put on the shelf. At that time, I needed to build my brand before signing. SCMG had been looking at me before labels started flying me out. Also, they’re from North Carolina, so if I need anything, most of the time it’s right here. Just seeing what they did with Toosii, seeing the whole process, they actually care about your whole craft.