by Olivia Roman | photos © Keenan ‘KG’ Greer
Through grit, grind, and commitment to authenticity, independent rapper Tori WhoDat has earned her stripes in the Memphis rap scene, tirelessly building a brand and discography that champions positivity, resilience, and 901 pride. Her diverse, ever- growing fanbase—fittingly dubbed “Dat Krewe”— brilliantly illustrates her passion for writing music that “transcends barriers.” She lives in Memphis, Tennessee, and has spent much of her adult life working in the multifamily housing industry.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up, and what along the way guided you to choose music?
Initially, I wanted to be an athlete, and went all-in on basketball until I injured my ankle. Realizing the injury would never fully improve pushed me to get more invested in my writing.
I was also super involved in church at the time, strongly considering seminary, and was actually signed to a Christian rap label in high school. I kinda went from an athlete to trying to do something “safe” because I was so conflicted inside about my sexuality and how that aligned with my faith that I didn’t believe in myself entirely.
Beyond that, what a lot of people don’t know is that I had a lot of health issues in high school and graduated early. I reached a crossroads and decided to move back to Memphis with my family after graduation. Looking back on all the things I’ve experienced, I can now see that there was an underlying reason. I went through something, but I got through something at the same time. And that’s something to be grateful for.
Would you still identify yourself as a Christian?
I had asked myself that after having a moment watching Lil Nas X’s new music video “Montero.” I was talking to my girlfriend about it and felt ashamed to admit to it, but told her that when I first watched the video and saw those images, I felt offended. And I had to immediately question myself and that reaction. I was like, “Whoa. Christianity doesn’t even have that power over my life anymore…but does it?” Its ingrained in you.
I feel totally different about the video now after reflecting. I think it’s incredible how Lil Nas X has carried himself through this. He’s powerful. I love this generation; I love what’s coming. I’m so hopeful now—more than I’ve ever been. Do I appreciate a lot of the teachings of Jesus? Yeah! I definitely know there’s something greater than all of us, but what that is and if we call it God, I don’t know. I don’t feel the need to define it at this point in my life.
It’s been said that artists and their cities have give-and- take relationships; that artists influence their city and, in turn, are influenced by them. How has Memphis—the culture, the history, etc.— influenced you?
Memphis has such a rich musical legacy; it motivates you to level-up everything that you do. It keeps you on your toes! The culture here has created and influenced some of the greatest artists in history, so there’s a special spirit and sense of pride when you’re making music in Memphis—especially as an artist that makes songs with soul.
I’ve had opportunities to record at Royal Studios and access to Memphis Slim and Stax Records—there’s just no shortage of inspiration. Memphis is just the source— people talk about how a lot of artists have had to leave Memphis to “make it,” but the reality is, no they didn’t. The business infrastructure that was lacking here when I first started is different now. There’s a certain respect that the city carries—when you’re from here and repping it, you have to walk with it too.
What’s your favorite venue in Memphis for performing?
I’ve performed all over the city, and there’s been a moment everywhere. Like from Senses Nightclub, to Spectrum, the New Daisy—it’s hard to say one. Some of my biggest shows have been at Minglewood Hall. I threw up onstage there, opening for B.o.B.! It was my first radio show, the 2014 KISS iHeartradio show, in the middle of one of my biggest songs, “Krewedentials.” And I had a moment, turned around, puked, and continued the song on the hook. And after that I go, “Y’all probably don’t want me to crowd surf on this song like usual because I just threw up!” and I hear them chanting “Crowd surf, crowd surf!” So, I did! I’ve had crazy show-day moments like that everywhere.
Are you signed with a record label or are you independent and working with a small production team?
It’s been important for me to stick with people who see my heart instead of a dollar sign. Over the years there’s been opportunities for me to sign with different entities, but never without sacrificing something like creative control. I’ve had contracts in front of me trying to take 100% of my publishing—just ludicrous stuff! When you know what you have, you have to learn to be patient and let it come to you. You’ve got to strive for it, but you can’t be desperate for it. I’ve had the blessing of having two guys—Wheat Robinson and Keenan “KG” Greer, who work with Street Savvy Unlimited—since 2013, who have made me look signed through branding, artistic development, media, etc. Since the day I met them and sat down at Blues City Café at 2:00am after a night at Club 152, they’ve been my right and left hand. Any booking, shows, publication—anything that’s happened has literally been me at the computer really late at night, or my team, Wheat and KG.
Let’s talk Billboard! How did it feel to get that feature and have your vocals in “Heather Grey” compared to those of Frank Ocean, Halsey, and Lorde?
I was looking for ways to promote my new song, “Heather Grey,” pre-release, and knew that if I could get the right person to write about me, the right person could see it. So, I researched the writers of Billboard’s articles and DMed this one guy, Joe. We messaged, I sent him a private link for the unreleased song and asked if I could get a feature. He said, “We aren’t really doing stuff like that, but I’ll send it out to the other editors and see if they can fit it in.” Last I heard. I wake up to a text from Wheat; he just sent me the article. I immediately woke my girlfriend up. I was like, “I can’t even read this…I’m fucking in Billboard!” The writer and I, we’d never spoken! So, for him to have made such a strong statement about me and compare me to Frank Ocean—it was so special.
What has helped you stay creative during the pandemic? Many artists feel it has left them rather uninspired and unproductive.
Fixating on gratitude. Recognizing that I’m in such a blessed position regardless, especially comparatively speaking. I have a job that I was able to keep. It released that pressure. A lot of artists hit that creative wall because of the heaviness of the world and the pressure of financial strain. I feel like what kept me grounded was every day, waking up, looking at my apartment, and realizing that regardless of “Oh, I didn’t get to release my song and tour when I wanted to,” I am breathing, I have an income, and I am blessed, with nothing really to complain about when you put it in perspective.
Keep an eye out for new music and fun updates from Tori by following her on Spotify (Tori WhoDat), Instagram, and Twitter (both @toriwhodat)!