Last week, the music video for "The Cloud," a track from Wale's 2010 mixtape More About Nothing, was released, giving singer/rapper/guitarist Tiara Thomas, who is featured on the song, her latest bit of buzz. The first big round of national attention came back in August, when the mixtape dropped.
"I didn’t know I was going to be on the mixtape," says Thomas, who is currently a student at Ball State University in Indiana. "I had no idea until he released the [tracklisting]. I got on Twitter and was like, 'Why do I have all of these new followers?'"
Since that time, the 21-year-old has been splitting her time between D.C. and Indiana: She comes to D.C. to work on her upcoming EP, due late summer, and then returns to Indiana for school. Instead of going to the beach with her friends during spring break this year, she came to D.C. and worked on her project at the Board Administration studios in Northeast.
"The only things people have heard from me are my YouTube videos, and 'The Cloud,'" she says. "I'll be happy when this project drops. People will be like, 'OK, that's what you've been doing."
Her collaboration with Wale started as most good things do: with a chance encounter inside of a nightclub in Atlanta.
“I was 20 at the time, I had to use a fake ID to get into the club,” Thomas recalls. “The ID belonged to some light-skinned girl named, Leah, but somehow I got in.”
Thomas and a friend, who was then serving as her manager, spotted Wale once they got inside. “I went up and started talking to him, and said, “Hey, can I get a picture?’ He was like ‘Where are you from?’ I was like, ‘Indiana.’ He was like ‘What are you doing here? I said ‘Networking.’”
Thomas told Wale she was a singer who also rapped, played guitar, and wrote her own songs, and they exchanged information--Wale told her to call him in the morning and leave him a voicemail message of her performing.
“My voice was gone, and I had to leave this man a voicemail rapping,’” she says. “But he was like, ‘It sounds good, send me some music.’ I was so hype.’”
That hypeness diminished considerably over the next three months, when she didn’t hear anything back. “Then, finally, like three months later, he hit me and said, ‘We’re watching your videos right now.’”
Thomas says she had made one last-ditch effort to grab the attention of Wale and the Board—she sent him and Board CEO Greg Harrison a video of her doing an acoustic version of Drake’s "Say Something," which they loved.
“Not long after that, I flew to New York and got in the studio with Wale, and we recorded this song for his mixtape that is now called ‘The Cloud,'" Thomas says. "I was just playing on my guitar in the studio, showing him random stuff—I never thought I’m about to be on the mixtape, but he was like ‘Let’s record that now,’ and we did it in like an hour."
Harrison says Thomas had about 120 Twitter followers when he met her. She now has 9060. “When 'The Cloud' was recorded, we did a UStream with everyong wilding out, and Wale was like, 'Go right now and follow Tiara Thomas on Twitter--she’s gonna be dope,’” he says
Other than “The Cloud,” Thomas is probably best known for the Drake cover that Wale flipped for, and an acoustic version of the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony/Biggie Smalls track "Notorious Thugs" that seamlessly morphs into a rendition of Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts."
That sort of interesting mix of influences is what has made everyone from Wale to Pharell take notice. “It was just crazy--I played for him, and he was really digging everything," Thomas says of playing for Pharrell in Miami recently. "He gave me a bunch of advice about making sure I can just blow everyone out of the water, because essentially anybody can pick up a guitar and play chords."
And, it's stuff like that--like getting advice from one-half of the Neptunes--that has made her a huge fish in the teeny tiny pond of Muncie, Indiana, where she says mullets and confederate flags abound.
"For the most part, people have been pretty supportive," she says. "I’m kind of in an awkward stage—people don’t know who I am, but they see what I’m doing. There are a few people who say stuff on Twitter, like, 'Oh, you’re a so-called celebrity. I never said that about myself. Why can’t I just be a college kid? I do what most normal students do."
The normal activities include eating ramen noodles and performing in school talent shows. Even though she's played U Street Music Hall in town, and the Highline Ballroom in New York City, she still rocks the Ball State University Theatre, if asked.
"Last year, I probably performed at my school 15 times, she says. "It was so annoying, though, because it's always at the same place every single time, and the same people are looking at this--eventually, they're gonna be like, 'Tiara, we're tired of you.' No one at school has really asked me lately, though. People say stuff like, 'We were gonna ask you do this, but we figured you’d be too busy." busy doing what? I go to school.
"I did have one person ask me do something I couldn't do. They didn’t have a sound system, so they wanted me to come up there with a cordless mic and lip sync. I said, 'I can’t do that.'"