Contrary to popular belief, most rappers aren’t dumb. What is dumb is how they are often afraid to have their music reflect that. When you can have someone like Plies who is a smart guy, purposely making himself look less intelligent than he is, we’re in a bad place as a culture. But fear not. Rapper Torae is smart, and has managed to fit his hood sensibilities within the same bars as the education his no nonsense momma made sure he collected. For those of you familiar with his work, you know he’s a hard-rhyming, slick-talking cat that is no slouch on the microphone. For those of you that don’t know, his debut solo album For The Record is your late pass. For both of you groups, The Planet sat with Torae to get to the heart of who he is, what he wants, and how serious he takes this Hip-Hop culture. Sit back and relax. The Definitive Torae. Volume 1. Enjoy.
Planet Ill: For the Record. What kind of imagery were you trying to conjure when you titled your album that?
Torae: I had a working title when I started. I always like to start my projects with a title so I know what I’m working towards. I had a working title for reflection and I knew that I was one to speak on the reflective nature, so to speak. With this being my official debut, I wanted to kind of tell a story on it. ; I wanted to give you insight into Torae. My reason for wanting to rap, some of the trials and tribulations. Just really give you me. I wanted to give you me on the album.
I knew that that was the subject matter I wanted to cover and when I recorded the song with Preme, when I did the song, “For The Record,” it just felt right. It just felt like it was making a statement. And I wrote a few different titles down on a page and For The Record just popped out so that’s what I went with. When I would say it to people, it felt right, people would belike, “Yeah I like that.”
Planet Ill: Your album starts at a graduation. In your mind, there is only one option after this: the mic. There’s also a dichotomy that runs through this album where your inflections are colloquial; you can hear the hood, but there is also an intelligence that you can’t mask. How do those two worlds combine for you as an emcee and how do you reach the bourgeoisie and rock the boulevard?
Torae: Well that’s just me. I try to give you no façade, no gimmicks nothing. I don’t even have a “stage name.” Torae is the same dude on the mic, on the camera, off the mic at the crib with my grandmother. Same dude. So that’s me. I grew up in the hood but my mom was no joke. I had to go to school. I did do a little college. I did work for the Department of Education. And I definitely have a bit of education; definitely a lot of competence. But I grew up in the P’s around the drug dealers, around the hustlers with the homies. I have a lot of friends that’s still in the streets. So it’s that duality. It’s me you get both sides of me, cause I’m not a one dimensional person. I’m not like a straight bookworm/nerd. I’m not a straight in the street knucklehead. I kind of teeter that fine line in between.
Planet Ill: So after all of the mixtapes and Double Barrel you get your own stage. And they got the nerve to give you everybody you wanted to have when you grew up! You got your Pete Rock, You got your Premier. You got DIAMOND D on there. How was it being on that microphone and having the producers that made the music you grew up on with you?
Torae: It was amazing man. You alluded to these other projects I did and those afforded me the opportunity to work with these guys. I couldn’t come in the game fresh and green and brand new and just be like, “Diamond, give me a beat.” But he saw the work ethic; he saw the passion when he seen me . You know I met Diamond in Germany. We was overseas, I was in front of 500, 600, 700 people when I met him. So he already knew what the ethic was like; he already knew that the focus was there.
So when it came time to get in the booth and make something happen, you know he was all for it. Same thing with Pete and obviously Preme was one of the first believers and one of the first people I worked with when I kinda popped on the scene.
You know I got a chance to work with everybody I wanted to work with for the most part and I got a chance to do what I really wanted to do was blend those two worlds. Cause I felt like the 9th Wonders was inspired by the Pete Rocks. I feel like the Marco Polo’s was inspired by the DJ Premiers. I feel like the Fatin’s was inspired by the Diamond Ds. Eric G was inspired by 9th so I was able to really channel the same energy from everybody cause everybody is an extension of each other that I worked with on the project. So it’s like I got some of my favorites of the generation that inspired me, and some of my favorites of the present day. Put it together and let it make sense.
Planet Ill: We’re at a place right now where we have a lot of old rappers hanging on to their old legends and hanging on to who they used to be. And your generation has yet to really assert itself and push that wave out to pasture. What do you think your role is as a young and hungry emcee as far as the evolution of this music?
Torae: I feel like once you get to a certain plateau, you should be looking to pass the baton. I’m not here to take any of my idols out. I want to be respected by them but at the same time I want to be embraced by them and for the most part, most of the guys that I have met and encountered on my journey have been stand up guys. Working with Masta Ace and working with the whole Duck Down label and to me getting embraced by Buckshot and Smif N Wessun and guys that are part of the reason why I even pursue music is dope.
At the same time, everybody has they time to shine and at some point I feel like the newer generation needs to be ushered in and if not, you gonna have Iverson crossing Jordan over.
Planet Ill: That’s what I’m getting at. Not the ones that acquiesce, but the ones who resist. Cause there’s a lot of people holding on and not trying to let you guys in.
Torae: Music has always been competitive; Hip-Hop especially. Very competitive, very braggadocios. Nobody wants to concede. Older guys feel like new guys need to come in and pay homage and I’m still this and that. Hip-Hop really hasn’t gotten to that place where it was able to kind of age itself out and let the next wave come in. We’re really just starting to see that now. I’m really interested in seeing how Jay-Z goes into his next wave of things. Obviously he’s still putting out records, but I want to see how he handles being a 50 year old rapper. He’s done a lot; he’s helped a few young cats get on but overall, these guys aren’t really in a position to be like, “alright, i’mma chill and let shorty rock.”
A lot of these guys didn’t make a whole lot of money. A lot of these guys are still relying on putting out songs to pay they bills so it’s like either you or me at this point. A lot of guys are just not in a position to usher in the new class. So it becomes a divide; it becomes a generational gap and it becomes we’re both vying for the same time when necessarily that’s not how it needs to be. Or shouldn’t be. It is what it is. I respect my elders but at the end of the day, I’m here now, let me cook.
Planet Ill: Get your old ass wiped!
Torae: Let me cook man I don’t want to do it to nobody.
Planet Ill: Give me five rappers that you think are NICE.
Torae: Present day or overall?
Planet Ill: Present day, we’re wiping out the old, we’re trying to usher in the new. Give me contemporaries.
Torae: Skyzoo is NICE, Skyzoo will rap your head off. Homeboy Sandman? NICE! Own style, unorthodox do his own thing, he doesn’t sound like anybody. Kendrick Lamar NICE. For a long time i feel like West Coast artists weren’t respected as lyricists. Like when you got a Rass Kass or you got a…
Planet Ill: Blip on the radar…
Torae: Yeah, like “Oh my gosh these guys sound like East Coast dudes!” When Tash was killing it with the Alcoholiks, people felt like they was an East Coast group. For him to be a West Coast representer he [Kendrick Lamar] he’s super nice to me. Who else is nice? Sha Stimuli, one of my Brooklyn brethren, he’s NICE. I feel like he’s respected but he’s still underrated. He had the weird thing of not having to come up in the ranks. When you heard of Sha he was already signed. So his thing is almost working in reverse
Planet Ill: He was on Slaughtahouse as Kid Dynamite, so he been around the music a long time.
Torae: Exactly! He got that, obviously he had his brother Lord Digga and then he did his thing, he had to work for it but it wasn’t like a scene, a New York underground scene the way it is now. When I first heard of Sha he was signed. He was on Virgin, then he was going back and forth with Def Jam, and now he’s kinda back at the beginning, but that wasn’t the beginning for him. So he’s in a weird place but as far as talent? That n***a is super-duper nice. Those are some of my faves right now.
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