Four years have passed since Torae dropped the criminally slept on For The Record album and he couldn’t have been in a better place career-wise. His musical output has remained consistent whether it was on Admission Of Guilt mixtape or collaborative project along Skyzoo as Barrel Brothers. Meanwhile, daily hosting duties on Hip-Hop Nation Sirius XM radio show The Tor Guide is a clever way of actively being engaged with fans and gain some along the way. At the top of the year, he even made a slight foray into acting on VH1’s The Breaks and a few weeks later, drops the year’s first middle-of-the-road effort Entitled. His full-length solo sophomore project serves as Torae’s grand statement on his status in New York’s underground and Hip Hop at large. In an industry where rap has turned into an internet game more about “likes than dislikes,” Where Torae fails in artistic progression, but spits bars captivating enough to maintain attention with good production to boot.
Following a fairly humorous opening skit involving a job interview, Entitled kicks off with the Praise produced “Imperial Sound” featuring the always illustrious Saul Williams at the tail end. Torae is in full command of his delivery and wordplay as lays the album purpose. “Every Tweeter, every speaker say I'm doin' my thang / The units I slang, move it, remain, crew is the same / Out in Hollywood swingin', shit is Kool & the Gang / My Balmains got gratuitous hang, it's grown man sag / Traded the thots for stocks, that's grown man swag,” are bars that feature aggression, cockiness and honest wisdom. Those themes remain unflinching for Entitled hour and eight-minute runtime. This is a modernized take on classic New York Hip Hop. A rapper’s rapper album, this means every featured guest emcee turns into purposeful exercises in lyrical sparring. That includes the Phonte assisted “Clap Shit” or closer “What’s Love” featuring rhyme smith Pharoahe Monch. Even top tier New Orleans spitta 3D Na’tee lays down several quotables on “Crown.”
Regardless, Entitled is Torae’s show. There isn’t a better example than is a visceral analysis of the rap game through “R.E.A.L.” Torae’s spent a lot of time studying the business as founder and owner of his own indie label Internal Affairs. Watching the “artists revolve and label evolve” is something fairly common within the industry. “R.E.A.L.” is the proclamation of victory in maintaining his creative integrity and while successfully monetizing the art without a controlling machine. Interestingly enough, the same message of entitlement vs. hard work continues on the titular track featuring Teedra Moses. “Coney Island’s Finest” and “Troubled Times” with Mack Wilds on the hook are probably the most poignant moments Entitled gets. Bars like, “I use to work at Mcdonalds / I needed money and finger fucking with Ronalds / won’t have me locked in a box begging your honor / from phone calls to please talk to my momma / wouldn’t get into drama just to get to this loot / all I need is enough paper just to get in the stu,” displays vulnerability without sounding soft.
Torae has a good ear for beats that really compliment the type of rhyming he aspires to do on each track. Revered producers from !llmind and Pete Rock to Soul Council members Eric G and Nottz all provide intricate drum patterns to clever sample loops. Sonically, that means sounds feel a little redundant for some. Others probably won’t care much. One of the album's most interesting production moments involves Jahlil Beats for “Let ‘Em Know.” The heavy bass and simple chord progression that’s become a signature for Jahlil’s specific Southern / New York style. Torae convincingly delivers the aggression that type of track demands. Sensual slower moments like “Override” featuring Jarell Perry is made romantically atmospheric by E. Jones. Torae even opens up with “We got to go all the way LL...Like 95 LL.”
The Kickstarter fund Torae started last year raised more than $10,000 for Entitled. Thankfully, the album sounds as if every last cent went to the right place. Torae ensures every bar is as impactful as the last as he weaves gracefully through each production. The album’s concept doesn’t necessarily hold up much as a whole. However, this is a throwback record with modern conventions. By today’s standards, that may not be enough. But, those wanting this specific type of East Coast Hip Hop should find themselves satisfied. Anyone worrying if 2016 will lose momentum from the previous blockbuster year, Entitled should serve as slight hope.