Torae is set up to win in the most extraordinary way with the release of his long-awaited studio solo debut, For the Record. As an ‘80s baby, Rap produced by the likes of DJ Premier primarily inspired the Coney Island native to pick up a pen and pad. Now, Torae can actually say he’s worked with the legendary producer along with a number of other very impressive notables on his official debut album For The Record. His relatable bars laced with “everyday” imagery is what makes the Brooklyn emcee a contender- his quality skill, coupled with the perspective of everyone from Pete Rock to 9th Wonder and Nottz behind the boards makes Torae a champion. His affiliation with the Duck Down movement has increased his visibility but Torae is set on making his first album his own. With For The Record already drawing comparisons to Illmatic and Reasonable Doubt, he’s primed for ‘90s-inspired excellence in an industry filled with new millennium mediocrity.
HipHopDX was able to catch up with Torae at this month’s A3C and talk about his goals with the new album, rumored animosity between he and Skyzoo, and why he relates to the common man.
Photograph by Vincent Berthe.
HipHopDX: Is there an issue between you and Skyzoo? There have been murmurings on the internet regarding the status of your friendship as he doesn’t appear at all on your debut.
Torae: I check the blogs a little bit more than [Skyzoo] does. Obviously because my [For The Record] tracklisting just came out and I just kinda wanted to see what the general consensus was. So I saw people like, “Oh. Why isn’t Skyzoo on there?” Me and Skyzoo have easily had 20 records together. You know what I’m saying? It’s not like Skyzoo’s not on it and nobody else is. There’s nobody featured on my record that raps.
I got singers on my project and that’s just a conscious effort that I made, because I wanted to make my album. It is my album. Daily Conversation had four Torae/Skyzoo records. Four! On one project. And then on Double Barrel [with Marco Polo] I had a ton of features but in between those, Sky and I have done numerous records, so you know, I’m working on my projects, he’s working on his, we’re always gonna work together. That’s my guy. I just went on stage with him and did Puff’s dance while he did a [Notorious B.I.G.] verse. Niggas don’t do that, B! There’s no camaraderie in this shit. There’s too much competition but that’s my brother, I’d do whatever for Sky.
DX: Did you start off with a theme to For The Record before recording?
Torae: I always try to have a title and a theme before I start on a project so I know what I’m working towards. Like, when you’re trying to lose weight, you say, “I’m trying to lose five or 10 pounds.” You don’t just say you’re trying to lose weight. So I say, “Okay, this is the theme or the concept.” Then I start writing around that.
I know with this being my debut album -which a lot of people are calling my third, it’s my third project, but it’s my official debut album – for that, I wanted to write about my life, give people more of Torae, the person rather than just “dude from Brooklyn who raps.” I knew that I wanted to do that. I had a working title. It wasn’t the final title, but I had a working title of Reflection, because I knew I wanted to speak from a reflective nature about where I started where I am and where I went presently. After I did the record, “For the Record,” I liked the way it felt, pause, so I wrote out maybe five or six titles and For the Record jumped out.
DX: You’ve had so many projects and featured verses for this to be your debut LP after years in the industry. What kept you going?
Torae: When I’m passionate about something, it’s genuine. I don’t think I’ll ever not rap. I don’t think it’ll get to that point. Even as much as I find all the underhanded, not-so-glamorous parts of the business and even some of the relationships – me, myself will probably always have a rhyme written, or at least be able to spit something. It’s just the love.
DX: You have kids also, right?
Torae: I had the startling realization this weekend that my daughter will be 10 on her next birthday. And my son is three.
DX: After you had your daughter, considering the new responsibility, did you ever think about leaving Rap alone?
Torae: When I found out that my girl was pregnant, I was like, “Damn.” A switch went off and it was like, “Alright. Quit playing with this Rap shit and go get a job,” so I got like two jobs, had a crib paying wild expensive rent, a car note and once my daughter was born, years had passed and you know, the shit just be tugging at you. I never put it down but it was definitely a secondary thought. Then I just woke up like, “Okay, let’s go.”
DX: Before you had kids though, how serious was Rap to you?
Torae: I was in it but I always had a secondary thought… I thought it would come easier than it did. When I was in high school this job just fell into my lap [after working in a co-op program during the semester], then I got tired of it, then I started substituting as a power professional and then they were like, “We’ll pay for you to finish school.” So I went back and finished school for free, then they hired me full-time. So everything just happened so fast and so easily. I was always like Rap will happen but I wasn’t actively pursuing it as adamantly as I should’ve been. I was making money so that wasn’t an issue. I was doing it but I wasn’t like, going hard.
DX: So, when did you really start taking your Rap career seriously?
Torae: That was four and half years [after my daughter was born]. When she started pre-K, I was like, “When she goes in, and she’s gonna be in there for the full day and start schooling, then I can go back to it- and go hard.”
DX: Are you anxious at all about how For The Record will be received?
Torae: I’m good. There’s no pressure. Obviously I want people to enjoy the project as much as I do but I put a lot of energy and effort into it, so I want people to feel that but there’s no pressure. I’m excited. I’m ready for this shit to be out and for people to hear it. ‘Cause that’ll get that weight off. But there’s no pressure, I went in, I made the best project I could make at the time when I was making it and I feel like the people that have been following my career, they’re waiting on this record. From Daily to Double Barrel to the features, to this. I feel like it’s all a progression and this is where I’m at. This is the time for this project, so I feel like the Torae fans’ll get it, and I’ll get a couple new ones.
DX: There’s an ongoing theme throughout the album, if you’re paying attention…
Torae: If you sit and listen to it… I think that’s the problem with where today’s music is – where you can just skim an album on iTunes or just download “Track 7.” I made an album- I didn’t make 13 songs. It’s a cohesive thought if played all the way through. And I did that knowing that the obstacle was that people might not listen to it the way that I intend for them to listen to it, but for the people that do, they’ll get it off top and for the people that don’t, hopefully, they’ll revisit it in its entirety and see what it’s about.
Every skit on that album, as comical as it is, is real, it’s a real thought, a real action, a real experience that I’ve had. When I graduated high school, I was like, “In two years, when I’m on Rap City, it won’t matter if I went to college or college or not, ‘cause I’ma be popping.” You know and I’ve definitely broken up with females over music –that’s another skit – and I’ve had females call me back like, “Let’s try it again.” Then the people like, “Yo. I know you living. I heard you on the radio! I seen you in the magazines! Lemme hold something!” I got family members who hit me with that, I’m like, “Yo. I’m indie. This shit is smoke and mirrors. Don’t believe what you see on BET. Like ‘Oh. You got a record deal and you good.” That’s not it.’ So, I wrote from a real place I wrote from a reflective place from when I was 18, graduating high school until now, time has passed but I’m trying to give you that within the lines of the album as much as possible.
DX: How did you end up with people like DJ Premier on your debut album? That’s quite a feat.
Torae: I don’t know. [Laughs] I’ve been on the scene actively since 2007, from the Coalescence stuff to “Click” , “Get It Done” and that’s pretty much when people have started hearing about me. Over those years, I’ve met a lot of awesome people who inspired me to even make music. When it was time to do my album, everybody was genuinely eager and willing to work. There wasn’t a bunch of back and forth, I mean, I had obstacles with one or two people but that was mainly scheduling, or shit comes up, real life, but for the most part, it was like, “Yo Prem, I wanna do a joint.” “No problem.”
Yo. When I met Pete Rock, I introduced myself, like, “I’m a big fan, my name is Torae.” He was like, “Torae? [DJ Premier‘s] Torae? From ‘Click’? Yo. I been looking for you!” I was like, “Wow…” It’s a blessing to have these people on my project when I look at it. It’s still surreal to me to have these guys on my record. People like, “Oh it’s like [Nas‘] Illmatic!” It’s not Illmatic. It’s my Illmatic because it’s my debut project and it’s my life but I wasn’t trying to make Illmatic, I wasn’t trying to make [Jay-Z‘s] Reasonable Doubt. I make music because of those records, I wanna be an artist, and those producers crafted the sound that I was inspired by most.
Just like the new generation of cats I have with the Marcos, and the 9th Wonders and Khrysis, I feel like they were inspired by those same people in that same timeframe and they make the sound – currently – that we were inspired by when we were younger, so it’s like the best of the generation that inspired me and the generation of today meshed together and I don’t feel like it sounds like a patchwork of work. I think it sounds like a cohesive project because we’re all like-minded.
DX: You’ve stated that you make “blue collar rap.” Can you elaborate on that concept?
Torae: Every rapper’s not a rich rapper, very few rappers are rich. You know what I’m saying? I wasn’t aware of that as a kid. I looked at TV and believed everything I saw, I thought these niggas owned the [Mercedes] Benzes and the houses. I try to give more reality, you know? Like, “Nah fam. I got a car I pay a note on it. I got a decent little crib, pay rent. I go to Costco when I go food shopping.” I’m more of a working man’s rapper. I’m not popping bottles and blowing stacks and going to Stroker’s [Atlanta strip club] with 5,000 ones. But I’m not doing that. I make a decent wage in Hip Hop doing what the fuck I want to do, when I want to do it and that’s a blessing in itself.
When I realized that rapping wasn’t going to pay every single bill, I was able to get a job as an A&R consultant at [Soulspazm, a label and distribution company, and they don’t even stress me. They know I’m an artist. I go in when I can go in and we make things happen. I have that flexibility, then you know, I have the radio show [Rap Is Outta Control with DJ Eclipse on Sirius/XM], another passion of mine. I get to break new records and introduce people to artists that they might not be familiar with before hearing our show.
That’s just like me paying it back to the culture. I am the working man’s artist….the nigga that gets up and goes to work everyday, don’t wanna hear about you blowing 100 stacks. They don’t wanna hear that shit! ‘Cause that’s not their reality. But the things I talk about I feel like people can relate to moreso than… there’s definitely a lot of minimum wage people, people just getting by, and nine-to-fivers, than there are rich Rap fans, so I make my songs for them.