“When Marco lacin the beat, I’m lacin the booth, the war is on, n-gga, gather your troops,” Torae declares on his 2008 track “Casualty,” a hidden gem on his debut mixtape, Daily Conversation. With that quote he essentially lit the fuse on what is now a fifteen-year partnership with producer Marco Polo that was cemented on their 2009 full-length collaboration, Double Barrel.
Thanks to an intro from rap peer Emilio Rojas, the MC from Brooklyn’s Coney Island environs and the producer from Canada forged an alliance dedicated to leaving gunshot powder residue and muddy Timberland tracks all over the rap landscape.
“We did a really extended 28 or 29 date run in Europe,” Torae says of the tour with Masta Ace that sealed their friendship. “My first time going overseas. Marco and I, obviously, we had to share a room. We was the low men on the totem pole. And when you spend 30 days in a room in a van with a guy, either you love him or you hate him.”
Thankfully, for music fans, love won out.
“From then our friendship was solidified and we was like, yo, let’s do some music together. We looked at it like we was doing shit together anyway, but we just didn’t have a body of work. And so we went in and that’s how the initial Double Barrelwas created.”
In the time since, both have amassed an impressive catalog of solo work and collaborations. From Torae’s For The Record, Entitled &Barrel Brothers with Skyzoo, to Marco’s New Port Authority series and work with Masta Ace and Ruste Juxx, the music output has been non-stop.
Add to that ventures into the corporate side of music (Torae is President of the New York Chapter of The Recording Academy and Marco has crafted theme music for the NBA) and the pair has tallied more than enough experience to pour into a new project.
On September 22, they will release Midnight Run, inspired by the 1988 film starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. In this edition of Play X Play, they tell some stories behind some of their favorite tracks and even ones that didn’t make the final cut.
Marco Polo: Mr. Krum is one of the best [designers] out there right now. He’s done a lot of work for the former label Slice of Spice. He’s kind of like one of the go-to guys right now. He’s really good at what he does, based out of London, I believe.
And the pictures were taken by Mr. Serrano on the roof of my place and that turned into the cover.
Torae: Now you can take credit for that, because Marco never wants to leave his block or his building. It’s true. He was like, I can’t even lie: “Yo, my roof would be dope to shoot the pictures.”
Marco Polo: Those were just supposed to be press photos. We never intended to do an album cover shoot. We saw ’em and then we’re like, these might work. And then it just kind of happened. So sometimes unplanned is the best plan.
Torae: It’s my favorite on the album…this week. It varies, but that one is very high on the list for me. I love it. It has the “Making Up” sample in there that I get a chance to kind of play with in and out–pause. But yeah, it’s just high energy, really me talking shit, which is really what the album is. But I’m really drawn to the performance of the second verse. Sounds crazy talking about myself, but the performance on the second verse, I just love the drilling just overlapping just on top of each other, but just the rollout of it and the lines is crazy and it’s like homage to Biz Markie, and then I go to Cold Chillin’ and it’s a little word association type shit, but it’s also just me just being super aggressive. Marco came with the fire. I love that beat and I wanted it to be the first single, but we got a compromise. So we went with “The Return,” but it’s going to be the second single.
Marco Polo: Sounded a little bitter about that. He’s a little bitter, Jerry. Little bitter about that. There’s no singles no more, man. People pick their own singles.
Torae: Thats’ a fact. We shot a video though.
Marco Polo: It’s an MPC 2000 XL beat. Yeah, I don’t remember the day I made it. I know it’s one of those beats I saved. As a producer, you have beats you’ll just kind of send out and then your ones are like, “I’m not sending this to anybody.” That was one of those, “I’m not sending this to anybody” type beats. And it went to Tor and it was one of the first new records we started working on when we decided to make new music. That only got played to a few MCs before it ended up with Tor.
Torae: Yo, don’t be playing my beats for other rappers, bro.
Marco Polo: I played it for Lil Fame, but it wasn’t like, I think Fame passed on it, but that’s cool. It was like an energy thing. A lot of my beats are annoying because it has to be someone…my beats are loud and obnoxious sometimes, so it needs to have someone’s voice cut through it. So, it’s only certain MCs that I play my beats for sometimes. And that’s why Fame gets a lot of beats because he’s good at projecting. And anyway, ended up with Tor and it was meant to be, it came out crazy.
Marco Polo: I had that beat in the stash. I was so upset on TikTok seeing this other version of that beat going viral and it was such a trash beat. So I was like, if we do our version with my drums, we can overtake. That’s my goal. That’s kind of what inspired… like you got to do this so we can take out that version, because this shit knocks. And then Tor killed it.
Torae: When Marco hit me, we had eight records done. He was like, yo, we got eight records. They fire, let’s put out an EP. I was like, shit, if we got eight, we can get to 10. You know what I’m saying?
Marco Polo: That was the last two. That’s right.
Torae: So once we solidified the eight that we were going to use, and I listened through, Marco sent some joints and I was like, we just got to knock out two more. And “Oh no” was one of the newer joints, but Marco had been, he’s like a drug dealer. He’d been trying to peddle that beat for a while to me, “Yo, you, fuck with this? You fuck with this?” And then finally, once we got to eight, we got to knock out two more, I was like, okay, there’s a place for this on this project. Super high energy. Like Marco said, the sample is super familiar and known and it’s already been a viral moment. So we’ll see what happens with our version. But I just love it because every time I hear it, I just think of somebody falling off their bike or the fucking front tire coming off a car. It’s wild shit. It’s just chaotic.
Torae: So the original version of “Mardi Gras” was actually a joint that Marco and I did a while ago. It’s one of my favorite Marco beats. I’m like, yo, this beat is amazing. If we do a new album, I got to use this beat. If I do an album, let me get the beat. So we do the song.
Marco hits me one day, he like, yo, I played the beat for Phonte, he wanted to record it. He’s like, you cool? And I was like, hell yeah, that’s Phonte, do that. You know what I’m saying? And the song ended up being “So Help Me, God” from Phonte’s [ No News Is Good News].
Marco Polo: “Mardi Gras” was written to that? I forgot. Okay, “So Help Me God” by Phonte was sent to Tor and he wrote “Mardi Gras” to it and then I gave the beat to Phonte. And now Tor spit those bars over this beat, which has also been rapped on by many people.
Torae: So Marco hit me, he was like, Phonte. I’m like, absolutely. Phonte is one of my favorites. He’s crazy. I know the record is going to be crazy. The beat is already nuts. So then Marco says, but I’m going to remix it because I don’t want to lose the song. So then Marco remixes it, he sends me this beat that worked with what I did. And I was like, well, let me come in and recut it. And when I recut it, I kind of rearranged the structure of it, but no new rhymes or nothing like that. But I did rearrange the structure, And so yeah, Phonte got a crazy record out of it. We got a crazy record out of it. And then Marco can talk about everybody who rhymed on it. Marco was a recycler.
Marco Polo: Yeah, I was insane doing those when I was doing producer albums. I would switch beats on people all the time and those days are over, I’m not doing it.
HHDX: So the beat existed before the song title. I was going to ask you why he didn’t go the predictable route and sample Bob James.
Marco Polo: No, Bob James. I don’t want to get sued. But wait, Bob James is on Tracklib now, but no. So the crazy thing about–some nerd stuff–the drum break you’re referring to for “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” it’s a song written by Paul Simon. So even if you sample it, you have to clear it with Paul Simon and Bob James. It’s insane. So it’s like a triple “you’re fucked.” It sucks because I love those drums. And the Paul Simon original sounds nothing like the Bob James version. That’s what’s annoying. There’s no drums. It’s trash. Bob James version is amazing.
HHDX: Tor, on this one you say “Industry Bitch tried to fuck me for my publishing.” Since everything you say is real, can you expound on that?
Torae: Everything’s real. What I did though, I switched the industry out. So it wasn’t a music thing, it was a movie thing, rather it was in that industry, acting world. But that’s as much as you’re going to get out. Changed the names and the industry to protect the innocent. Just some casting room couch type shit. You hear those stories, I don’t know if you ever hear it or do you rarely hear it from a male’s perspective, but it definitely was on some, like “What we doing?” and I was like, we not doing that.
HHDX: You also say say, “I did real records with Sean, no made up shit.” What do you remember about working with Sean Price on “Hold Up” from Double Barrel?
Marco: Peter Rosenberg got his show on Hot 97 and he hit me up. He’s like, yo, can you do a promo and get [Masta] Ace on it? I made that beat for Rosenberg. Ace did a verse and Ace killed it. And then Rosenberg I think played it a couple times and I was like, fuck this, I’m stealing this back for a Double Barrel. Tor got on it and Sean got on it. And that’s how that happened. I basically did a promo for Peter Rosenberg, shout outs to Rosenberg, and we took it back and made it a song for our record.
Torae: I actually remember that I did two different verses for this song, which is rare. I did something and it was dope. And then we were like, yo, it’ll be ill to get Sean on this shit, right? And Sean was ridiculously scorching at the time, but also our brother…
Marco Polo: Thankfully, he fucked with both of us.
Torae: That was important. In Sean fashion, he said he was going to come to the studio a couple times [but] he didn’t show up, shit like that. But he got it done. And then once it was done and I had Sean and Ace on it, I was like, oh nah, I want to pay my respect to both of them. And that’s why you get the “Braniac dum dums” reference in there and you get the Sean Price reference in there from his joint. I just wanted to show my love to two of my Brooklyn superheroes. And so that’s one of my favorite joints. People love that record man and I miss Sean Crazily.
Marco Polo: He showed up to my house once with a bag of fish and said throw that in the freezer. I was like. what is happening right now? I have moments with Sean. He was a cool dude. I miss that guy.
“Grey Sheep” F/ Dres Of Black Sheep
HHDX: Where the hell did you find the “Gimme The Finga” sample?
Marco Polo: That’s an old Canadian rock group. That’s where the sample comes from. I bought that album and I heard that and I just made the beat and it was hard as hell. And then we made the song and we’re like, we got to get Dres on it. Right? And then he came through.
Torae: So when Marco makes beats and he sends the beats, the titles are always really weird. It’s a trick.
Marco Polo: Amazing beat titles I have. Don’t let him say anything else.
Torae: No, but they’re always odd and shit, right. But they make sense to you. And this particular joint was titled “Grey Sheep.”
Marco Polo: Did I call it “Grey Sheep”? Yep. Oh shit.
Torae: So as soon as I hear it, I’m like, oh, okay. I was like, this is the joint they flipped. I was like, you know what, I’m going to stick to the script on this one. And so in there there’s like, “We don’t punch girls, we don’t punch a clock” again, just kind of borrowing lines from Dres and shit. And then once it was done, it was like, yeah, nah, we got to get Dres on it. But not in a traditional rap feature way.
The record was already done. And that’s my guy, we birthday twins, he’s a Pisces like me, March 18th birthday twins. And I did something for him and Jarobi when they was doing evitaN. And so he kind of owed me a little favor anyway, but the record felt like it didn’t need much. And so for one, we just wanted Dres to hear it and just be like, I fuck with this. And then also I’m just a fan of, especially you think about the Native Tongues, how they would be in the studio with each other and jump on a record, but not necessarily to rap on it. Talk shit, adlib, verse. We did the same thing with Rah Digga on “You Ready” on my album [For The Record] that Marco produced.
Marco Polo: Kind of like a little, little co-sign from him because to be clear, we’re both big fans of the first Black Sheep album. It’s one of the greatest records of all time.
Torae: I thought it’d be cool just to have a salute and show him respect, but show that he fucked with it too. And like I said, we had Rah Digga do it on another record, so now it’s kind of like a thing of ours.
Marco Polo: This is a tough one for Torae. Are we telling the whole story?
Torae: You know how to leave out names to protect the innocent and the guilty.
Marco Polo: That originally was a whole other beat. We’re going to leak the original version of that song. I, for whatever reason, one day, and I like to do this sometimes, I remade the beat for “Rappaz R. N. Dainja” by KRS- ONE. That’s how I learn shit. So, I redid it, but always in the process of me redoing someone’s beat, it becomes my own. I do my own thing and then it’s like, oh, okay, this is your interpretation.
Anyway, he made a song on it. We fucking loved it. We loved that version of that song. And for, let’s say industry reasons and political reasons…
Torae: Political industry reasons..
Marco Polo: It could not be released for many reasons. But we still want people to hear it. And we’re actually going to throw that out to the universe soon.
Anyway, so it hurt his soul that I had to switch the beat on it. And I love the new version. I still think it’s dope. But once you have your hearts–people like it though. Sha The Beat Yoda did the scratches. So we had to remix it, but the world will be able to hear both versions and the original version will actually be dropping for free. We’re just going to give it away for free. Enjoy it. Play it.
HHDX: So, given that we’ve come full circle, going from “Danger” to “More Danger,” how does Midnight Run stamp the evolution of Marco Polo and Torae compared to Double Barrel?
Marco Polo: I think it’s the perfect progression of maintaining exactly what we did the first time, but better and more updated and the album length is perfect to me. It’s got that Illmatic, like it might be nine songs. We have a bonus song on the vinyl, “Go Brooklyn,” so it’s 10 songs. It’s perfect.
DJ Linx hit me, he did the scratches on “Hold up,” and I trust certain opinions and he said it’s better than the first one. I didn’t even know that was possible.
Torea: Really? I gotta holla at Linx. That brings a thug tear to my eye.
Marco Polo: And he’s so picky. Shouts out to Linx. So yeah, I am really happy. I feel like if you like that first album, you’re going to get exactly what you were hoping to get, in my humble opinion.
Torae: I think this brand right here is very specific and I feel like if we did anything outside of what the people kind of know this brand to be, it wouldn’t be received well. And once we finally got on the same page with that, I echo everything Marco said. It’s perfect.
Midnight Run is streaming now on all major platforms.