There’s always been an LL Cool J-type quality to Coney Island emcee, Torae. Mama said Knock You Out-type LL. His 2009 Duck Down Records album, Double Barrel — with its Marco Polo-laced, quintessential boom-bap backdrop and Tor’s relentless lyrical ferocity devastating track after track — is a top shelf concoction of beats and rhymes measuring up to every ounce of critical praise received. Now, for his latest release, Heart Failure, Torae’s baby-faced brolicness down shifts into full “Ladies Love” mode, tackling amore’s surprises and segues just in time for Valentines Day.
Heart Failure rocks largely linear, journeying from jump-off’s introduction to jumping into the Craftmatic to jumping the broom. Project opener, “Outta Here” (featuring Mike Shorey) breezes in with Tor kicking it to a breezy in a lounge. “And it’s no pressure at all / It’s no stress / I ain’t here to sweat you at all / Well, maybe sweat your perm out that is / You the type that has me change my Facebook status.” The relationship progresses over “Fresh”’s angelic strings and piano keys and the crashing snare and sped up soul sample on the Carlitta Durand-assisted, “For You” preludes the inevitable smash. “The temptations of flesh / You gone make me sin / Then I’ma have to repent / Then do it over again / Then do it over again / You such bad habit / When you want to Craftmatic / And I’m such an ass-addict / I’ma let your ass have it,” raps Torae on the Khrysis-produced “Let It Go.”
Progress halts on “Popular Demand”, where, predictably, career demands as an entertainer causes static on the home front. DJ Spinna delivers that classic chick track groove with layers of cascading keys and subtle synth blips providing immediate reason to get your two step on — easily one of the mixtape’s strongest offerings. “I’m over time grinding to handle my business / And all I ever here is ‘You out with these bitches‘ / You awful suspicious / And it’s all so ridiculous / Of course you seen a nigga posed up in some pictures / They copped the CDs / Got tees and the tickets / I’m not supposed to flick it? / I’m not supposed to kick it? / You’re not supposed to trip,” Torae kicks on “Love Is War,” finally adding a touch of insight into this project.
The severe lack of visceral commentary is Heart Failure’s biggest issue. For most of the retail mixtape, Torae forays into forgettable territory, kicking obvious, if not generic, love raps that seldom creep towards compelling. “When we met you was a saint like Nicholas,” he says on “Point Of View” shallowly depicting the relationship verging on a break-up. “If love’s blind then I’m Stevie for real / And I don’t need my sight to see how I feel,” he says on “Love You”, expectedly reconciling despite the trying times. At almost every junction down this conceptual relationship, Da Young Veteran chooses to convey the evident over the interesting. He sounds as if he’s locked in cruise control, never fully going in stylistically or contextually, rarely resonating on any level deeper than nostalgia — miles away from the emcee that vividly depicted the gripping grittiness of his hometown neighborhood on Double Barrel’s “Coney Island” for example. At it’s worst, Heart Failure is as manufactured as…well…Valentines Day.
Here’s the good news: while sometimes sonically redundant, the overall vibe is unquestionably appreciated. It’s smooth and sultry and absolutely head-nod inducing. It’s completely user-friendly and reuniting with Eric G. (who produced standout cuts, “Callin’ Me” and “Think About It” off of Torae’s Daily Conversation) for four songs adds volumes to the audial consistency. The Superbad produced, “This Is” featuring Phonte and Yahzarah (sampling Shalamar’s “This Is For The Lover In You”) just may be one of the most timeless tracks Torae’s ever released, remaining refreshing after repeated spins. But with few rays of imagination or creative crannies that journey past the obvious angles approached on nearly all of today’s relationship-Rap swill, Heart Failure inevitably swims in the murk with the rest of the mediocrity: an unoffensive one-time listen.