PRO FILES: TORAE
Closing a near-decade of classic hip-hop with the Brooklyn MC
“An obstacle is just an obstacle. But once you’re trying to make an end goal, you got to get to that goal regardless of what’s in your way.” — Torae
Torae Carr — the popular and lingustic Brooklyn, New York MC known simply as Torae — is primed to release his best work to date: Entitled, his third solo album since 2008.
An extremely high-level MC with the respect of his peers and a remarkable ear for beats provided by legendary hip-hop producers, Torae is releasing Entitled on January 15th, 2016 — nearly eight years to the day since Daily Conversation, his first full-length solo record.
His January 2008 debut Daily Conversation featured a legitimate list of legends on production: DJ Premier, Eric G., 9th Wonder, Black Milk, Khrysis and Marco Polo as well as four vocal appearances from fellow Brooklyn, New York fan-favorite Skyzoo.
In November 2011, Torae followed up the Heart Failure EP with his critically-lauded second album For The Record. The second solo full-length reunited Torae with some of his go-to producers as well as tracks from Nottz, !llmind, Pete Rock, Large Professor and Diamond D.
In August 2012, Torae then released his Off The Record EP — comprised of cuts left off For The Record. Torae ended the year with his December 2012 Black Christmas EP, a five-track EP mastered by Khrysis.
In May 2014, Torae reunited with Skyzoo to release Barrel Brothers — a full-length collaboration album featuring music from Oh No and Jahlil Beats and lyrical appearances from Blu and Sean Price. Beyond fan appeal, the album also charted at #29 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
The production and feature-list of Entitled hints toward the best Torae yet: beats from Pete Rock, Nottz, !llmind, DJ Premier and Apollo Brown and features from Pharoahe Monch, Saul Williams and Phonte.
While executing the final details for Entitled, Torae took the time to speak about hip-hop, New York, integrity and the challenges associated with the blindness in his left eye — a diagnosis he has overcome since three years old.
- Born in Coney Island — Brooklyn, New York
- Thirty-seven years old
I’m excited about it. I feel like it’s my best project to date. I know that’s the cliché thing to say when you’re an artist and you got a new record that you’re pushing. But I feel like I hear the growth in not only the content, but in the delivery and the way I attack certain tracks.
The way that I come on the beat — I think you hear the growth in that. I think you hear the growth musically.
And definitely content-wise, with everything that’s been going on in the world for the last few years. I felt like it was my job to be in a position to talk about it.
Entitled for me is just one of those projects: I’ve been listening to it since I completed it, and that’s very rare for an artist. Because you write the songs; after you listen to the beat; after you mix, after you master — these are records you’ve heard over and over again. So at this point in the process, you’re really tired of the songs. But I still ride in my car everyday…
Like today, I was riding from the gym and I was listening to the album just because it’s that solid. I’m still very much a fan of dope hip-hop.
If I didn’t make this record, it would probably be one my favorite records because of the feel and the sound and how authentic it is.
I’m hoping everybody feels like me when it comes out Friday. I’m excited; I can’t wait to drop it and hear what people say. And I try to connect with my audience as much as possible — answering Tweets or answering Facebook’s or whatever whatever.
So I want it to get out there so I can see what the people feel and we’ll have some dialogue about it.
I think over the eight years that I’ve been releasing music and putting records out, my name is synonymous with the quality. I think that with any brand, any product — if you take the music and you make it a product and a commodity, then you’ve got to stand by it. It’s got to be something that you believe in.
Any time you see Torae’s name — whether it be a song, or a music video or a book — anything that I’m attached to — I just want to make sure that it’s synonymous with quality. And authenticity plays a big part in that.
I’m a native New Yorker — a Brooklyn, New York guy. I like to make sure that my music reflects that and my image reflects that, so there’s never a question as to what I am or what I rep.
ON NEW YORK EMCEEING
I feel like there’s not a lot of guys waving the flag or really representing New York as much as they should be. I think guys kind of get it misconstrued when you’re trying to reach other regions and you’re trying to broaded your audience — that you have to lose your self in that.
For me, it’s great if I’ve got a fan base in California; it’s great if I have a fan base down in the South. But I don’t want to gain that fan base by trying to emulate the music and the sound and the looks that they make.
I definitely try to keep it as New York as possible, as “Blue Yankee Fitted” as possible. And hopefully it will make the people gravitate towards me because they’re looking for that.
ON PRODUCTION SELECTION
I try to pride myself on picking the best beats, and beats that I feel like I can rock well. I’m sure some producers would say I’m picky, but the end-result has to be something that I can stand by. And so if we got to sit in the studio for an hour before we get a beat in, then that’s just the way it’s going to be.
Because I want to make sure that you’re satisfied with the product, I want to make sure I’m satisfied and most importantly I want to make sure the audience is satisfied.
My beat-picking selection is pretty simple: I listen to new guys; I listen to guys that I grew up listening to as far as the legendary guys. If somebody recommends somebody or I hear something on somebody’s project and I’m like, “Wow, who’s that?”
But I do kind of stick to the same crop of people to work with, just because I know that they understand what I’m looking for, what I’m trying to deliver. And they’re proven. They’ve been proven through the test of time.
Whether it’s a new guy like Praise or if it’s a guy that I’ve worked with for years like Marco Polo or if it’s a legend like Premier, I know that we’re going to get in there and we’re going to make something that the people rock with and that we’re going to love. Because we just have that chemistry and we have that repoire with each other.
ON “FOR THE RECORD” TRACK
I had so much fun making that record for an number of reasons. I had worked with Premier in the past on “Click” and “Get It Done”, but “For The Record” was going to be the first time we worked together exclusively with each other — because the other two records had Skyzoo featured on them.
For me, it was just one of those moments where I finally get to get in there and get a Primo joint and get off on it.
It turned out so good that it drove the direction of the album. And obviously it was the title track on the album, just because it was that — it was classic. It was classic Premier — from the cuts to the drums to the swing of the beat. I just went on there and I just wanted to be ferocious. And the beat was so amazing that I just needed to equally be as phenomenal on the track.
I always say: when making a song, my voice is the final instrument. So whatever the kick is saying, the hi-hat is saying, the chop or the loop or what have you — my voice has the be the final instrument; it has to fit in there perfectly.
“For The Record” is one of those joints for me; I do it every time I perform. I still listen to it and love it like the first day I heard it. And looking at it from four years later now, it’s still crazy.
It’s one of those records that people feel like is a timeless DJ Premier production and I’m just blessed to be a part of it.
ON MAKING MUSIC
It’s a marriage: music is a marriage, it can’t be one-sided. It’s like any other relationship. You got to make sure you give the beat a chance to do what it does; the beat got to give you a chance to do what you do. Once the beat is created, it’s your job to get in where you fit in, for lack of a better term.
For me, it’s always about never just attacking a track the same way I did the last one — it’s always about listening to the beat and the production and figuring out what it needs. What’s the next part of this song to take it to the top.
That’s what my process is as far as when I’m writing and listening to beats: just to add on to it. Just to take something that’s already incredible and take it to another level.
It’s had a huge impact on both my personal and artistic life. Being a parent is like the most important thing in the world for me. It’s the most incredible feeling: knowing that you have somebody that’s looking up to you and that you’re raising. And that every decision that you make is going to affect that person in some shape, form or fashion.
I think it just sharpens you — for me, at least. I can’t speak for everybody.
It makes you more responsible, it makes you focus more, it makes you dig in more.
And you also have to live what you talk. You can’t just be preaching one thing and then living a different way, because your kids are going to look at you and you’re going to be a hypocrite. I think that integrity and that authenticity definitely comes from the fact that I want to be the best role model possible for my kids.
I also want to be in a position where I can provide for them and do things that they deserve in their life and set them up as best as I can. It all comes with the territory of just making sure that you live by what you talk about and you’re putting your best foot forward and you’re positive energy out there. And hopefully it all comes back.
ON HIP-HOP AS OUTLET FOR YOUTH
I think the fact that I’m able to do what I do for a living is a blessing in itself. People tell me all the time, “Man, you missed the gravy train.” Or, “If you would’ve came out with your first record in 1992 as opposed to now…” But I can’t dwell on any of that. My thing is to figure out how to monetize what I feel like I’m here to do.
I think the landscape has changed as far as what’s mainstream; what’s commercially selling the most and most viable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a living doing what you love; there’s an audience.
I think with things like the internet and things like social media where we can connect to people — it’s just about doing the work to figure out where your fan base is. Doing the work to figure out what they’re looking for and how you can feed and service them. And then doing that to the best of your ability.
I’m definitely not the richest artist out there, but I make a living doing what I love each and every day.
Being in my eighth year as a professional recording artist, I think I’m a testament to standing the test of time and doing it your way and figuring out how to make it work.
ABOUT PARTIAL BLINDNESS
They say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And I’m not going to let anything get the best of me. I grew up, didn’t have vision in my left eye — but that didn’t stop me from doing everything that I wanted to do. For me as far as musically, it definitely didn’t have any bearing.
Whether you listen to the music or like the music or not, if you look at an artist like Fetty Wap — I think he’s very courageous for the way that he came out; he didn’t even wear prosthesis. He was just like, “This is me; this is who I am.” I definitely tip my hat and commend him for that.
Everybody has something — whether it be a physical ailment or not — everybody has something that they could use as a crutch or they could use as an anchor to hold them down.
Or: you can free yourself from all that, figure out a way to get out there and figure out a way to make it happen for yourself.
That’s what life is about: it’s about overcoming adversity. Everything is not going to be just handed to you for the most part. Everything is not going to go the way you want or be hunky dory.
It’s how you handle that adversity which defines who you are as a person and how you’re going to be in life.
For me, it’s like anything that comes my way — I’m going to figure out how to make it happen and get around it. An obstacle is just an obstacle. But once you’re trying to make an end goal, you got to get to that goal regardless of what’s in your way.