The tirades and dialogues continue on the authenticity of new age Hip-Hop, but while some remain dubious, Brooklyn native Torae is convinced that it’s present and thriving more than ever. The MC’s offerings to the culture may have something to do with it. Okay, they have a lot to do with it.
Juxtaposing grassroots influenced lyricism with modern day substance and wit, Torae is a force to be reckoned with. Corny metaphors aside, the MC has bars, period. HipHopWired.com sat down with Torae to talk about the stereotypes and labels of his sound, and he dropped gems on what it was like working with Hip-Hop pioneers like Pete Rock and DJ Premier, as well as 9th Wonder. He also talks about the new-found unity within the culture and his new venture as a radio personality.
”I don’t make music to fit in, I don’t make songs for the radio, I don’t make my album so I can be on the best album of the year list, I don’t do my photo-shoots so I can be on the cover of magazines,” says Torae.
“I do what I do and if people gravitate towards it and accept it that’s great, but at the end of the day I don’t want to follow suit. I want to make dope music and have that affect people’s lives.
”I think a lot of artists are chasing a façade of what they think the industry is. I want to create the soundtrack to your life…when you’re having great times, when you’re having bad times.”
Peep The Exclusive Interview With Torae After The Break!
HipHopWired.com: What’s the significance of this line for you: “The real sh*%t started creeping back.”
Torae: That line is pretty straightforward. That line, “The real sh*%t started creping’ back,” meaning there’s a lot of non-authentic sound or a more watered down version of music on the radio and the mainstream…but little by little you get glimpses of the real sh*@t. Dope beats, dope rhymes, ill records, ill concepts. You get a Jay Electronica every once in awhile, get a new Common every once in awhile, a new Kweli record so I say little by little the real sh*%t is kind of creppin’ back into the forefront. We definitely have a long ways to go, but piece by piece.
HipHopWired.com: You’ve worked with Hip-Hop legends (Pete Rock, 9th Wonder etc) how did you cultivate these relationships?
Torae: Just being me. Those relationships, and thank God that those are relationships, and more than just working relationships, just being on the scene and putting out records and being real adamant about trying to bring something to the table. I wasn’t really trying to take away anything from Hip-Hop. I was trying to add on to it. I think that those guys realized that. A friendship was formed. Preem is like the homie-homie. That’s my dude, Pete is my dude, when he comes to Coney Island he hit me up. I’m blessed that these guys are willing to work with me and these are people that I can hit up on a regular basis.
HipHopWired.com: They must drop a lot of knowledge and stories from Hip-Hop’s early days…what was the most awe-inspiring or shocking story that you heard?
Torae: Premo will go on an hour-long tangent just on the first time he and Guru went on the road together and stuff. I have nothing to add to that conversation (laughs), I just want to soak it all in. Bumpy Knuckles had this song called “Gang Starr Bus,” I remember one night we were at the radio station, me and him, Preem, and they were just talking about some of the wild, crazy things they did. M.O.P. was on that tour and just talking about regular, tour-life sh*@t…from doing shows, to getting into fights, to obviously the female aspect, to not getting along with the bus driver. Just all types of crazy stuff that went on (laughs).
You know what I found really interesting; there wasn’t a lot of camaraderie between a lot of artists back in the day. Dudes would get in the elevator with rivals and it was really a turf war. They both wanted New York. You would get Boot Camp Click and they would get in the elevator with Wu-Tang and they’d be like Wassup…and that’s it. I found that to be kind of crazy.
HipHopWired.com: Artists are banning together now though…
Torae: Yeah I think we started to learn from other regions. You see a lot of West Coast unity, definitely a lot of southern unity and you saw that the focus moved from New York to these different areas and I think the reason is because their weren’t a lot of artists willing to work together and collaborate. Now, especially with this new crop of artists, we all kind of came up together and kind of friends. We do the same shows, run in the same circles.
HipHopWired.com: How are you feeling about the Hip-Hop scene in New York?
Torae: I think there’s two scenes in New York. There’s the more mainstream scene and the more indie/underground scene. The latter is definitely thriving right now, there’s a lot of dope artists out of New York that’s making some incredible music. It’s sad that that music isn’t being propelled to the forefront. They’re giving people a choice.
I feel like the main thing that’s lacking in mainstream is there’s not a lot of diversity, so you get the same thing, same formulaic music video and looks. There’s really no individuality. If you gave the people an option…you hear some Young Money, then you hear some Homeboy Sandman, some Maybach Music, some Skyzoo, it would keep it fresh, because when you listen to the radio once you listen to the same songs and the same content, you start getting people to say, ‘Oh, I’m tired of Hip-Hop…it’s wack now.’
That’s not really the case, it’s just the type of Hip-Hop they get fed is pretty much the same old same. With that said, the indie scene is dope, from Homeboy Sandman to Emilio Rojas to Skyzoo to Sha Stimuli…I could go on and on, there’s a lot of dope artists out there.
HipHopWired.com: Where do you want to fit on the spectrum?
Torae: I’m just a dude that loves Hip-Hop that cares enough about it to try to bring something to it. Trying to build on the legacy without sounding dated. You can tell my music is inspired by a certain time frame but in no way do I feel like I’m an “old artist.” People always try to make that connection Oh, he got a 90′s sound, nah it’s 90′s influenced because that’s what I grew up listening to and that’s what made me want to create music but it’s still current. I’m not rapping about 8-Ball jackets and bombers, that sh+*t I didn’t live. With that same type of energy I try to bring something new to the table.
HipHopWired.com: You’re a world-traveling artist. Does that mean more to you than “mainstream” success and recognition?
Torae: I think the two go hand in hand. I’ve been fortunate…I came in and was able to connect with Masta Ace at the time I did. I was putting out my first project Daily Conversation, we had the same studio, we had mutual friends…he liked me as a person, he was into the music and he asked me if I had been overseas before. I was like no, he was like I’m gonna take you on tour.
He took me out as his opening artist along with Marco Polo…it put me in a whole different space. It put me in front of a whole different audience of people and I was able to take those relationships I built overseas and build upon them. It was really having good timing and everything lining up for me.
As far as the success I have over there, it’s dope, I would love to have it in the states and be able to say I did 20,000 like I did in the Czech Republic. I would love to say I’ve done 28 dates in 30 days like I did over in Europe and be able to bring that same energy. But if you’re not a radio artist or a mainstream artist it’s more difficult and I’m hip to that. At the end of the day as long as I’m still getting to live that…I just came back from Europe two weeks ago so…I’m not complaining.
HipHopWired.com: They seem to respect the art a lot more over seas.
Torae: For sure. I think mainly because it’s not right in their face. Sometimes being in New York and being so engulfed in the culture you take it for granted because it’s just second nature, where as you go to Germany and they breathe Hip-Hop. They live it over there. There’s heavy graffiti, heavy B-boying…they got a whole school of breakdancing.
Not to say we don’t have the same things but their so into it though. It’s almost like when you’re in school, you might have not been around for the Civil War but you study it, so you may have knowledge of it because you’re so into it, studying it and reading up on it. That’s kind of how they are with Hip-Hop.
HipHopWired.com: How do you plan to change the Hip-Hop game?
Torae: I just want to tell my story and leave my mark and hopefully spark some of the change and the through process that goes behind making music, I think a lot of artists these days try to make music to fit in. I don’t make music to fit in, I don’t make songs for the radio, I don’t make my album so I can be on the best album of the year list, I don’t do my photo-shoots so I can be on the cover of magazines.
I do what I do and if people gravitate towards it and accept it that’s great, but at the end of the day I don’t want to follow suit. I want to make dope music and have that affect people’s lives. I think a lot of artists are chasing a façade of what they think the industry is. I want to create the soundtrack to your life…when you’re having great times, when you’re having bad times.
HipHopWired.com: Your one of the judges for the 2012 National MC Search, do you do anything to prepare for that? What are your criteria?
Torae: I’m not going in with anything preconceived, I just want that woah factor. I couldn’t make a list of ten things you need to do to get my attention. It’s more about the music, when I hear it if I feel the feeling…that’s really all it is. I can’t say Oh, use this type of beat and rhyme this way. When I first heard Illmatic, I felt it. When I first heard Jay Electronica, I felt it. When I first heard Phonte, I felt it. It’s just that energy you get from the music, from the artists and there’s no real formula. I’m sure somebody out there has it.
HipHopWired.com: As an MC yourself, is it harder to be a fan of other artists? Would you say you’re more critical of other people’s music or your own?
Torae: No, me 100%. I really dissect my stuff to the point that a lot of times if I don’t be like F*#ck it, it won’t come out. When I sit with my stuff for too long I start to find every little flaw and I’m so analytical about my own stuff that a lot of times I’ll be like Nah, I’m not doing it. I gotta shake it off and now that I put 110% into it, and then I’ll let it go.
HipHopWired.com: How do you feel about lists (such as the XXL Freshman 10 for example) that try to categorize the “who’s who”?
Torae: I think that when they initiated it a few years back, it was something that was dope because it gave a spotlight to some new artists that people might not have been aware of or checking for…artists that just needed that extra push. I remember Joel Ortiz being on the first cover, Papoose was on there, Plies, I think Lupe was on there.
It was super dope and I thought it was the illest, and then after that initial one people started trying to get it, and that’s when it started to get jaded. This year they got people voting. I think the initial feeling behind it is lost, I know artists that that’s all they care about. Just make your music and do you and if those accolades come they come.
When people start vying for it, and planning their whole strategy of the year behind it, I think it looses the credibility and authenticity it has.
HipHopWired.com: What do you have coming up, what’s your next major goal?
Torae: Well November we dropped For The Record, and now it’s just moving into 2012…continuing to push For The Record, we’re shooting a few videos. I’m gonna do a few remixes because I keep my ear to the street and I think the main thing people were surprised about on the album is I did no features. It was just me telling my story, and telling it as best as I knew how. Now I’m gonna have some of my favorite MC’s jump on. We’re actually pressing up vinyl for all my vinyl heads.
I know New York is definitely radio driven but I have a fan base, I sell a sh%*t load of records in New York…it’s just really getting to those people and letting them know that theirs gonna be a performance and have them come out and support.
My next major goal…I’ve been doing radio Sirius XM. Me and my man DJ Eclipse have a show which airs every Sunday night, and that’s something I feel is a natural progression for MC’s to move into radio. That’s something I’m really focused on. We have a whole bunch of fun…we break a lot of records and bring a lot of new artists up. We give them that platform to showcase themselves.
I also want to move into some television and film. Just being on the small screen a little bit…I’m by no way an actor but I’ve done some acting in the past, been in television shows, other music videos. That’s something I’m looking forward to perfecting.
HipHopWired.com: What collaborations can we look forward to?
Torae: I’m gonna leave that cat in the bag! One off top, everybody that looked at my track listing…I saw a zillion comments like Yo, where is… so me and “that” guy will definitely be doing something. Aside of that, just a few people who sound good on a record. I’m not really into chasing names.
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