He’s a jack of all trades who just so happens to have a way with words. Coney Island born and bred rapper — and radio show host, actor, Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival Master of Ceremonies and even former teacher— Torae chopped it up with RESPECT to speak about his latest album, Entitled, hopping on tour with Stalley, working with legends, and newfound love for acting. Check part one of our interview below:
RESPECT Mag: How was your show last night (2/9) at Webster Hall?
Torae: It was good. It was a fun time. You know, it was an intimate crowd. It wasn’t grand packed out. A little disheartening because you love to sell out New York as a New York artist. But you know, I definitely love the people who were in attendance. We rocked out and had a good time. Stalley had a dope set as well. It was a fun time, it was a good way to spend a Tuesday night in New York.
RESPECT: That’s dope. How did you and Stalley end up working together on this tour?
Torae: It was actually his tour and I was looking for a tour to jump on real quick once the album came out while I prepared to put my own one together. Once I saw it, I reached out to some of the people that I knew in his camp. And of course, Stalley and I, we have a relationship that extends back a number of years.
So, I thought it would be a no brainer. I think that although we do have a similar audience, we definitely have two different audiences coming out. That’s always good when you can bring out two sets of fans and supporters and then kinda cross them in between. Some of them will be in the middle and of course some of them will be soley on the left or soley on the right. So I think that always makes for a better show just because thats the objective.
For me, when I do a show is to make sure that I gain some new people. You know, people who didn’t come to see me; people who aren’t familiar with me. At the end of the night when they leave, I want the to be like “Yo I came for Stalley, but that Torae kid gets busy.” [Laughs] That’s always the mission when I perform.
RESPECT Magazine: Now, you’ve done collaborations in the past with Skyzoo. Is Stalley someone you’d see yourself doing a collaboration project with?
Torae: It’s definitely about chemistry for me. Stalley and me, we’ve always had this cool rapport with one another. We’ve definitely spoke about doing records. One time, the scheduling just didn’t work out but I think a record is something that’s definitely in the works. Once you get a couple of records in, you kinda vibe out then you see what a full length is. But, I definitely want to get one or two, if we can, with the homie because I think he’s dope.
RESPECT: It sounds like it would be dope. I was watching your interview on your radio show and you guys seem like you have a good connection. And it seems like you would make dope stuff together.
Torae: Yeah, because we go back a few years. Prior to him getting with MMG or prior to me being at Sirius or any of these other things that have come about, he was on the grind and I was on the grind. We’ve crossed paths together, we’ve done shows. We’ve rocked festivals together. That initial rapport with one another is there and then you build it into a full fledged friendship. I think the collaboration started to happen after that.
RESPECT: I was listening to your album and every single track has fire production! You’ve worked with everyone from Large Professor and DJ Premier to Jahlil Beats and Pete Rock. How do you choose the perfect beat?
Torae: I’m really picky, a lot of producers will tell you that. It’s not because I’m a dick. It’s just that I like to feel comfortable in the beat. Even if I like a beat and I think it’s dope, it’s about what I can add to it. Sometimes I listen to a beat and I think its so dope and I don’t know what to bring to that. And some beats I listen to and I just love them as instrumentals and I listen to them when I’m riding around.
My thing is: 9 times out of 10, lines are going to start coming to me. I’m going to come with four, Im going to come with six; then I’m like “Yeah, that’s a keeper.” Most of the time, that’s the way it works. Rarely, I’ll come back to a beat and catch a spark on it from there. But, most of the time, I like to jump right on the production that I think stands out and grabs me.
Picking beats with me is very important because you can be a dope MC. You can have a lot of dope things to say but if the production doesn’t stand out and if the beat doesn’t draw people in… You know, people listen to the beat first. So if that doesn’t draw people in especially with the audience I cater to, they’re definitely about that production. They’re definitely about those head nodding joints and they really feel it. That’s what I go for when I’m creating a project.
RESPECT: One of my favorites on Entitled was “Saturday”. Even though you’ve previously done multiple tracks with DJ Premier, what’s it like working with him?
Torae: Preme, that’s the big homie. Coming up in New York and being a fan in Hip-Hop, growing up loving Gangstarr, and you know he went on to work with other groups… Preme is a legend. He definitely lays a lot of the foundation of what the core New York sound is— even though he migrated here from Texas.
Working with Preme is always a dream come true. It’s never like “I’m here and I’m comfortable.” It’s always like that very first time. It’s a lot of jokes being cracked and we have a lot of fun. But then we get down to the work and I’m always looking to impress DJ Premier. I never want it to be a point where I’m so comfortable that I’m slacking. Every time we do something, I want him to be excited about it. I want him to be look up and be like “Oh shit, you said that?” or “Wow, you came from this point of view?”. That’s what I like about “Saturday”.
It’s not the typical Torae/ Dj Premier song. I wanted to do something different, I wanted to do a story record. When I heard the beat I thought, “Not only can I make it a story record, but I can make it comical as well.” That’s a side that people haven’t seen from me. It’s something that me and Preme have never done before so it was a win-win.
RESPECT: On your track “R.E.A.L”, you said you’re surprised there’s a role for rappers like K. Dot and J. Cole. Do you feel like rap is taking on a new wave in which we’re not so much thinking about the “conscious things” or things that are affecting our community, but instead focusing on the party?
Torae: I think there’s still a lot of content out there focusing on those topics. But, I feel like what’s being pushed through in the masses and in the mainstream is definitely more of a party vibe. I don’t like to use the conscious term but definitely not talking about the social issues and things going on in the world.
Look around now and you see that Beyonce’s getting all of this backlash from “Formation” being performed at the Super Bowl. As artists, part of our responsibility is defiently to entertain but its also to talk about whats going on and to bring light to some of these issues and topics. Kinda to be the reporters of the neighborhoods that we come from and be the voice of the voiceless.
I know how much the mainstream likes to cater to the party, drug use, overly sexual… you know that continued aesthetic. When you have a guy like Kendrick Lamar or you have a guy like J. Cole talking about some other things or being a little bit more lyrical and coming with some more lyrical content; it’s very refreshing to hear that on that platform. The line was definitely to pay homage to those guys but also to show that there’s a room and audience for that sound. That sound, concept, and that conversation. There should be more.
Respect: Speaking about your album, what made you want to use Kickstarter as a way to not only raise money for your project but to also create a deeper connection with your fans? That’s a rare way to use Kickstarter.
Torae: It was something that people had presented to me for a number of years. But I always looked at it as I don’t want it to look like we can’t get a deal or we don’t have the money. You know, Hip-Hop is very image driven. Anytime you don’t fit that stasis-quo is frowned upon. I’m good, it wasn’t about money for me. It was about me trying to figure out new ways to reach the audience, new ways to market a project, and I wanted people to feel like they were apart of it.
As much as I make my music for me, I make it for the people who rock with me and follow me. They’re the inspiration behind it. My music is just as much me as it is everybody else. So I wanted people coming into the album feeling like they’re apart of it. I thought “How else can I make people feel apart of this creative process?” I thought a Kickstarter would be dope to help get the word out. I met a lot of dope people either through the Skype sessions or the in-house listening session.
RESPECT: How many of your fans did you get to meet?
Torae: From the Kickstarter, I’ve done about six or seven Skypes at this point. There’s been about maybe two dozen or so. For them its a big deal, but for me its just as big because I love to encounter the people that my music is effecting. Those are the people I want to meet. Those are the people I want to build a relationship with because those are the people who have been there since day one.
RESPECT: It’s refreshing to see an artist build those kinds of connections with their audience because that’s something that’s often missing. We look at and support some of our favorite rappers and think that they’re unattainable to even speak to. So to make that connection is how you make and keep a loyal fan.
Torae: Yeah, I want to build an audience and that connection for years to come. I don’t want that fickle fan. I want people who are going to rock out for the duration. I feel like that’s what we’re building and the Kickstarter helped to do that as well.
Respect: You have fans from all around because you’re multifaceted. You’re a host, you’ve created the theme song for the Brooklyn Nets, you were in VH1’s The Breaks, and you also have your own radio show. How were you able to transition into so many different career paths?
Torae: I think the transition was natural because all of these things go hand-in-hand. I’m naturally a personable person. I feel like figuring out ways to have my personality shine through outside of just a three minute song helped. I have layers, there are many different sides to Torae.
So me figuring out ways to showcase that and in addition to it all going hand-in-hand… If you can stand on stage and perform a record, you should be able to stand on stage and captivate the audience without the rhyme. You should be a master of ceremonies. So hosting came natural.
Acting is something I’ve always wanted to get into— you memorize lines when you write your rhymes. You’re in front of the camera all the time, you’re shooting videos and doing interviews. So putting those things together and really trying to hone that acting part of it is where I’m at now. IT was all just like a natural transition —everything growing into each other all stemming from my love of the music.
RELATED: Torae Claps Sh*t Up in Latest Visuals with Phonte http://respect-mag.com/2016/02/torae-claps-shit-up-in-latest-visuals-featuring-phonte/
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