Torae: Entitled

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Photo courtesy of Robert Adam Mayer

Photo courtesy of Robert Adam Mayer

Coney Island emcee Torae is back with his sophomore solo album, “Entitled”. Nearly five years since the release of his debut album, For the Record, Torae has remained busy spitting verses on a handful of side projects. One half of the Barrel Brothers also hosted his own radio show, The Tor Guide on Sirius XM’s Hip Hop Nation, and landed a role in VH1’s original film, The Breaks. Emceeing being his bread and butter, Torae used Kickstarter as a launching pad to reach out to his fans for an assist to get his second album completed, and they responded resoundingly.

Entitled is produced by !llmind, Khrysis, Pete Rock, Eric G, Praise, MarcNfinit, Apollo Brown, Nottz, Jahlil Beats, E. Jones, Mr. Porter, and DJ Premier. The album features appearances by Saul Williams, Phonte, Jarell Perry, 3D Na’tee, Kil Ripkin, Teedra Moses, Mack Wilds, and Pharoahe Monch.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Torae about his work off of the mic, an impending change in his vocabulary, his memories of the late Sean Price, and his new album, Entitled.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the new album, Entitled?

Torae: I like to incorporate double entendre’s in my lyrics and sometimes that lends itself to titling the album as well. The title is definitely an example of that. For the early portion of my career I had a sense of entitlement. I felt like since I was a nice rapper that I should automatically be granted access to the industry and enjoy some of the successes that some of my peers enjoyed that maybe weren’t as talented or as lyrical. That’s really not the case. Just because you feel like you may be as talented or more talented than a particular artist doesn’t necessarily make you entitled to their same success. Just because you’re a good person doesn’t mean that you’re going to be rewarded with good things in return. We all would like to believe in karma but at the end of the day there is no real guarantee that anything is going to happen for you until you get out there, do it, and make it happen for yourself. Me being in this business going toward ten years at this point and never getting that critical acclaim or mainstream success that sometimes artists look for, I did feel entitled to it but now I’m in a position where I have to get out there, bust my ass, work, and if it happens it happens. If not, I just still have to do what I do. That’s kind of a negative connotation on what “entitled” is – feeling like something is owed to you. On the flip side of that we are entitled to certain rights and respects. Some of the content on the album deals with the lack of respect for us as people of color. I think there is a lack of respect that we’ve been seeing predominantly with young black men being gunned down, strangled, and killed. Some of the content on the album touches on that and for that portion of what entitled means is we are entitled to the same rights, privileges, and freedoms as everyone else.

TRHH: Why did you decide to take the Kickstarter route for this project?

Torae: For me the Kickstarter is less about the money. Ten thousand dollars is definitely not enough to make my album. Ten thousand dollars covered two beats on my album. If you look at the track list it’s up to 16. For me it was about gauging where the audience is. I do feel like a lot of the audience is docile to a degree. I don’t mean that to be disrespectful, but I really wanted to see who would get active. I just wanted to motivate the people, give them some type of incentive, and see where the different levels of supporters were. There is your $10 supporter that’s like, “Yeah, I support you Torae! I’ll put ten dollars on it and when the album comes out send it to me.” There is a $100 supporter who wants the t-shirt, the sweater, the album, and the autograph. There is a $500 supporter that wants the whole package and for me to come to their house and play them the album early. For me I used Kickstarter as a gauge to see where I was with my followers and my supporters and try to put them in levels so I can build up a supporter who may just want to the buy the album and get them to the point where they want to buy merch and tickets to a show as well. For me it was more about the analytics than the actual financial contribution. I definitely enjoyed it. It was fun, it was successful, and right now I’m having a blast fulfilling a lot of these Kickstarter rewards.

TRHH: You have historically gotten A+ producers to work on your projects. Why is it important to you to get beats from the best in the business instead of going for cheaper tracks?

Torae: I think initially with my entry into the business those things kind of naturally happened just because the sound that I grew up and the people that I grew up respecting and admiring, those are the people that have always been on my list of people to work with. Early on in my career I was able to work with DJ Premier. Obviously you don’t ever say no to that. We just continued to work and built a rapport with one another and a friendship. That’s the big homie so any time I’m working on a project Preem is a person I’m going to call. Whether we do a joint together or not, it’s just about that vibe, having that relationship, and keeping it strong. Since that happened early on in my career it just trickled into other producers that I wanted to work with because of the respect that they have for what DJ Premier brought to the table. They’re like, “If Preem is working with him then I’ll work with him,” or “If Pete Rock is working with him, then Im’ma work with him.” For me it’s not about having these names. It’s more about the feeling and the sound that they bring. It just so happens that, that sound comes from big name producers. I worked with a nice crop of new guys. You look at my album and Praise has three joints and a bonus song. I’ve been working with a guy like Eric G since 2008 before he got down with 9th and the Soul Council. Same with E. Jones and MarcNfinit who appeared on Barrel Brothers and now he’s on this album. I like to mix it up.

TRHH: You mentioned Pete Rock and he produced the new single “Get Down”. How’d that song come together?

Torae: It came together from Pete and I vibing. He sent me like 4-5 joints and Get Down was something that really stood out. They were all dope but what I liked about that sound was it wasn’t your typical or normal Pete Rock sound. I liked the Bollywood influence on there and I love the way the swing of the drums went. That song is derived from two different things, initially I wanted to do a song about the crown talking about the blue Yankee fitted [laughs]. Blue Yankee fitted ended up being a topic that Sky and I covered on the Barrel Brothers album. I was talking about the crown and you know how important the Yankee fitted is to the culture, Hip-Hop, and New York City. I didn’t want to repeat that so I wanted to change the whole feel of what the new song would be. I wanted to use the title “Crown” for something else which ended up being on the new album. The feel of Get Down still had that same swing so I just turned it into, “I get down. This is what me and Pete Rock do. You know his catalog, you know my catalog, and when we get together we get down and rep for the town.”

TRHH: Outside of emceeing you have your show The Tor Guide on Sirius XM. How much fun is it to have your own show on satellite radio?

Torae: It’s a gang of fun, man. I feel like I’m so multi-faceted, and a lot of artists are these days. You have your hands in so many things. Being on the radio is a blessing because it’s fun and it gives me an escape from just being an artist from time to time and allows me to sit on the other side of the table. I got a chance to build some great relationships with some of my guests, some people that maybe my music may not have reached, but because I have this platform on Sirius XM we still come into each others paths. I’ve met some amazing people, I’ve sat with some amazing people, and also I learned a lot about some artists that I didn’t know about. Any way I can contribute to the culture I’m always going to be a giver and a willing participant. Having a radio show is another way to give back to Hip-Hop.

TRHH: What was your experience like working on the film The Breaks?

Torae: The Breaks was awesome. Looking back at the finished product it makes me feel really, really grateful and blessed to be a part of such a phenomenal film. I shot one day but I was on the set a couple other days. That process was dope, man just having a relationship with Phonte who actually brought me on board for the project, Meeting Dan Charnas and Seith and building relationships with them. Also, Afton the actor and Mack. It was just dope to be a part of. Wood Harris is one of my favorite actors so knowing that he was in it was also super dope for me. The scene that I’m in is a really pivotal moment in the film. I just like the fact that the battle was so close, especially when you look on social media and people are tweeting you, “Nah son you won that!” Obviously I didn’t even write the rhyme, it was all scripted. But just the fact that the battle needed to be so close and they needed somebody that looked like a no-nonsense, take no shit emcee, and felt that I could deliver it in that character says a lot for what I’ve done in the music business and for what people think of me as a no-nonsense New York emcee. I’m real proud to be a part of it. It’s super dope and we’re looking to continue on so hopefully VH1 get it right and do what they gotta do.

TRHH: Going back to the album I loved the song “The eNd”. I personally have experienced white people using the N-word toward me in a casual, friendly manor. Do you believe that Hip-Hop is solely responsible for this and do you think it can be fixed?

Torae: I don’t think Hip-Hop is solely responsible for it. I think it’s a word that we took and tried to embrace it, flip it, change the definition of it and the meaning behind it. I definitely waved the flag for that sentiment for a really long time. It wasn’t until I really started to travel the world that I saw things differently. I think that’s a lot of how people learn, just getting out of their own environment. Traveling the world, seeing different people, and different cultures it gives you a different outlook on things and a different point of view. That’s where I ended up with that word from traveling, touring, and being in Europe so much over the last 7-8 years. I felt stung every time I heard it. I had to look in the mirror and be self-reflective and say, “Look man, you can’t feel no type of way about hearing that word because for one I don’t think they fully understand the history and meaning behind the word. For two, you use it so freely in your music that they’re looking at it like any other slang word like homie, dude or fam.” I had to challenge myself to try to omit the word from my vocabulary. I made a conscious effort not to use it on the album until we got to the end and I explained why I didn’t wanna use it in my music anymore. Hopefully I can transfer that into my daily conversation as well. It’s funny because so many people who’ve heard the album have hit me up and told me, “Yo dude, that really inspired me and I’m going to try to stop using the word too.” I feel like it’s time, man. Like I said in the song, When we call each other niggas it’s all love but when they treatin’ us like niggas we wanna riot. At the end of the day it’s the same word. People give words power, true indeed, but I think that’s a word that we can do without. For me moving forward it’s a word that I’m going to remove from my vocabulary. Bear with me people, I’m working on it.

TRHH: You had a relationship with the late, great Sean Price. Can you share a funny Sean P story with our readers?

Torae: It’s funny ‘cause so many people ask that. Every story with Sean was funny. Sean was just a hilarious guy. If you spent two minutes around him you were dying laughing within that two minutes if he accepted you into his family, his heart, and into his circle. He would always say, “Listen, I got trust issues. I don’t rock with everybody.” But if you were a part of that inner-circle every moment with Sean was a fun moment. He always had a story no matter the situation or occasion. You spill ketchup on your shirt, he got a story. You open a bag of Cheez Doodles, he got a story. The overall Sean Price experience was not only one of lyrical genius and wit. Just him in his regular conversation was such a funny guy. He always kept us laughing and on our toes as far as emcees. He kept us humble and kept us Brooklyn. He’s definitely somebody that I miss. That one hurts a lot. I still get a little emotional when I try to talk about it. Overall, with Sean Price I have nothing but great, fond memories. I have a lot of fun memories. I just can’t single out one because I feel like our whole time together was a just a bunch of making dope music, having a lot of fun, and a lot of laughs.

TRHH: What can fans expect to hear when they cop Entitled?

Torae: I think people can expect to hear really dope content. Let’s call it “edutainment”. It’s not so content-driven that if feels preachy. This is something that I really wish people would do – I know a lot of people won’t do it because of where we are with technology, but this is an album that you will enjoy the most if you listen from top to bottom. Get right in and listen to the intro, you take it into Imperial Sound, you get to Get Down and as the album progresses and grows so does the content and the direction. I love the fact that it takes the shape that it does when it does and turns the corner it does when it does. The sound gets a little more soulful when it does. It’s designed that way. I think album sequencing is important to putting together a dope and cohesive project. If you listen to it top to bottom I feel like it’s something you’ll love. I say it’s something on there for everybody and I say it without it being all over the place or scatterbrained. It’s literally something on there for you. If you’re a fan of that boom bap feel, it’s there. If you’re a fan of lyrics, going for it, and just rhyming to your face is blue, it’s on there. If you like it a little more smoothed out and melodic, it’s something there for you. If you’re a fan of rhymes but you’re tired of the boom bap feeling and want a new feeling, it’s a sound there for you.

Also, it’s a lot of content if you wanna stimulate your thoughts and get into some grown up shit. It’s all there. Spoken word is there. If you’re a fan of instrumentation we got trumpet solos and a lot of amazing music and musicians on it. We got a crazy guitar solo. The more I listen to the album and the way it feels overall, I feel like if people give it a shot they’ll love it and they’ll definitely find something on there for them. With that being said, if you’re a fan of Hip-Hop and you’re a fan of New York having a certain sound and feeling, if you’re a fan of getting thought-provoking rhymes, double entendres, and are really entertained with words, I think it’s a great album for you. Some people are gonna judge it and base it off of my past works and some people are gonna judge it based of what they think of me, but I just want to implore everybody to listen to it. Listen to it. Don’t go in there and prejudge it, listen to it. If you don’t love it for one I’d be very surprised, for two, we can have a conversation about it and you can give me some criticism as to what you didn’t love about it. I feel like if you go in there open-minded, vibe to it, and if you’re a fan of Hip-Hop then it’s something on there for you and you’re going to enjoy Entitled.

Purchase: Torae – Entitled

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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