Since 2008, Torae has emerged out of Coney Island, Brooklyn to decimate mics. His voice is dark and serious as it emits tricky wordplay and stark lyrics. His break through record, Double Barrel, had him riding a full album produced by beatsmith, Marco Polo. After that a strong LP and EP, For the Record and Off the Record, was evidence that Torae was growing and versatile. 2014’s Barrel Brothers had him coupled with his Brooklyn brother, Skyzoo; another searing lyricist. Also in these times, Torae has been hosting his own Sirius XM radio show and touring the world. On Entitled, released in January, has Torae flexing his boundaries of sonic marvel, backed by !llmind, Apollo Brown, DJ Premier, E Jones, Eric G, Jahlil Beats, Khrysis, MarcNfinit, Mr. Porter (of D-12), Nottz, Pete Rock, and Praise.
Torae is not just a rapper. In the simplest sense, he is a business man. But, he is also a very intelligent and savvy man; analyzing and constantly adjusting to manners in which he can expand his brand. He is not simply satisfied to just collect these producers’ beats. He could just say thanks and back off, but when working with the greatest beat crafters in the game, he still molds their input to fit his overall vision. Phonte took a little longer than he expected to jump on the phone with me. Cheers to Torae and Jerry Graham publicity for hooking this up.
Can you talk about the difference from Double Barrel with one producer to collecting beats from all these producers?
It is a totally different experience. With one producer, you’re working every day, knowing each other, having one sound. With different producers, you’re trying to get everyone on the same page to get a cohesive sound. Making an album is not about just taking what they give you. You guys have to have that conversation. It may be an in-studio session just vibing, playing music. You tell them the point you’re trying to get across. They come back to the table with music they think might fit that. You are working, and working together, until you get to the place where you are making what you want to make. When I do an album, it’s about making sure I can tell a story. When I work with various producers, I make sure they can make my vision a reality.
The intro to Entitled depicts Torae in a job interview at an office. The narrative follows our hero’s mind wandering and creating a rhyme as his mind wanders into tangents, taking fodder from the interviewer’s dry, monotonous words. That intro hit hard. I find myself wandering off, freestyling when people are talking to me, especially in that scenario.
It’s a feeling, a mood. You got to do what you got to do to make ends meet. But, it is not where you want to be. You are just not interested. I want to be creating and writing rhymes. It sets the tone for the album with my mindset. (Creative types) don’t want to be confined in a cubicle. I felt it would resonate with a lot of different listeners.
Tell me about owning your own label.
I had my own company early on. If I signed a big deal or not, I wanted my own company to always have my own brand on it. I wanted to make sure I handled the business aspect as much as I handled the music. Shout out to my man Sylvan, who taught me early on: incorporate, get your stuff trademarked and copywritten; all those little things to be on top of your business. So, when money comes in, I have a place to send it. When I go to the studio, my business pays for that. When I travel to these different cities, it is a business expense. If I am going to a city for just a promo, not a show, that is a business expense. Having a business to fund me was as important as going into the studio to make music.
How do you feel about the responsibility that comes with you being a rapper and a radio host?
Anybody with a platform has a certain level of responsibility to be aware of the energy that they are putting out. Not everyone needs to join hands and sing “koom-bye-yah”. But, the energy you are putting out will come back to you in some shape or form. When releasing Daily Conversation, eight years ago, I had a different outlook on life, a different type of respect, a different understanding than I have now. I have matured; so have my content and my message. Some of what I put out there has changed. But what I am putting out there shows growth. Doing the same thing you were doing eight years ago – you really didn’t grow. Every day is about growing and building. That’s where I am at with content as well. My listeners have grown up and matured. My audience has broadened. I want to make sure I put out content that matches where I am in my life.
Well you have. It shows. You have achieved that growth, especially with songs like “Crown” and “REAL”
A song like “Crown” is using that message as a way for me to exhibit that we are– and need to be treated – regally and royally. You have to respect yourself like royalty if you want others to respect you the same way. Without being preaching or corny, I may be conveying it a little cornier than the actual song. The song is a dope joint. I feel that after the second or third listen, you start to pick up on all the things I’m saying, as far as the message. On first listen, it’s a jam. Shout out to Mr. Porter, who produced it. It talks about what is happening in the world, how people need to be respected and received.
Hip hop is ubiquitous now. With that, we get worldstar and Love & Hip HOP to a successful business man like Dr Dre and Killer Mike getting on talking shows to educate. How do you see hip hop impacting these new generations that don’t have the comparisons of rap being underground or singular, as when we grew up?
Hip hop is as strong and powerful as ever; as far as its reach, as far as the level of response that it gets from its audience. You have a franchise like Love & Hip Hop doing extremely well reaching an audience that they are trying to get to. The content may not be as positive as you want it to be, but it still is a form of hip hop being packaged and sold to an audience. They’re doing a good job with that. Killer Mike is out there waving the flag and talking about society’s ills. I tip my hat off to a guy like that. He is using his platform to bring awareness to issues happening in certain neighborhoods. Things are happening to people that other people need to pay attention to. It is a longer, harder road to take, but someone has to take it. Life is about balance. There has to be balance. When the scales get tipped, life gets in disarray. There is an audience who wants to consume both sides. We need more positive content and people out there to combat the negative images out there.
You are very active on Instagram and social media. You have replied to me; and I often see you respond frequently to those who hit you up. Is that just fun or a an obligation for someone in your position?
I try to respond as much I can, for what time permits. I’m not a big time rapper on a major label. I enjoy the people who enjoy my music. I enjoy hearing their feedback, engaging their conversations. If the common thread we have is the music, there might be other things we see eye to eye on. A lot of people I know, from being a supporter of my music, also enjoy the same sneakers I like – or some of the same sports teams. The conversation may go from them saying, “yo, I like your new song” to “How did the Knicks lose that game?” or “Did you see the new Jordans coming out? They’re dope” or “I saw you’re doing a turkey drive. How can I donate?” or “How can I get involved with your backpacks give away?”. Having this platform, we have to utilize it to the fullest. Social media is very powerful. It is about getting out there and jumping in to rock with the people who rock with me.
The album has been out for a week. How has the response been? * Due to a hiccup with the physical CD, only the digital is released at this time.
Feedback has been great. I appreciate everyone who supported it, everybody who purchased it, everybody who streamed it, everybody who shared and posted it. The response has been overwhelming. Overall, everybody has had a lot of positive things to say about it. That’s always tough for an artist. I don’t care what people say, that they don’t care. You always care about the audience, what the people think. It is you at your most vulnerable moment when you put a record out. Like Erykah Badu said, “I’m sensitive about my shit.” You want to make sure you put something out that really resonates with the people. The response has been really dope. I salute everyone who checked it out. And if you didn’t, I implore you to give it a listen. We live in a day and age with spotify, apple music, whatever. It’s not like I’m even saying “buy it”. Give me an hour of your time. If you love it, you can support it. If not, you can never deal with it again. Just go to it with an open mind and see what I have to offer. As we are having this conversation, someone just posted a picture of the CD, so they are getting out there.
In the age of low physical sales, how do you decide how many to press?
You have to go with a feeling. You start with an initial number. We went with a modest pressing. If those move well, if it feels like it is something that is still going or picking up, you go from there. I have an audience that still enjoys the physical, tangible CD or vinyl. Even if it is only one thousand, I will make sure some physical product is out there. Plus, I’m a touring artist. Even if people own the album (digitally), sometimes they still want to own something I can sign for them to have a moment from that show. I have to make sure I have that for the people that come to the shows.
There are so many different ways to earn revenue in this business. You have your streaming money, you got your sales, your physical sales. You can monetize your youtube viewings. There are a lot of different ways to earn money and make a living. You may not sell Adele records, but you can sell a few records in all these mediums and still make a decent amount of money. I service everything that can make a dollar.
How are you promoting Entitled? Tours? Shows?
I tour more extensively abroad. We are trying to set a second or third quarter tour for overseas and Europe. I want to definitely do some spots dates here in the US. We are trying to put together a tour here in the states., but it is more difficult. I got a show at the Harmon store; a small performance, Q&A, cds for sales, and premier my video with Phonte. On feb 4th, I am at Webster hall; feb 9th I am in Boston. Then I am headed to Africa. People help promote you. I understand the power of word of mouth and social media.
Africa? Really? First time?
South Africa in March. Never been out there. I’ve been a lot of amazing places – Italy, Spain, Thailand – I tour extensively. Never been to Dubai or Africa. That’s one of the bucket list.
I follow a lot of rappers on Instagram. It’s the same for hardcore punk. Why is Europe a more fertile market for tours?
It is strange. One thing about the European market is that they are not so easily influenced by what is on the radio or popular. They are more influenced by what they like and enjoy. They don’t depend on what is popular at the time. A Rick Ross – a big artist – can do a run of shows over there and sell it out, but so can Masta Ace. If they like it and think its dope, they support it. That’s different than here in the states. I have never done a full US tour. I have done seven full tours over in Europe. We pack venues and do huge festivals. Like the Czech republic HIP HOP KEMP fest, we get 10k/15k people in the crowd. That ain’t the same audience or crowd I can get in the states unfortunately.
How is the radio show?
It is another platform for me to spread the good word. As a creative person, I am always looking for ways to express myself, always looking for another outlet to be creative. I enjoy doing radio. It helps me grow and build the brand to get my name known. I have been blessed to have my own radio show for two years. I’m moving into acting for TV and movies. Shout out to The Breaks. Little by little the world will get to know about what the Torae brand is about.
Well, you’re charismatic, down to earth, personable, and a damn good storyteller.
As long as five million people agree with you, we’ll be alright.
I know you break it down in the track, but can you explain choosing to call the album, Entitled. I saw it announced a few months ago and I was scratching my head.
Anyone who knows me and my music, they know I like double entendres and multiple meanings for one word. I wanted a term that would have them depict and dissect the meaning. Most people see a negative connotation to the word for “Entitled”. People thinking things should be given to them, not willing to work for it. I see a lot of artists – including myself – feel that way. “I’m a good rapper. I make dope videos. I make dope shit. How come I’m not in the same position as that guy? How come I’m not on that cover or on that show?” Nothing is handed or promised to you, you’re not entitled to that. No one owes you anything. As soon as you realize that, you can move forward.
You have to figure out how to get there by earning it. Not that everyone in those positions has earned it. But that doesn’t mean you should be there. It is not entitled to you. It is not the case. I thought someday I would sign a big record deal and be a big star, as long as I did what I did. That’s not necessarily promised to me. I have been putting out records for close to ten years. I am not a big star but I have a career. That was one side of “Entitled”.
For as much I’m saying you are not entitled, you are for other things: fair treatment. Kids getting shot down, police brutality, those are unfortunate and unfair. Some of the content of the album touches on these things. We are entitled to rights, freedoms, and liberties as everyone else. Females, men, black men, young black kids. They are entitled as much as our counter parts. I thought that would be a great double meaning that you expect to feel one way going in and you come out feeling a different type of way, from me breaking it down.
Follow Torae on Twitter: @Torae – Listen on SiriusXM: The TOR Guide: Weekdays, 5 pm – 10 pm ET; Sundays, 10 am – 3 pm ET