Underground Report 2008 Year End: Torae

posted December 28, 2008 12:00:00 AM CST | 15 comments

Its the end of the year folks, and like all endings boggled with enigmatic beginnings, tis bittersweet. We here at HipHopDX have worked our brains off to bring you the most relevant, most promising and most infamous acts of the year. The Underground Report has had an interesting run these twelve months while chasing down rappers with a passion for civil rights (Theory), hollowing out the west coast wonders (The Grouch, Del the Funky Homosapien, B-Real), doffing off caps to groups and duos (J. Rawls and Middle Child, K-Salaam and Beatnick, Common Market, MOOD), and usurping the east coast (Knaan, Killah Priest, Junclassic, Mr. Lif).

And as we began with a bang, we shall end the same way too, bringing a close to the 2008 Underground Report with an artist who has epitomized energy and patience. He is a native of Coney Island and no stranger to a sturdy work ethic, which granted Torae, a DXnext alum, much to show for including his four mixtapes (his latest the Daily Conversation featuring production by Marco Polo, 9th Wonder and DJ Premier), his invitation to EMCs European tour, and his presence on the mic which has earned him the invite to rhyme over beats of Hip Hops production beasts including DJ Clark Kent, Illmind and Preemo. As the year of the Ox approaches, DX sits down with Torae to discuss his connection to Dipset, getting the Preemo jitters and reconstruction of Coney Island. Happy New Year yall!

HipHopDX: You went to Europe this summer with the eMC crew and Marco Polo. Why were you surprised that the crowd knew your songs?
Just becauseI mean obviously going as the opening act, you know that the headliner is who they came to see. And me being a relatively new artist and on the indie/underground scene, I just wasnt sure that people would be familiar with my work. So when I got out there, it was a pleasant surprise to see that they not only knew me but knew the records and knew the songs and were able to interact with me as far as my performance.

DX: How does a crowd of 20,000 people in Poland rocking to DJ Premier differ from a crowd of 20,000 people in any given US city?
[Laughs] I guess just because its Poland and you have these preconceived notions about how its gonna be. And then when you actually get out there and experience it, its surreal to see 20,000 Polish people no black people in the crowd whatsoever [laughing] - and they know every word and they rocking, and they genuinely love the music. Its ten hours away from where I grew up, as far as the plane ride, and just to be that far away and still feel like home, and still feel like the Hip Hop is universal, its just crazy. It just differs from being in the States because being in the States, at least you know they know the language and you would assume they would be more familiar with the music. But across the board I guess Hip Hop is universal in the fact that it speaks to everyone.

DX: How did you feel upon seeing the reaction of the crowd and has it taught you anything?
It taught me not to go out with any preconceived notions or any thoughts about where youre going or what youre going to experience - because you never know. And the feeling was just amazing; Im a kid from Brooklyn, New York, and to be out in the foreign land, on foreign soil and rocking and have people genuinely love the music and know it it was just dope. It felt like I was doing something right and the people respect good music all across world and I want to keep delivering that good quality product.

DX: You said that the European Hip Hop scene today is the way New Yorks was 15 years ago. Elaborate.
New York has always been a tough market, and I think more so now than ever because its just so saturated with a lot of artists. I think we kind of take it for granted that we have so many dope artists in New York and from New York like you can be in New York and go to a different Hip Hop show every night and itll be dope, where a lot of other places dont have that. And in New York, they kind of just take it for granted, that its always gonna be here and its there and they dont really have to get into it as much. But when you go to places like Germany or Poland or Romania, they appreciate it because they dont get to see it everyday; they dont get to see the artists that they support and that they love, so when they come out, they just treat it with a whole different level of respect.

DX: Black Milk won HipHopDX's "Producer of the Year" Award for 2008. What was it like working with him on the Daily Conversation?
Black [Milk] [click to read] is dope as a producer and as an emcee as well, so Im glad hes getting his just due. Again, just everybody that Ive worked with on the Daily Conversation [click to read], I have a relationship with. Some guys Im closer with than others, but there was never just a situation where I was working and I was reaching out to different artists and different producers. These are guys that I had relationships with. People see me and Black hang out I was just at his release party for Tronic [click to read] a few months back, in Brooklyn, and we see each other on the road and we hang out. So getting him to come on the project was nothing, it was more or less just a phone call away. Actually, Skyzoo [click to read] had that beat and he was like, Yo I think this beat would be dope. And I listened to it, and I was like, Yeah, thats crazy and I automatically had the concept in my head. So I hit Black about it, and he was with it and the rest of it was history.

DX: Was it through Skyzoo that you and Black touched base initially?
Yeah, he actually knew Sky prior to my relationship with Fat Beats, he was on Fat Beats. And he knew Sky, and me and Sky being cool, when he was in New York promoting his stuff we met, we hung out, we did radio, and ate and went to the studio and did a bunch of things together. From there we just decided it was friendship.

DX: What do you think about the consistent comparison between Black and the late J Dilla?
Again, it just plays on what I said earlier about people wanting to kind of categorize things theyre familiar with. And of course, I think every producer who listened to Hip Hop in the last 10 to 15 years is gonna be inspired by Dilla because he was such a great producer. As many similarities as there are between their styles, there are a lot of differences as well. And I dont think Black is trying to bite Dilla or trying to pick up where he left off; I think Black is doing his own thing and I think it even shows more so on his new album Tronic where he was experimenting with a lot of different sounds and different things. But if youre gonna be compared to any producer, I would assume that Dilla would be one of the guys youd want to be compared to no matter who you are [laughing] cause he was probably one of the greatest to do it.

DX: Why is it, in your eyes, that you and Skyzoo have such strong chemistry?
We walked a similar path. Were both young guys from Brooklyn, New York who love Hip Hop music. And for the most part, that right there entails a lot of similarities between our lives and what we do. And we have good chemistry because I think first and foremost we were fans of each others music. We werent put together by [DJ Premier] and no one forced us to be a group or anything like that. We were just two dudes who love Hip Hop, who have mutual respect for each others work, and who decided to work together. And I think it shows in the product we put out because we have incredible chemistry.

DX: Tell us how you both worked together with DJ Premier. Of the two joints, does one mean more to you?
One doesnt mean more but they both have two separate places in my heart for different reasons. Preem is a deejay, obviously, and I think true deejays really keep their ears to the street, and look to break new records and break new artists. And Preem having a show on Sirius Radio, he was able to listen and find a lot of new artists and break em, cause the show is premised on breaking new acts. With that being said, he was a fan of Skyzoos music, the stuff he had put out with 9th Wonder [click to read], and he was a fan of my group, The Coalescence and the music that we had put out prior to me doing my solo thing. And he expressed that he wanted to work with each of us individually, but due to time constraints that guy is always busy he decided that it would probably be better if we did the record together. He asked if we were opposed to it, and of course we werent, its a dream come true to get a record produced by DJ Premier. We went into the studio and we knocked out the first joint, Get it Done [click to listen]. Actually, Click [click to listen] was the first beat that Preemo made, but he said that wasnt the first record he wanted us to come out on, so he went back to the studio and cooked up another gem, and the result was Get it Done. And people loved it, it literally changed my life overnight once that record hit and touched downthe way that people reacted to it, the way that Internet went crazy about it, and definitely one of my favorite records because of the impact that it had on changing the course of my career.

DX: Do you think the effect of Get it Done was stronger because you, Preem and Skyzoo all went into the studio together as opposed to the verses recorded separately and sent in?
Yeah, I definitely think that when youre in the lab, you get a chance to kind of vibe and bounce off one others thoughts and chemistry and feelings. And I think it makes just for a more organic record. Not saying that you cant do it sharing files and MP3s back and forth, but Im a purist at heart, and long before God sent emails and internet service, we had to go in the studio and record with one another [laughing]. So I always think that makes for a better sound, a better joint, and just organically and sonically everything kind of goes together better that way. So I definitely think that that helped the chemistry of the record: the fact that all three of us were in the lab together, creating.

DX: Were you nervous around Preem?
Definitely. And hes somebody that I chill out with, hang with and speak to on a regular basis now. But, just growing up and loving what the guys brought to the table as far as music and Hip Hop especially, just being a fan first and being a real person, I still get a little jittery when I get around any of the legends that I can call my friends now. Its always just a moment of awkwardness for me because its just surreal to actually be there, and be in their presence, and be cool with them.

DX: Absolutely. In August, you, Legend and DJ Nice dropped the Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself [click to listen] tape. Was it frustrating for you as a "young veteran" to be concerned with re-introducing yourself the same year you made such a warmly-received album?
I think the attention span of people nowadays is really shortened. And you kind of gotta stay in their face and in their ears. And [by] me focusing on the quality of music as opposed to putting out a certain quantity, I guess I was a little absent from the scene. I had dropped Daily Conversation and I thought usually you put a record out and it lasts at least a year or so but it seemed that people were kind of moving on and looking for the next thing, so I felt like what I needed to do was introduce them to some of the things that I did prior to Daily Conversation and after the Daily Conversation, things that they may have missed or some stuff that flew under the radar just because I was featured on it or whatever. So I figured itd be a great way to put out some more music for the people, give them some stuff they didnt hear and put on some of their favorite joints that they did hear, kind of compile them on one CD and give it out for a free download.

DX: The track "Think About It" with Teflon is truly a gem, reminding people never to mistake kindness for weakness. In 2008, when tough-talkers are at an all time high, how important do you think messages like that are?
I think first and foremost the message was Im a nice guy, Im a cool guy but dont get it misconstrued. And that was kind of where I was going with it; of course, when I hear a new beat or when Im in the lab and I get some music, the track speaks to me and thats what the track said to me. As soon as I hear it, I think I wrote the chorus a few minutes after the beat started playing just because thats what it said to me and that was just the point that I wanted to get across. Some people do take your kindness for weakness, and some people do take your humbleness as insecurity, and I just wanted to put it out there that Im not the guy. Im a cool guy, Im a nice guy and Im a humble guy but dont think that it wont go down and that doesnt necessarily mean a fight per se. But just because Im cool or Im courteous to everybody, dont think I wont get in the booth and tear your ass up; or dont think I wont get on stage and give you the time of your life because Im a more reserved person. I choose to present myself in a way that my actions are always gonna speak louder than my words.

DX: Some people were surprised to see Agallah go from 8-Off with D&D Records and PMD to Purple City. You've never really switched your style up, but touched on your time with The Diplomats on "The Journey, Pt. 1," as well as thanked them all in your liner notes. As a fan of this, do you find it strange than an emcee can be accepted in that circle as well as by the backpack crowd?
There are a few artists that kind of tread that thin line between mainstream and a more underground or backpack following. I like to think that Im a person before the music. Im just a regular guy so I like a lot of different things, a lot of different music, a lot of different genres. People are multi-faceted; I think that when people close their minds or only try to listen to one thing or view one thing, theyre limiting themselves. And I try not to limit myself as far as what I listen to and what I like and where you might see me or who you might see me with. And I would like to think that people in general would do that a lot less.

DX: Why do you think fans, particularly Hip Hop fans have a need to categorize artists?
I think its just human nature to associate things with which youre already familiar with. It just makes it easier for you to understand it and decide if you want to pursue it and follow it further or [if] you just want to dismiss it. Its just in general that people do that. you might see a female that looks a certain way and categorize her as a certain type of female; or you might hear a song or a new artist, and they might have a voice on that particular song that reminds you of something else, so you try to categorize it just so that you could put it in that box in your brain and make it more familiar to yourself.

DX: What is your affiliation with Dipset?
Those are my friends, those are my guys. I started out in the music business under their wing - going out with [Cam'ron] and Jimmy [Jones] and Juelz [Santana] [click to read] and those guys when they were before they were even in Dipset, when it was just The Diplomats, the crew, the family. The only one who had a deal at the time was Cam, so we were just all there working with Cam, helping him out as far as rocking with him on the road and shows and things like that. This was early 2000, when he released his second album, S.D.E. This was long before Jimmy was a star or Juelz was a star. We was just guys hanging out and working with Cam and all trying to pursue a career at the same time, but definitely first and foremost just working with Cam and helping him get his thing off the ground.

DX: Are you anticipating any projects together?
Well those guys are definitely kind of all going in their separate ways but like I said, I still have a relationship with all of them, so maybe in the future youll see a collaboration with one or a few of us on a record; its definitely not something Im opposed to. I think they all make good music in their own right, and of course, I would love to just make music with my friends, the guys that know me and knew me for a number of years and [who] are doing something dope and progressive.

DX: How is Coney Island changing with the recent construction and destruction?
Its definitely changing. Just like a lot of other parts of Brooklyn, its becoming more and more gentrified. The amusement park is now gone; they are in the process of rebuilding it and kind of revamping it. I think its interesting as far as just being from Coney Island and growing up in Coney Island all my life to see the changes and see what happens. I definitely dont like to see people losing their homes and things of that nature, but you do like to see the community uplifted - so its like a double-edged sword. Hopefully a lot of people like to see the writing on the wall and can stay in the places that they lived their whole life and grew up at, as long as they got their finances right and everything together, hopefully the people whove been in the neighborhood for twenty-and thirty years can continue to live there. But I do like to see that the neighborhood is being uplifted and cared about, and hopefully it wont move out all the natives. Thats my only concern.

DX: Any upcoming projects?
Torae: Marco
[Polo] and I spent the last year, almost year and a half, working on a project which we titled Double Barrel. And we are in talks - we narrowed it down to three labels. There will be an album coming out in the second quarter of 2009 on a pretty big indie label. Im excited about it, its dope: 13 joints, real hard-hitting New York vibe. I think its the record that people have been looking for for a while, and nobodys been delivering. So Im glad to be able to be the guy to come back and hit em on the head with something theyve been wanting to hear for a while.

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