Troi "Star" Torain never wanted to be one of the first voices that Hip Hop heard in the morning. Instead, almost 30 years ago, the New Jersey slick-talker, businessman and objective thinker initially aimed to slap bass guitar strings in a Heavy Metal band. Two decades later, the musician-turned-magazine publisher, columnist and video and radio show host became part of Jay-Z lyrics, and maintained higher ratings than Howard Stern, through his Star & Buc Wild show.
Moving from print to public access television to radio to MTV and back, Star now finds himself - well, the star of VladTV.com. Along with "burn-out relief" sidekick Buc Wild, the two are doing webisodes that focus largely on Hip Hop, pop culture and the same sort of rant that filled a void missing in the marketplace.
With his eyes still on Hollywood, the author, cultural critic and self-proclaimed "jerk from Jersey" spoke to HipHopDX about his new format, what's lost and gained in leaving radio, and how "The Hater" almost went on permanent hiatus, due to liver transplant complications. Providing both food and liquor for the mind long before Lupe Fiasco, Star unveils his latest conquest.
DX: I wanted to start with a chapter quote from your book, Objective Hate. “Disaster with a smile, and candy for a few. The evil wings of love, a single point of view; The story never ends, the mission is to soar, A destiny that's real – and this my son is war.” How would you say that quote applies to your career, and what’s the “war” right now?
Star: [repeats quote]. Uh, each one of those quotes are direct representations of my journey and the Star & Buc Wild journey. They do very much relate to the journey. Let me grab the book, hang on a sec, so I can be precise here…Okay – “disaster with a smile, and candy with a few,”…you see, Star – Strange Thoughts And Revelations, that’s what Star stands for, I don’t claim to be the most knowledgeable person in the game, nor am I the most [qualified] person to be involved in this culture. When I say, “I’m just a jerk from Jersey,” I mean that. I’m a guy who grew up in Central Jersey who grew up listening to Bachman Turner Overdrive, Kiss, Van Halen, Rush – Rush is still my fuckin’ all-time favorite band. When I say “disaster with a smile,” I might be perceived as disaster. But I do have a genuine smile when I talk to people and people who have met me say, “Wow, he’s not such a fuckin’ idiot after all. He’s not such a scumbag.” “Candy for a few” is Bucwild.
Buc Wild was once my alter-ego when I was writing for The Source magazine in 1995 until 1998. Buc Wild is the burn-out relief, not the comic relief, but the burn-out relief. He’s the weed head, the quintessential slacker. Because Star by himself can be a little bit too harsh to most people. My mother is Italian, my father was African America, I’m a very confident, arrogant, balls-to-walls type of guy. I know that about myself, and this is what led me to [reading] Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism. It helped mold me into who I am, otherwise I would have just – who knows, might’ve wound up doing 15-to-life. That particular quote, “the evil wings of love, a single point of view,” when I say “single point-of-view,” Star & Buc Wild is a dictatorship, it’s not a democracy. I lay down the laws, the rules, the foundation, Buc fits in where he fits in.
DX: Microphones will be turned off.
Star: Yeah! When I started doing that it was a combination of two things, when I started commercial radio on HOT97 in March of 2000. I have OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I can’t multi-task like most people can. When I’m talking or someone else is talking, I need you over there to shut the fuck up and be quiet so I can hear what’s going on. This is why the microphones started getting shut down. People thought it was just to be funny, no. I need to fuckin’ zone in. I’m like that when I drive as well; I can’t listen to the radio when I’m driving. If I’m in the passenger seat [I love news radio and Rap stations]. That’s the quote.
When I say “this my son is war,” I’m talkin’ to all these niggas in the hood. “Yo son,” “This is war, my son. I’m here to fuckin’ get paid. And if I have to roll on you or roll over you, that’s just what it is.” So that’s a very powerful quote to me. That’s why I led the book off with it.
DX: When you left radio in 2006, we would go to your website and saw a spaceship. We knew there must have been a plan in order. That coincided when the book came out. Tell me about what the war is now, with you coming back in the VladTV webisode format…
Star: I can’t say that it’s any type of personal war. It’s a really a struggle within myself. War in one sense is competitiveness, but there’s no war to stay in the game or to stay visible, in terms of the world of entertainment. That is really me moving at my own methodical pace and doing what I’m passionate about. I’m very passionate right now about what I’m doing with VladTV [click here] because I feel that it allows the brand to be reintroduced and also enforced at the same time. Coming back is not necessarily what most people might think coming back means – if I’m making sense? I’m choosing my words carefully. I’m not a rapper and I’m not a comedian, so I don’t feel I have to make a comeback. I get in when I think the time is right.
I’m a high school drop-out, so I’m constantly trying to educate myself to be conscious of things, to stay in the loop. At this point in my life, I fuckin’ wake up every morning at six am and I’m on the Internet, ‘cause that’s where it all is. The Internet is the greatest fuckin’ tool that mankind has produced, in my opinion, since its inception.
DX: Being a listener of the show for a number of years, one of my favorite elements was the opportunity for 14 minutes without a commercial to tease an idea out. To the listener, a lot of that discussion felt reactive to a caller or an email or what one of your colleagues might say or do. Is some of that lost in the new format? Are the daily webisodes coming from bigger angles and ideas that you’re condensing, or are you still improvising?
Star: My take on life and my objective views allow me to zone in on things throughout the course of the week, things that I think are compelling. Today’s clip – “Knight’s Of The DJ Table.” This clip is very important to me because I needed to show that not only have I made a shit-load of money from this culture that I wasn’t involved in in its early days, but I am smart enough to acknowledge others that are the lifeline of the culture. There’s a lot of peoples’ names that I unfortunately left out and there were some other names that, due to the editing process, were cut out. Throughout the course of the week, there’s things that I think about. “The Age of Obama.” Tomorrow we’re going to record a clip, and I haven’t worked it out in my head just yet. I do have bullet points. Things that I write down on a pad. Just like my radio show, I used to prepare for my radio shows. When I would come in, I would always have a laptop or a sheet of paper with bullet points. I’m not gonna dump on anybody else who has done or who does radio now, but I’ve seen guys come in five minutes before the fuckin’ show, and they just flip through the newspaper and crack the mic and throw it all on the audience. I think that’s some real sucka shit. I actually get down into the trenches and I fuckin’ prepare and I research my shit. I have a library that is huge. My books have all types of Post-It notes and shit highlighted, and this is what, sadly drives me crazy with the OCD, ‘cause there’s certain things I have to reference.
[Recites] “The Age of Obama, the question is not where you fit in, but do you fit in?” So that’s what we’re gonna present tomorrow when we film. I’m gonna talk about the “Top 20 Worst Rappers,” and I’m gonna talk about the fact that not is Hip Hop bigger than ever, but it’s still evolving, so let’s get this fuckin’ theory out the window that Hip Hop is dead. The only mothafuckas that talk about “is Hip Hop dead?” is mothafuckas that are old and don’t have any more mothafuckin’ gas in the fuckin’ tank. This shit is beautiful right now. This shit is where Hip Hop labels were in the early ‘80s, when Stu Fine [click to read] started Wild Pitch Records, when Cory Robbins started Profile, when Tom Silverman started Tommy Boy, fuckin’ Bryan Turner started Priority Records…this was an open playing field and nobody believed, but these guys put in the work, so I’m putting in the work right now. Right now I’m at the same age that some of guys were in the early ‘80s. And they made the shit pop! There’s people on the Internet puttin’ in the work now. Not even a quarter of the people are gonna last, but at least they are helping out the weeding-out process.
The ideas for these clips come up via myself, my producer Pablo, my dear friend DX 21 and DJ Vlad.
DX: And these are the people we can hear in the background when you’re really on one?
Star: Yeah. And also a guy by the name of Raheem. You’ll see his name; he posts the clips sometimes. These guys are in the room, and we just cut the lights on and I fuckin’ dig in. Sometimes I put little Post-It notes of what I want to say, but I pretty much got it in my mind how I want to execute this stuff. Having OCD, my thing is that I want each clip to start different. When you see the opening hand gestures or the movements or something, I’m consciously saying to myself, “Be different. Don’t repeat what you did five clips ago.”
DX: When you left Pulse87 in Brooklyn last year, you said you would come back in a more Hip Hop format. Now you’re working with DJ Vlad. I’m glad to hear that you’ve got this restored faith in Hip Hop – maybe it’s not restored, but I know for a while, there wasn’t a space to talk about it as much as you are now. Was there anything in particular that prompted you to talk about Hip Hop as much as you were in those Source days?
Star: Belief in myself to be honest with you. To be very, very fuckin’ honest with you. Belief in myself as an educator by way of experience, not by way of going through the process of college and the institution of learning – which I do have a lot of respect for people who do. But you know what? There’s still more work that I have to put in in these fuckin’ streets, and I have to show people my fuckin’ swagger, and how real my swagger is. That may sound very cocky and conceited, but that’s just me. I feel that the open battlefield of the Internet needs to have some people out there who are not afraid to put in the work, and some people who have the knowledge, the wisdom and the ability to say “watch this fuckin’ pistol smoke.” Feel me?
I was very, very pleased with what I did at Pulse87. I’m still involved with that station. But the liver transplant took me down. I had complications. I was calling in sick all the time. I almost checked out twice – literally. I had to lay up and take the meds and recuperate, and when I did, I was doing what it is that I do, but I felt that just by looking through the Internet and seeing what people are not doing, that compelled me again to throw my hat back into the ring.
That’s how Star & Buc Wild evolved in the early days – by seeing what was not being done out there. I started pressing up a magazine called Around The Way Connections, which was a teen dating magazine, and I said, “Here’s the hot shit right here. Here’s what you’re missing.”
Also, the Beat Suite shows on MTV; I wrote all those episodes. [We recently posted the public access shows on YouTube] as well. That was the real stomping period, that was showing mothafuckas how to get at somebody and not be a fuckin’ bitch, hidin’ behind a god damned cartoon or some little little fuckin’ lip – and I don’t want to say anybody’s name. again, I was watching the landscape and I said, “You’ve got a couple of motherfuckers talkin’ slick in these magazines but nobody’s showin’ their face.” You’ve got motherfuckers runnin’ around behind some cartoon and this and that. I got an idea: here’s who the fuck I am and here’s where you can come get me. We got about seven compilations up there on YouTube [click here].
DX: You’re talking about music again. On radio, your show was welcome to play records, whether Rage Against The Machine or MFSB or Rush and Slave. Do you miss the ability to play records along with your discussions? Because quite honestly, it was refreshing to hear a spontaneous playlist during morning radio…
Star: No, I don’t miss that. Again, I’m just a jerk from Jersey. I have reaped the rewards of my efforts tenfold. Even before I got on HOT97…I came to New York in 1981, a kid looking to be in a Heavy Metal band, and I did some things that I can look back on and be proud of, by way of those efforts. I didn’t come here to be a fuckin’ celebrity. I came here because I loved the music, and I wanted to be a musician with a passion for playing the bass guitar.
There’s some people who are fixated on always being in the fuckin’ loop. They have to go to the industry parties and rub elbows with every fuckin’ has-been loser and cocksucker; it’s just not my world. I come from a different place… I don’t know what you know about Scotch Plains, New Jersey, but it was in the 70s – when I grew up, a heavy La Cosa Nostra town. You're taught by your conditions to downplay things, not to want to shine, and fuckin’ be jiggy and flashy. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way to anybody else, but you get in, you get the money, and you keep it real fuckin’ quiet, ‘cause you don’t need everybody in your god damned business. What I’ve done on radio, I’m very grateful when people say, “Hey, you educated me on Thomas Hobbes or some philosophical book,” or “You taught me something about the Copernican Revolution,” or “You taught me something about Harvey Milk,” which I was talkin’ about years ago. That means something to me.
The other part that goes with the media exposure, I’m not addicted to it. It’s cool. It’s what it is. But I’m not out here tryin’ to fuckin’ ham it up just so somebody can say, “I want you to do this and do that, and pay you some money.” That’s not my thing.
DX: At the same time, for years, you’ve mentioned Hollywood aspirations. Is that still a destination, and wouldn’t that be in the spotlight?
Star: That’s more of a reality now than it was in the past. Again, I don’t mean to be disrespectful to people that may indeed miss me on the radio; I appreciate that. I can’t emphasize that enough. But Hollywood is a personal goal of mine because of Abbott & Costello. In the ‘70s, Sunday afternoon, channel 11. That was my fuckin’ world, man. Bud Abbott wore expensive suits and fedora hats, that’s my idol. He was a slime-bag, but my idol. He was a wise-guy. He always got to the bottom of something. Part of me wants to live that out as well. This is why I’m enjoying VladTV.com right now, because I’m doing what Abbott & Costello were doing when I was growing up. It’s in three-minute intervals, sometimes four-minutes. Still, right now the history is there. Somebody can look at these clips in 20 years and say, “Hey, I remember this shit! I used to watch this shit in 2009.”
The Hollywood films are very much a reality. I’m very much entertaining talks right now with people who can get behind some of these Star & Buc Wild projects – I’ve got about nine to 10 films written. There’s nothing that’s gonna stop me. It will become a reality and people will see this work that we’re putting in now and say, “Let me put these two jerk-offs in a fuckin’ film and see what they got.”
DX: You are the hater, but you’ve provided wisdom to a lot of people through different mediums. Of all the history and mediums, is there one thing that you’re most proud of getting out there to the people?
Star: [Coughs] If I understand your question correctly, I still have a lot of work to do. This is why, to some degree, I got back in the Hip Hop arena. I have a lot of work to do, and I take pride in that work. I have not peaked yet. What I do on radio, in the New York tri-state area, that was cool. I have not reached my apex yet. When I do, I almost positive that people from different walks of life will see that my message has always been “be confident within yourself.”
Star was a high school drop-out, but he got down in the trenches and he made it pop because he believed he in himself, not ‘cause somebody gave him a shot. No one gave me a shot. HOT97 didn’t give me a shot; HOT97 put me on the morning show ‘cause I threatened to leave, and I actually quit there one time. I never carried anyone’s records, I don’t tell jokes. I put myself in the right situations and I believed in myself and I’ve taken the values that my parents, great people, instilled in me, and I made it happen. There’s no such thing as luck.