Independent Brooklyn rapper Torae has been grinding for a while but it was his 2014 collaboration album with Skyzoo – Barrel Brothers – that really made me a diehard fan.
Since then, Torae has gone on to drop his second studio album, Entitled, a 14-track project featuring production from the likes of legends like Pete Rock, Nottz, Mr. Porter, Apollo Brown, as well as features from Saul Williams, Phonte, Mack Wilds and more.
Stop The Breaks had the honour of interviewing Torae, who spoke about working with Skyzoo, Entitled, running an independent record label in 2016 and plenty more.
1) First thing’s first man, I’m a big fan of your 2014 collaboration album with Skyzoo – Barrel Brothers. It was one of those projects where everything – the raps, the production, the features – all clicked together. How did you link up with Skyzoo for that project?
Glad you enjoyed it, we did it for the people who had been asking for years for us to collab on a full length. Sky and I have known each other since like ’05. We met through Chaundon of the Justus League and became mutual fans of each other, clicked from day one.
2) Are there any tracks on that album where you felt he got you and vice versa?
Listening back I think overall it’s pretty balanced, we both had to bring it on each record cause we knew the other would.
3) Talk to me about what you were trying to achieve with Entitled – it feels like there’s an autobiographical element to it, especially with that album art.
I wanted Entitled to feel like the natural progression from my debut album ‘For the Record’. It was autobiographical in the sense that I’m just giving the people my growth from project to project.
As far as the artwork, I think much like the album it’s layered. There is this young kid bright eyed and ready for the world. He’s entitled to a fair shot at any and everything in it. He shouldn’t be prejudged because of how he looks or where he’s from.
At the same time it shows the foundation of whatever you make of your life, gotta do the work. Never feel entitled to anything.
4) Looking at the track list for the album, you connected with a murderers’ row of producers – Pete Rock, Nottz, Mr. Porter, Apollo Brown, !llmind – goddamn! What sort of relationships do you have with these guys?
Yeah it’s a pretty solid line up. Everyone on the project I’ve either known for years, or worked with before. The only new producer I had on Entitled was Mr. Porter who I’ve been a fan of for the longest time. We all have a good relationship though, real recognize real is what they say.
5) The album was released on your record label – Internal Affairs Entertainment. What is like running an independent hip-hop label in this day and age?
It’s all I’ve ever known so to me it’s business as usual. Everything I’ve released as a solo artist from the Daily Conversation mixtape in 2008 to present day has come through my company Internal Affairs Ent. Being indie has its perks and problems much like everything else.
6) You’ve been in the rap game for over 20 years yet you’ve remained strictly indie – what is the appeal of the independent grind for you?
Well my first single with the group The Co. dropped in 2006 so it’s only been 10 years as a professional. I’ve been into hip-hop since I was a kid, but all the local stuff leading up to the 1st single was just building up. I think my decision to pursue the independent lane came from the split in the music business.
Once the music I was inspired by became “underground” and the more commercial sound was mainstream I just went with what raised me. I definitely wanted a major label deal initially.
The Wu were major, Mobb Deep, Tribe, Gangstarr all on majors. So that was the goal at first. Then the game went super commercial pop, so the sound I was raised by went indie and I followed.
7) What do you think when you watch someone like Chance The Rapper blow up?
I don’t think anything, I haven’t paid much attention honestly.
8) Understood, you’re focused on your own thing right now. Do you think it’s easier than to be independent in 2016, compared to say, 2006?
There are definitely way more options. Anyone can get on YouTube, iTunes, build a following on social media. It’s a whole different ball game. The one downside to that is the congestion, because any and everyone can do it, they do. So now there’s a lot of crap to sift through in order to find the good stuff.
9) What would be your top advice for up-and-coming hip-hop artists who want to grind it out independently?
My top advice would be to try to build a team. Have a producer, a graphics person, photographer, assistant etc. real people with real know how and real passion. Going about it all on your own is doable, but difficult. Being able to delegate responsibilities allows you to focus more on being an artist.
10) Who are some of the newer rappers that you’re listening to these days?
Newer? What’s new to me might be old to someone else. People still call me “new”. Here’s what’s ‘recently purchased’ on my phone: Masta Ace, Royce, Kendrick, Kanye, Torae, Common and Sean Price. I guess there’s your answer.
11) So what’s next for Torae?
Only God knows, I just do what I’m inspired to do. God designs the rest. I’d guess more rapping, more radio, more hosting and more acting though.