On an interlude from his official, debut LP, For the Record, Torae reflects on his childhood, hip-hop aspirations and how all he ever wanted was a Pete Rock beat, a DJ Premier beat, and to be signed with Def Jam. Typically, that’s been every dreamy-eyed rapper’s goal even if few would know what to do with the opportunity even if they had the chance. Brooklyn emcee, Torae is past that. Released through his own imprint, Internal Affairs, For the Record boasts of production from both of those legendary producers.
On Torae’s 2008 Daily Conversation mixtape–which was later re-released as a retail album–he fulfilled his first wish, finding himself and fellow Brooklyn emcee, Skyzoo, tag-teaming over two DJ Premier sketches (“Click” and “Get It Done”). This time, the Premo contribution is more meaningful, especially since Torae used it as the LP’s title track, “For the Record”. Finding the sweet spot where disciplined writing and disciplinarian rap meet is second nature to Torae, and when aided by a Premo beat, the end result glistens. Torae’s verses are moving walkways of smart, pressurized rhymes. When he’s peaking, he has the workhorse cadence that should, conversely, have the producers on his wish list wishing for him instead.
Vocalists Pav Bundy, Wes, and MeLa Machinko provide hook-assistance on a few songs but other than that, there are no guest rappers on the record. Torae wanted to tell his story by himself and luckily, for him, one is a healthy crowd. But sometimes beautiful minds get lonely and tend to complicate things for their own entertainment. This is what happens on “Do The Math”, which would have been better-received as a addendum to this LP’s liner notes than on top of a Large Professor beat. Here, Torae poses an exhausting series of hypothetical, “What if?”, scenarios like, “Imagine if 2Pac woulda had kids and left another soldier for the revolution?… / If Jaz-O woulda popped/ would hypeman Hov ever have started The Roc?”. Unfortunately, some of these are all fair questions to which many of us have neither the time nor urgency to answer or worry about after the first listen. These days, real life beckons the listener.
Fortunately, North Carolina producer E.Jones rescues Torae from this conceptual rap hole with “Over You”–a cream-filled, chord-friendly track where Torae examines his leftover love for an ex-girlfriend. He’s equally as vulnerable on “Imagine”, tapping into an LL Cool J zone where tenderness is just as effective as being a tough guy. Torae wants you to believe that he’s a grateful man but he also wants you to understand that he’s a gift, which leads us to his second wish–a beat from Pete Rock.
“That Raw” belongs in Pete Rock’s tome of classic production, somewhere between INI’s “Fakin’ Jax” and “#1 Soul Brother”. Torae inducts himself into this hall of fame with lines like, “This should separate me from the pack/ I’m so ahead of the wack/ at first glance, you might think I’m in back/ but backtrack your first glance/ you’ll see that, in fact, I’m so advanced that I doubled their laps/ niggas’ memories lapsed”. Two of Pete Rock’s beat disciples, NC’s Khrysis and 9th Wonder, get a similar treatment on “Alive” and “Shakedown”, respectively. When it’s necessary, For The Record retains all of the uncaged, Big Apple browbeating found on Torae and Canadian producer Marco Polo’s 2009 collaborative LP, Double Barrel. That album featured Torae at some of his most uncaged, aggressive moments. For the Record isn’t the occasion for that, it’s a wishing well album that houses Torae’s greatest weapons–pinpoint lyricism and cultural salutes. As for his last wish of being signed to Def Jam, well, let’s hope that for Torae’s sake, Def Jam doesn’t come around tossing in their invaluable coins anytime soon.
4 out of 5
Stream “That Raw” below.