It’s rare that an album arrives without any hype. Before albums are finally leaked legally released hip-hop nation has typically been debating its context for weeks, if not months. Can he actually live up to the hype? Are we looking at a classic? Will he become the future of the label? There are almost always questions, storylines and debates that hover around albums like persistent flies; relatively minor, but impossible to ignore. I say almost always because every so often an album arrives that’s simply, well, a collection of really good music. No hype, no …
DJBooth Album Review
Make no mistake, Torae’s not coming out of nowhere with his new album For the Record. The Brooklyn emcee’s been working harder than a Malaysian kid in a Nike factory for a decade now, slowly but surely earning the respect of some of hip-hop’s best beatmakers. Still, I don’t know if many outside of Torae’s inner circle anticipated just how raw For the Record would be. And how could we have? There weren’t any flashing lights, any glitzy marketing plans. No, it turns out the only way to know just how good this project is, is to actually listen to it.
Truthfully, I could really just hit play on You Ready and walk away, point made, but I get paid by the word and my rent’s due. (I kid, I kid.) Here’s a track that’s aggressive without posturing, simultaneously violent and intelligent. In other words, it’s some of that classic New York City hip-hop: “When I talk, they all listen / they hang on every word from the God, they all Christians / I baptize em with lines, this y’all christenin.” That same kick down the door style can be found again in Shakedown, thanks in no small part to a horn heavy beat from 9th Wonder, and while the tempo slows down for the Pete Rock produced That Raw, true to its title Torae’s mic work is as uncut as kilos straight from Columbia. Actually, I’m listening to Raw as I write this and the track itself – “Get the f*ck out of my zone if you missed the bus” - gave me the perfect analogy. On For the Record Torae is the rap Jerome Bettis. He might not produce the gasp-inducing plays of a Barry Sanders, but he’s going to give you at least five yards anytime, and no one wants to be the one standing between him and the end zone. His game plan is to simply pound away on wack emcees until they’re forced to get out of the way, and Torae’s built for the game.
Just like Bettis though, what makes Torae truly remarkable is that he’s not just a bull with his head down – on occasion he can bust out some serious agility of his own. (The deeper I get into it the more I love this analogy.) Do the Math is a lyrical exercise in the grand tradition of Tribe’s What?, imaging a world where Jordan was a bust and everyone’s rocking those new Sam Bowie’s on their feet. On a more personal note, almost no group is less represented in rap than the responsible, involved father, so as a rap dad myself I have to applaud a line like, “See as a father my persona is to try to do better / on my youngin’s never bailin no matter whatever.” That willingness to let us inside his life, his actual life, continues on the break-up-that’s-not-quite-broken anthem Over You, the slowly jazzy Imagine and the appropriately titled Reflection, which contains what could be considered Torae’s hip-hop mission statement: “Thee-quarters of these rappers spend a third of their time / on everything in the book but penning a rhyme.” Somewhere along the way it seems like how well you could actually rap became one of the least important parts of becoming a rapper. Torae is a dope rapper, and I refuse to admit that no longer means something.
It’d be a mistake to stick the ol’ “underground” label on For the Record – you don’t have to have a backpack full of Krylon to enjoy it – but it’s safe to say Torae’s not aiming for crossover radio success. This is a hip-hop album for people who love hip-hop and who want to hear the music they love, not the music a radio programmer thinks they should love. Yes, those people still exist, and there’s actually a lot of them. I should know, I’m one of them.
Full stream and direct purchase of For the Record here.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 11/3/11
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