Torae’s extensive pen work extends from Coney Island to the world. That’s why legends like Timbaland and Diddy call upon him to lend his samurai songwriting skills to shape their records. And he’s seen them help others in the process.
“I think Lil Baby might’ve been in there one day, and Puff coaching him and critiquing showed his attention to detail is crazy,” Torae told REVOLT. “But again, he knows how to bring the best out of people, and he’ll challenge you. He’ll tell you, ‘That ain’t it, playboy.’”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the veteran explains what recording with Sean Price meant to him, how he and Marco Polo’s Midnight Run album came to be, and how he helped Teyana Taylor sound like a rapper. Read below.
Who was the first artist you worked with and made you feel like you made it?
The first artist I worked with in the studio where I felt like I made it was the late great Sean Price. I’m a Brooklynite from Coney Island. I was a super hardcore Duck Down fan. Ruck (Sean Price’s Heltah Skeltah real name) was one of my favorite rappers. As time passed, and I started doing my thing, he recognized me as an MC and called me to say, “Yo, come to the studio and jump on this record with me.”
It was a record from years ago for Babu’s album. That was one of the earliest things that happened that was a stamp that I was looking for to keep going. The funny part is we go to some hood studio somewhere in the ville. A lot of smoking and drinking happened, but I’m not partaking in any of it. At some point, the session gets lost, and the song never happens. He ended up doing a solo record for Babu. I ended up doing a solo record some years later. But that first joint is lost because the engineer blew the session. That was probably in 2007.
What were you and Diddy doing in the studio?
One day, Puff DM’ed me while I was sitting in the crib watching the TV with my wife. First, I thought, “Wait, is this spam?” So, I go to the page and see it’s the official page. I follow him. The DM said, “Yo, king, I just heard some s**t you cooked up. It’s crazy. Are you in L.A.?” I told him, “Nah, I’m not.” He responded, “Yo, I’m out in Malibu right now. We’re working. I need you to come to the studio.” I told him I’ll be there tomorrow. He said, “Nah, if you’re not out here, don’t worry about it. I’ll send you something. I want you to send it back.”He sent me his phone number, and we jumped on the phone and talked. Fast forward some months later, I’m out in Miami. I go to his crib at Star Island. It’s everything you think it is, by the way. They have AQUAhydrate water on the platter. They got Ciroc on the platter. You have to take your shoes off, and they have socks and slides for you.
I actually got a chance to hear a lot of the new projects he’s dropping. There are a lot of dope records. I got a chance to be around some of the creation of that. It was great being in the studio with him. We know how much of a perfectionist he is, and we know he knows how to bring the best out of people musically.
I think Lil Baby might’ve been in there one day, and Puff coaching him and critiquing showed his attention to detail is crazy. But again, he knows how to bring the best out of people, and he’ll challenge you. He’ll tell you, “That ain’t it, playboy.” Nobody’s ever going to push you further than where you’ve already taken yourself. And that’s the key to being timeless.
That’s deep. You’ve also spent time in the studio with Timbaland.
Timbo is a whole different thing because when I went in with Timbaland working on some music, it was for another artist, and Timbaland and I had a history I’m sure he didn’t recall. I told him, “Timbo, I’m sure you don’t remember this, but the first time I met you was at Hot 97.” I used to listen to Angie Martinez’s show every day, and Angie would announce her guests for the next day or the day after in the week. I would leave my job in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, hop on the train, and get to Hot 97 maybe 30 or 40 minutes before the interview because I knew that was when the artists were showing up. I met Timbaland. I rhymed for him and Magoo in the elevator. Rest in peace to Magoo. Tim said, “Nah, this boy is good, this boy got something.” He gave me his man’s number, and I stayed in touch with him. I refreshed Timbaland‘s memory, and he said, “I do vaguely remember that.” I listened to his beats, samples, and ideas in the studio. And it’s a few of us in there working. Tim is working on something on one side; other producers are cooking up. I’m just sitting down tracking vocals. It was an ill experience. Watching his process, making some dope records he thought were dope, and adding his Timbaland flavor with beatboxing and ad-libbing was amazing.
You and Marco Polo are putting out Midnight Run, your first album together since Double Barrel in 2009. How many songs did you two do in that 14-year gap?
I would say six to eight joints, but those records already came out. Marco and I have records we did that we never put out that are now coming out. That’s what Midnight Run is. Midnight Run is every time I went in the studio to see Marco, and he played a beat I thought was crazy, and I would record something. That’s what happened from 2016-2018. We weren’t going in the studio thinking we’d make 10 joints and put them out as an album. That was me chilling with my brother. We might be talking about life.
Midnight Run came to be when Marco hit me a few months ago and said, “We have seven joints that are crazy. I went through my computer, listened to all of those joints, and thought they were crazy. He wanted to drop an EP. I told him, “It’s been 14 years since we released an album. We can’t drop an EP. We have to give the people at least a 10-song album.” We did one song for the Brooklyn Nets, a theme song that never came out. We added that to the list, and that made eight. Then, I thought I had to do two new joints. I went in, cut two new records, and it rounded it out to 10. And that’s where we are.
Will there be a Double Barrel 2 or is this basically that?
For all intents and purposes, this is Double Barrel 2. But I like to be a little more creative with it. Calling it Double Barrel 2 is easy. This would be the natural progression. Double Barrel is our group name, and Midnight Run felt perfect. It’s nighttime music. It borrows from a classic theme if you know about Midnight Run. But, yes, this is Double Barrel 2 without calling it Double Barrel 2. The only feature on it is Dres of Black Sheep on the song “Gray Sheep,” but it’s not a rap feature. He came in, and he just added that Dres sauce. When you hear the song and the beat, you’ll know why he was perfect for it. And you’ll know why we titled it “Gray Sheep.” And that’s the only other voice you hear on the project besides mine.
You’ve been in the studio with some serious spitters like Pharoah Monch, Skyzoo, Sean Price, and many others. Who is an MC that made you step your bar game up?
When Sky and I were working on Barrel Brothers, it was dope because we went to the studio every day, listened to beats together, and picked what we wanted. He got in his corner, and I got in my corner, and we just started cooking up. I think that was friendly competition. I always knew he was over there going crazy. That just allowed us to come out with the best rhymes. Some may not know, but we planned to do something with Sean Price called The Standard. Every time he saw us, his favorite line was, “I’m not taking the bronze” (laughs). He would say, “I know how y’all two get. So, just know, when we start working on this project, I’m not taking the bronze.” That was his way of letting us know we all would come with it, and we all had to come with gold standard records—No silvers, no bronze. Unfortunately, my brother passed away before we could do that. But that was something I was looking forward to.
You also worked with Teyana Taylor.
Shout out to Teyana. That was a different type of session. When we did this show, “The Breaks,” Teyana Taylor was cast as a rapper, but she’s a singer and a Harlem street girl. For me to come in and work with her on her rap cadence and presence was dope because I was more of her vocal coach. I think Phonte wrote all of the music on that. I think he wrote the music she performed on the show and the records she put on the show. I coached her in the studio and on set to deliver the records with that energy and gravitas that rappers have that’s a little different than her R&B swag.
What do you have coming for the rest of the year?
I’m just excited about putting out Midnight Run for the rest of the year. I’m already working on my next solo project. So, hopefully that happens in 2024. Once the strike is over, we’ll get back to television and film, but I have two movies out that I would love to get out there and promote. There’s a lot of things happening. Of course, Bonsu and I are growing the “Hard 2 Earn” podcast and building it. We just did a live episode for the 25th anniversary of Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which was crazy. I’m continuing my partnership with LL [Cool J] and Rock The Bells, doing our social media portion—Hip Hop As It Happens—where I just pull up at events and take you to places you might not be able to go because you’re not Torae.
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