How are you gonna leave your mark? How are you gonna let them know you’re alive?
That question, from the introduction, set the tone for Torae’s debut For The Record. Since emerging on the scene half a decade ago, the Brooklyn emcee has put in serious work landing collaborations with people such as Skyzoo, Marco Polo, and 9th Wonder, and gaining much buzz in the underground. For The Record is Torae’s long-awaited proper debut—a solo affair which has him examining and reflecting on his life and career, from the moment he graduated high school with big dreams of being double platinum and blowing up on Rap City, to an emcee today who is hard at work on building his legacy and standing on the cusp of something big. The record is an ambitious one, with an impressive list of legendary and up-and-coming producers, including Pete Rock, 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Diamond D, and more. And on this project, Torae is ready to leave his mark.
For The Record aims to be a true NYC hardcore album — strictly hard beats and rhymes from one solid producer and one dope emcee. The album starts off smoothly with “Alive”, Torae’s proper reintroduction to the world, as he mentions his grand plans to succeed rhyming: “I live life more abundant, ‘til I see digits not pivot in the hundreds / ‘Til I see bridges be built come across it / On life ‘til it tell me to get off it, with all I can offer it…” Khrysis’ beat is full of elegance and flair…a dapper tune with some solid vocals from guest Wes. It’s a welcome introduction, but on the next track, “You Ready” with his partner in dopeness Marco Polo, Torae hits hard with a booming banger where he lays out his intentions to rule and reminds weak ass emcees at the top of the chain who can’t deliver that their days are numbered: “These niggas all wack, no facts, no opinions, running around in tight clothes cuz their flow isn’t/ And co-ops and co-signs got you co-dependent, you niggas own the building? Fuck it, I’m going in there!”
Torae’s performances on the record are stellar. He’s an emcee who has a knack for spitting endless punch lines and putdowns, with no love for soft emcees. For The Record really hinges on Torae having the right beat to spit over: one, which suits his performances and boasts well, and most of the producers bring solid sounds to the project. 9th Wonder’s beat on “Shakedown” carries shrill, rising horns that sound like a soundtrack fitting for a made man, which gels with Torae calling the shots: “No faking, no hating, no bitin’ allowed, no standin’ on stage and not rockin’ a crowd…” Legend Large Professor supplies a funky and defiant piece with strings and an appropriate guitar lick on “Do The Math”, where Torae asks many “what-ifs” about rap… everything from where would the music be if Biggie and Pac lived to pondering how his life and career would be different if he never heard Run-DMC or met Pete Rock. One of the best productions on the record, is hooked up by DJ Premier, as “For The Record” is a straight up banger – a defiant listen with Preem’s signature scratched samples. Not to be outdone, Torae elevates his game to impress one of his heroes, providing lines like, “I ain’t checking for the stones in your necklace if they zircones, or moissanite, I destroy the mic for my glow…” The joint is easily one of the best on the record, and leaves you wanting more from this powerful duo.
On the other hand, For The Record stumbles when the beats don’t fully click. Like “Changes”, for example, where Diamond D’s beat lacks punch and knocks down the energy built up by previous songs, or Fatin’s “Panorama”, which sounds great and has some fine singing from MeLa Machinko, but Torae’s vocals get slightly lost in the mix. “What It Sounds Like” is another strong listen, but with the sung hook from Pav Bundy and the high-flying synths, it’s hard to the shake the feelings of radio single, especially when sequenced right after a hard, anti-mainstream track like “You Ready?” Also, with all these legendary beatmakers like Pete Rock, Diamond D and Large Pro, along with contributions from the leading producers of today like 9th, Marco Polo and Khrysis, the smaller producers like E. Jones and Eric G. have a damn hard task of living up to the large figures. And while they put in some admirable work, some of their beats are unfortunately overshadowed and outclassed by some of the bigger producers, which can be a bit jarring going from track to track. Lastly, while Torae can spit, his constant dismissals of wack emcees and love for the old school and “true” Hip Hop tends to wear thin over the course of the record, and there are few breaks from the subject matter.
Overall, For The Record is a strong album with some really terrific tracks and great collaborations. Torae delivers a solid ode to Hip Hop and a declaration of who he is and where he wants to go. Not all the beats on the record work perfectly and the emcee still has room to grow, but with this one, Torae leaves an indelible mark and shows that he’s well on his way to becoming a Hip Hop heavyweight. Give this one a listen.
For The Record