Miss boom bap? Are you feeling out of step with today’s mainstream Hip-Hop sound? Enter Marco Polo and Torae, the answer to all your Hip-Hop woes. For those missing that gritty, sample-driven Hip-Hop should have picked the critically acclaimed Double Barrel LP that dropped over the summer. The album has been the culmination of over a year’s worth of dedication from both men. But alas, many (too many) slept on this LP. Nonetheless, the duo has been touring diligently to promote their project, and recently took time to build with me following a recent Atlanta performance at the annual A3C Festival. Come check out what you and the game has been missing.
Ismael AbduSalaam: It’s been a few months since Double Barrel been out. How’s the reception been on the road and your opinions of the online reviews?
Marco Polo: I think the reception has been really positive. It was a very simple formula to make an album influenced by the stuff we grew up on. We didn’t over think concepts or try anything futuristic or next level. It was simply hard beats and hard rhymes, with appearances not from trendy whose hot rappers, but people we knew that happened to be the dopest artists out of New York like Masta Ace and Sean Price. All the collaborations were legit. We weren’t cutting checks to get people to work with us. It makes the music that much better, and people really enjoyed. It’s one of those sleeper albums that I feel people will keep discovering over the years.
Ismael: Regarding keeping the process simple, you’re with Duck Down and all labels have their expectations. Were you guys allowed to create this project without much oversight and micromanaging?
Torae: Yeah, we were fortunate enough to work on the album ourselves. Getting a deal was probably the last thing we did. We wanted to create an album with no restraints or time restrictions. It happened organically. The friendship was the same. Duck Down made the most sense. We made every decision, picked every beat, every rhyme. Duck Down being the great powerhouse saw how dope the album was and wanted to get involved. That’s the best; making the music on your own merit, your own time, your own energy, and thoughts. Because it’ll be something you fully believe in and be willing to fight for. You know that you put your best foot forward. That’s why we’re going so strong because this is the album we wanted to make.
Ismael: Looking back what’s your favorite tracks off Double Barrel?
Marco: It changes everyday. I don’t have a specific track that I love over the others. One day I’m in a “Double Barrel” mood, and then I want to hear “Smoke,” or “Get It.” And I think that says something about the overall project; that it’s not just about a single. You have to get the whole project.
Torae: Same for me, all 13 songs stand on their own depending on your mood or the mindset you’re in. I tend to bounce it off of people. Some say “yo, I saw the Double Barrel video and loved it!” Then I’ll listen to it and agree “Double Barrel’s” crazy. Then somebody will hit me on Facebook and say they listen to “Get It” everyday to start their morning. Then I’ll start listening to it every morning and be like “yeah, ‘Get It’ is the joint!” There’s no album filler, its 13 hot joints. You got 3 work weeks and you can listen to a new track every day and rock out.
Ismael: Let me run this by both of you. A few years back Prince Paul was asked about the supposed “decline” of the NY Hip-Hop sound. His reasoning was that the stricter sampling laws had made it harder to utilize that sound. Do you guys see that as an issue?
Marco: With me nothing has changed. No sampling laws have affected my life. I hope I’m not incriminating myself too much [laughs]. I make the music the way I want to inspired by what I grew up on. I buy records every week; I’m inspired by samples and breaks. It’s probably harder to get those type of records out on a huge scale, and I’m sure major labels are reluctant to mess with that type of production. But for me, I always stay disconnected from that.
Ismael: A lot of artists that were out in 90s are quick to say the money has dried up in Hip-Hop and the music industry overall. But for the artists getting in now who don’t want to be discouraged by that stance, where can one sustain him or herself in Hip-Hop? Is it still just the traditional road work? Or is it all about the Internet?
Torae: There’s definitely still a lot of opportunities to make money. Obviously you need money to live. But if that’s your primary focus, then you shouldn’t be in the music business. For one, it’s not reflective of the art. You are making art for people to enjoy. If you want to generate money, you go be an investment banker [laughs]. The road and merchandising has always been the primary way for artists to generate cash. Even if you got a big advance, you have to get out there to get that show money. That’s what we do. With Marco, he’s a producer so he has relationships with artists to get beats placed. I’m an emcee, so I do features, shows, and my merchandising.
I hear crazy stuff all the time, like “dude, if this was 12 years ago, you’d be a millionaire!” I wish you wouldn’t have told me that, now I’m wild depressed because I’m an hundrednaire! [laughs] But I didn’t do it for a Mercedes Benz and a diamond necklace. I had two careers before I decided to devote myself to music. I could have stayed in banking or education to make money. My primary love was to make music. It’s my fulfillment. My bank is looking off the stage and seeing people mouth my lyrics that I sat in my room and wrote. It’s the best payment.
Ismael: Marco you’ve always talked about DJ Premier’s influence on you, and we hear him kicking off the Double Barrel album. What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned watching his career and working with him?
Marco: One thing I take from Primo is he’s never changed his shit. He’s established a brand. Say what you want about other producers, but he’s still here. He’s still a force. With his name, he can work with a completely unknown artist and people will listen to it because of his name…
Torae: It worked for me! [laughs]
Marco: Great example is Torae and Skyzoo did a 12 inch and that’s how I got introduced to his music. And to this day Primo has never got affected by sample laws, this hipster rap bullshit, he just does what he does. Hard beats over hard rhymes. He samples and he incorporates hip-Hop culture into his music with scratch hooks. This has always been what Hip-Hop is but we’ve lost a lot of that over the years through trends.
It makes me feel when I’m sitting down looping shit, and my other producer friends aren’t, instead of thinking maybe I should do what they’re doing, I’m like fuck that. Primo’s a big inspiration because he’s one of the last doing that boom-bap production that he’s basically the creator of. Myself and him are one the last ones doing it.
Ismael: Torae, from an emcee perspective who has given you that same inspiration?
Torae: I love all types of music and can get inspiration from anywhere. I listen to Leann Rimes. “How Do I Breathe” is one of my favorite joints. I can connect to the message. But I can’t leave out Masta Ace. That’s someone I can actually say is my friend. We chill, talk, go out, and I still own his whole catalogue on cassette. Guys like Buckshot I used to watch and emulate growing up. When I listen to my old demos I hear that Boot Camp sound. To be on the label now is a crazy experience. Definitely those two are the premier guys in my life.
Ismael: Marco you touched on hipster rap, but this year has seen a lot of good releases. Are you hopeful for the mainstream’s creativity, or do you think the underground will continue carrying the load?
Marco: Honestly I don’t know. I had really thought it would make a return to the original form, like the album we just made and Duck Down’s other stuff. But I can’t call it. There’s been glimpses over the last couple years, but then some artist completely not that blows up. It’s a crazy time right now. When you get a lot of rappers together you’ll get a lot of intense conversations about that. A lot of artists are scratching their heads. You can spend time thinking about it, or you do like me and just focus on doing the music you love. The one thing I can do is make quality music. No matter what, it’ll be there.
Ismael: Songs these days don’t last long because the fans get the music so quickly. An example I thought of is if Illmatic leaked on a Friday, and Ready to Die on Saturday, how the response would be these days…
Marco: That’s a crazy concept to think of…
Torae: Wow, imagine that…
Ismael: Because the music comes so quickly there’s not the luxury of taking your time and really digesting the art. Is there anything that can be done to change that?
Torae: Everything is moving faster now. 8 tracks became vinyl, cassettes, compact discs, and now MP3s. It’s always about the convenience and the instant gratification. You microwave your food as opposed to baking and cooking all day. You started with Black Planet to Myspace to Facebook to Twitter; a 140 characters a second. Unfortunately the music is the same. You can put your blood, sweat, and tears into it like me and Marco did for a year and a half with Double Barrel. And 2 months later people are like “yo, when is your new shit dropping?”
I’m like yo I put everything into this project. I want you to digest it. There are thousands of people who haven’t heard it yet and it’s my job to make sure they hear it and gets as much enjoyment as I did making it and the initial fans who heard it. I don’t think there’s anything that can be done about it. It’s just the way of man. Everything that happens fast isn’t good for you…
Marco: The Internet fucked up everything. It has positive things as in quick promotion for new artists. But back in the day buying an album was an event. You had to leave your home and go to the record store and buy it. You spent money you worked hard for so you’re definitely going to spend your time listening to it. In that time it allows you to take in the album, everything. You would rock it for a year or two. Now it’s like you get distracted with the next one 3 days later and push that one to the side. It’s really unfair to the projects that are incredible and some get passed over and slept on. People are gluttonous by nature.
Torae: The key is to make quality, and hopefully people go back to it. A lot of albums have come out after Double Barrel but it’s still in the conversation for Best Album of the Year. So it’s still in conversations, and I attribute that to it being a quality release. You get out what you put in. As we get to the end of the year and the lists starting coming, Double Barrel will get mentioned as one of the best.