Ok. It is some time since the last „A few words to…“ piece. I made a few halfhearted attempts, but no record touched me enough AND made me passionate enough about it, for me to try to light the fire in other souls. The closest I came to a piece, was with my beloved Ab-Soul and his album „Do what thou wilt“ and I almost wrote a piece about the female musicians I listened to the last year, which are Kehlani, Beyoncé, Rapsody, Ariana Grande and Justine Skye. Not that many – simply because there are not that many. At least none that are allowed to do their thing (Kehlani says, she will change the way women are seen in the music industry. I think it will break her heart).
Last week a record blew me away, lifted me up and has enough substance to make me think, make me question my own views. I love it. The record I talk about is „Entitled“ by Torae. I bought the record on the strength of the Barrelbrothers record, that Torae did with Skyzoo. Strangely enough I was sitting on „Entitled“ for quite some time and couldn’t work up enough of an appetite to listen to it. Sometimes I have a strange reluctance to listen to new music, a mix of being tired or afraid of getting dissapointed and a reluctance to open up to something new and in these times I rather listen to the music I already have. While at other times I have a real, burning hunger for new music. Sometimes life works in strange ways. Who knows, maybe if I would have listened to „Entitled“ earlier, with an occupied mind and heart, I would have never listened to it properly? But now I did.
As always: I am no music critic, I just love music (and we talk REAL love) and I try to share with you what moves and touches me. As usual I will be doing my list-thing. Ok, here we go:
- The strangest feeling:
In the song „Imperial Sound“ (at 2.30′) there is a trumpet interlude. And it is beautiful. And I swear, at one point it sounds, as if the trumpet sings. I swear! And at one point during the trumpet solo, I always suddenly find a smile in my face and I swear I don’t know how it sneaked in. So beautiful this trumpet sounds, it brings me the strangest feelings of happiness.
- The most interesting song:
To me this is the titlesong „Entitled“, where Torae comes to terms with the fact or the idea, that talent doesn’t necessarily equate to success or fame. And just because you got the gift, doesn’t mean you are entitled to a fucking thing. I think this is a remarkable and beautiful joint and thought in an america, that is obsessed with money, power and sex and with the idea of getting (and being entitled to) an immediate reward for whatever you do. An america that seems to have lost the connection with itself and many americans, who seem to be unable to be grown up people. To me btw this isn’t so much the problem of the people, to me this is the problem of their society, that surpresses reality, real emotions and real thinking in every way. Their whole life reflects that: Their tv shows, the newspapers, the laws, the education. Why? It is easy: Because it is in favour for the ones in power. This way they control the country. They keep everybody in a kind of sleep. It is „The Matrix“ in real life.
On this record Torae also disentangles himself from the expectations of his fans or listeners. “ In „Imperial sound“ he raps, that
„You ain’t catch it, don’t mean I ain’t pen it
I can quote some dope shit, I can’t force them to get it“
which is ingenious to me and makes me so happy. Because with that he says: I define myself what success is for me, you are not the master of my happiness. It is very interesting to me, that Torae chose to name the record „Entitled“, although the theme of the record is not primarly the question or the subject of Torae’s personal success or talent. Of course it pops up here and there in songs, but it is not an obsession, like it is with many other rappers, who can rap about nothing else than themselves. To me it feels as if „Entitled“ is a door, which Torae had to find, open and pass, to make it possible for him to see further and with a new found clarity. And so it makes perfect sense to call the record „Entitled“, because without the thoughts and feelings of it, the record would have never happened that way.
- The most important song:
„The eNd“ is a song about the N-word. The word. Nigger. Nigga. And it is called „The eNd“, because it marks and explains the end of Torae using the word. Torae says like millions others, he used it, without thinking much about it. But unlike million others he started to think about it and decided to stop using it now. He says: „I came up using the word, you know so, I always took it as a term of endearment. But the older I get, the more mature, I understand it is not.“
Some of you might remember, that when I started my „A few words to…“ pieces, I laid down my own law: I ain’t afraid of words. Period. If I listen to a record and the lyrics contain the words Nigga, Bitch, Pussy, Mothafucka or whatever, I will write about them, just like I write about everything else. This is my choice and my freedom. Personally I never have and would never use the word Nigger myself, because it just isn’t the way I talk, just as I don’t call women Schlampen or Sheilas. It’s just not me.
Why? Because I see individuals, not institutionalised beings. If someone calls a woman a bitch, because she is a woman, she is no individual to them anymore. She is called a bitch because of what she represents, not, because of who she is (with me btw, it is exactly the other way around: If I might call someone (or myself) a bitch, then because of their behaviour, not because of what they represent). And this way distance is created between the people who use the word and the ones they use the word for. And with that, they make the world colder, because you can hurt someone much easier, if you don’t see them as a person. And although I refuse to use some words, I will never be afraid of a word. As I said, it is the intention behind it, which matters. Torae raps in „The eNd“ exactly about this.
„When my nigga calls me his nigga, I ain’t trippin
cause I figure that he love me and so I feel it’s all good
But when they’re treating us like niggas, they choking, pulling triggers
Then we wonder how to put a hold to it, put some fall to it
See, I don’t wanna cry no more
See young brothers die no more
And if it mean I gotta walk away from my nigga,
I am by his side no more“
I am very moved by this level of clarity, humanity and responsibility. Saying, that he won’t support behaviour that hurts and damages others, even, if it means that he has to leave friends behind, is raw. It is a strong soul, who can not only realize things, but then also act upon them. Nothing comes without a price. Even freedom, peace or change.
- The song I like the most:
This time it is not one song, but a trident of three songs. The songs „Crown“, „R.E.A.L.“ and „Troubled times“ all explore the questions of society, ourselves in society and ourselves from different angles.
In HipHop and Rap we have this strange idea of someone as the owner of a crown. This idea to me is a sign of weakness. In „Crown“ Torae beautifully counters this silly crown-idea: It are not your words that make you, it are your actions and a desire to being „better“ than others, just to be better, in reality only makes you weak and worse instead of crowning you. The idea of „divide and conquer“ comes up a few times on the record and this song. Torae draws a picture of a society, in which the people in power create hate and sides to keep the powerless away from power and change. And for me this whole crown-thing perfectly fits this idea: Because people, who are busy fighting about a non existing top position have no time to look around and realize shit. They won’t educate themselves, as Torae raps in Crown: „Invest in yourself and your dreams“ but spend their money – to show they got money. And with that they are stuck in a vicious cycle, where they are nothing more than puppets, reacting to others pulling their strings.
„I ain’t here for playing around, I wear the crown
King of New York? Nah, not how that shit sounds
King of the coast? Nah, I cover more ground
King of oneself? Yeah, that is how I get down
Yeah, my skin brown, that’s the melanin,
I’m wearing it proud, it ain’t no telling when
they might come around screaming irrelevant
he gunned the kid down and plant the evidence“
I admire Torae immensly for keeping it really real in R.E.A.L.. Even painfully real on a personal level, when he says loud, that the truth is, that he prolly never will pop. That is realness. At the same time he is sure of his talent, his visions. This isn’t giving up, no, it is accepting the reality, the ways of the world. He says, that he will never sell millions of records, probably has to do with the fact, that his music is intelligent. He also is surprised, that there is a spot for J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. Accidentally, I also wondered, what it is that makes Kendrick or Drake blow up, while Torae or Tut for example struggle.
And I think, that Torae is partly right, but I think there is more to it. Yes, the industry doesn’t want smart people in music, they don’t want meaningful or intelligent music and they want artists to dumb it down. Yes, in america exists an institutionalised effort, a scheme, to keep the powerless powerless, the minorities poor and uneducated. But there is more to it. An additional thing, which has to do with human instincts, our herd instincts, which makes people connect with Kendrick, while they instinctively keep a litle distance to artists like Torae. It is an instinctive, emotional thing: the majority of people don’t like people, who can see them and their weaknesses and shortcomings too clearly. Yes, people want to be told that things are so bad, they want the vision of a better world, they want empathy, but they are less inclined to do something for it or be told, that it is partly their own fault.
Real question: Does it matter anyway? Who or what defines a real superstar and what would really make you happy? Is it 1 or 3 millions of money and being in a talkshow with a guy who never heard a song from you, smiling at you with cold eyes, telling you how great you are, while he thinks about which woman he will call after the show? Or is it making music, that makes you happy and making enough money with it so you don’t have to do something else? Think about it: The majority of people on this earth work in a job they hate or that means nothing to them. They never have the possibility to fulfill their dreams, sometimes they don’t even have a dream, they just live their life till they die. So who of all these people is a real superstar? The answer is so clear to me.
In R.E.A.L. Torae also says loud what many in the industry rather keep hushed: From the outside it may look like you made it, when you get signed by a record label, but this is just a lie, even worse, it is a trap to lure in new meat. Say it loud, Torae:
„On the real, this rap shit ain’t really all that it seems
Gassing you to sell records, really selling a dream
But getting eight cents an album, really getting no cream
Your record contract is really a scheme, really see what I mean?
The artists revolt, the labels evolve
If your problem is selling records, then their problem is already solved
Cause they drop an act quick, sign another tomorrow, it is real talk I am giving to y’all“
3. „Troubled Times“
In „Troubled Times“ Torae explores the various limitations black people experience in america. And all of them have their point of origin in someone’s head, may it be in a white or a black head. And every person in america is born with this heritage, born into this game. „Troubled times“ is indeed a troubled song, a seriously moving song, from the music to the different stories it tells, ending with Torae’s own experience of loss and survivor guilt after having lost someone he grew up with.
- The loveliest song:
„Saturday night“ is a funny, little song, where Torae lets his mind, humour and imagination run free. It tells us, what can happen, when you do something as ordinary, as ordering something to eat on a saturday night. The song is in the line of the Friday night movies with Ice Cube: It starts as a normal evening, but soon something crazy happens, which initially looks good, but quickly turns into something even more crazy. Well, it was to be expected on a saturday night. Lovely!
- The song, that made me cry:
„What’s love“ is a sad song. It is full of those things you think, when you lie in your bed in a dark night and can’t sleep, because your troubles weigh on your heart. You turn from one side to the other, but can’t escape. The song deals with the question why the world is as fucked up it is, when everybody says they want it to be different? Why can’t we rise above ourselves? Does love really mean anything to us or is it just a dusty picture on the wall, that hangs there so long, that nobody even realizes it anymore?
All the things we say we love, all the things we say we do for love – but it seems it are only words. When it comes to actions, we do the exact opposite of the things we say. In reality, all these people who say love is the most important thing, what do they do? They kill each other, hurt each other, cheat on each other, hate each other, treat each other in the most hurtful and lowest way. So how can they do all this, when they say love is the most important thing, when they say everybody is equal, when they say killing and stealing is wrong? Why are we unable to put in a little bit of work, be a little bit stronger, to make this world better instead of ever worse? And does love still mean anything? Or did it ever mean anything at all?
- What would I change on „Entitled“:
Ok, I absolutely love the record. As it is. But if I could change one thing a tiny, tiny bit, it would be the music. Torae is from New York. And „Entitled“ leaves musically no doubts about that. And I love this in „Imperial Sound“, in „Crown“ and in other songs, but on a whole album the loud, complicated, layered New York sound always tires me out. After listening to a whole NY-inspired album, I always feel like my synapses got crushed. The music is so powerful, it makes you jolt into life, gives and takes high energy, but you can’t keep this high energy up for a whole album. So what I would wish for would be some more music on it, that gives, instead of takes. Sometimes just a dope beat is enough – it doesn’t have to be crazy complex up tempo every time. And sometimes it is soothing, when the music takes the backseat.
But apart from this, I love this record. And it inspired me, made me think like crazy, as you can easily see at the amount of words I used! Yes, I admit, once more it are more than just „A few words…“. Hope you don’t mind.
Other „A few words to…“ pieces, you find, when you click: here