Published May 24, 2009Marco Polo and Torae are touting Double Barrel as a return to the gritty hip-hop coming from New York in the mid-'90s, embodied by groups like Gang Starr, Onyx and the Boot Camp Clik. It's fitting that Double Barrel is being released by Duck Down Records, home of Black Moon, Smif-n-Wessun and Heltah Skeltah. The duo work closely from the blueprint the aforementioned groups originated, with expertly scratched choruses, hard drums and forceful rhyming from MC Torae. NYC-by-way-of-T-Dot producer Marco Polo provides 14 perfectly dusty boom-bap instrumentals, which Torae rips to pieces. Those introduced to the Coney Island-bred rapper through his 2008 mixtape, Daily Conversation, will be surprised by his newly aggressive delivery. When Torae's rhymes equal the intensity of Polo's tracks, the results are hard to dispute. The swirling strings and clipped horns on "But Wait" are matched perfectly with a Sticky Fingaz vocal sample and Torae's potent rhyming. "Smoke" is a blistering posse cut with exemplary tough talk from Lil' Fame from M.O.P. and Rock from Heltah Skeltah, and "Hold Up" has an insistent spy movie theme groove with verses from Sean Price and Masta Ace. Torae delivers his best performance over the ominous, creeping thump of "Lifetime," backed by DJ Revolution's jaw-dropping scratches. Tougher than a pair of old Timbs, Double Barrel is '90s revivalism done right.
How did the album come about?
Polo: We actually met at Masta Ace's studio doing a skit for eMC's album. Me and Torae...He was the bouncer; I was the nerdy white guy trying to get backstage. First I snubbed Tor, he was like, "Let's work" and I was like, "Fuck that." And after that I realized he was an awesome rapper and we did a whole album. We toured across Canada and he took me to Europe, rocking with Masta Ace and eMC. We just became friends and started making music, and it turned into an album.
Torae, your delivery seems more aggressive now than on Daily Conversation. I hear M.O.P., Onyx and Screwball.
Torae: On this album there was definitely a conscious effort to hit the mic a little harder. More or less, it's to combat all the soft shit that was out there. It was also inspired by M.O.P., Onyx, Canibus, Smoothe Da Hustler - all those guys. It was brought on by Marco's beats and the fact that he said, "Tor, I want you to go in and just body everything." And when you hear it, you feel it.
Marco, what was your sonic inspiration while making the beats for this album?
Polo: Gang Starr's Hard To Earn. The way that sounds - that's my example of a classic East Coast hip-hop album. Musically, to me, that's just a great album. That's Premo [Gang Starr producer DJ Premier] at his peak. (Duck Down)