Written by Pernille Bogø Jørgensen
Torii Wolf’s debut EP sees the best of Hip-Hop and Experimental Pop meet on unexpected collaboration with DJ Premier.
DJ Premier’s 25 years of experience with Jay-Z, Nas, Dr. Dre, Kayne West and many other trendsetting Hip-Hop names places his name solidly at the top of the game. Artists of other music genres have also made good use of his beats, e.g. Macy Gray, Neneh Cherry, Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera. However, this is the first time he has produced the bulk of the material on an album and taken on the role as executive producer for another artist.
Torii Wolf has been described as a “crunchy granola girl, who loves spinning” and when you look at her, Hip-Hop does not come to mind.
The Los Angeles-based singer, who has an androgynous style with her undercut and boyish clothes, started out as a drummer and changed to guitar and song later but a fine sense of rhythm and timing never left her. Her understanding of rhythm made the collaboration with DJ Premier come naturally resulting in a delicious mix of Hip-Hop and Björk-inspired Pop.
Wolf told Billboard that the collaboration was never even planned to be a full album, it just happened that they created enough material when their joint manager put them together in the studio.
To introduce the new singer, a few singles were released prior to the album: Free was the first and it features a verse from Macklemore. Like most tracks on the album, Free has few instrumental sounds that are mainly percussion and even the keyboard chords are rhythmic rather than melodic in nature. This puts the voice in center and makes every single word extremely powerful.
Pain Killer and Big Big Trouble were released with videos but while Pain Killer was received with praising words, Big Big Trouble divided opinion. The gay theme is perhaps harder for some people to relate to but essentially both tracks are about destructive relationships. In Big Big Trouble, Wolf is the bad person and in Pain Killer, she is addicted to a bad lover. We don’t see the partner in Pain Killer and the song and video plays with the listeners imagination so it is easier to relate to the story than it is to relate to the villain in Big Big Trouble.
The video for Big Big Trouble shows Wolf as a creepy spider that eats her prey, with fingers moving like the legs of the spider, even when we see her with her lover, a more feminine woman in a dress with long hair. Because this video is a lot more scary and dirty compared to Pain Killer and Wolf is a mean character, it was bound to provoke some and thrill others.
Back to the album: it opens with scratches and a deep beat on the first track Everlasting Peace. The song starts and ends with a verse from Ashford and Simpson’s California Soul which has been covered by Marvin Gay & Tammi Terrell as well as Marlena Shaw in the late 1960s and used in remixes more recently. This gives the song a funky feel and places it in the Hip-Hop genre even though the tempo is noticeably slower compared to other versions of Shaw’s song.
When Wolf’s light, edgy voice enters, it creates a very different mood and it becomes obvious that this is not a regular Hip-Hop album. This is something else. Something new and enticing. Her voice dances on top of the beat to create a gripping mood supplemented by Premier’s comments and scratches.
This is not the only track with features from the heritage of Afro-American music that has always inspired Hip-Hop. I’d Wait Forever and a Day For You has a jazzy melody in the piano and some nice, funky horns while Where We Belong has softer jazzy sax-riffs and a chilled wavy groove combined with Wolf’s whispery voice which takes the listener back in time to a smoky speakeasy.
Premier’s heavy Hip-Hop beats combined with Wolf’s light vocal creates a musical expression that defies genre and appeals to a broad audience. It breaks down barriers and creates a smooth stream of delicious beats, melodies and emotions – the name Flow Riiot describes it pretty well. Wolf feels that the dichotomy of light and dark mirrors how she feels as a human on the planet and she enjoys being able to express that in her music. I enjoy listening to it and have had my ears opened to a singer I might not have noticed if it hadn’t been for this collaboration.
Have a listen to the album below and tell us what you think