Before I spoke to coast-bouncing singer-songwriter Torii Wolf, she was described to me as a “crunchy granola girl, who loves spinning.” Between that and the icy, soul-bearing performance on her DJ Premier-produced debut, Flow Riiot—premiering exclusively today via DJBooth—I was expecting Torii to be a verbose master of the avant-garde.
Upon dialing into the conference call, Torii greets me with the most chipper “Hello!” you’ll ever hear on the East Coast. Her charm worms its way through the phone and has me somewhat spellbound. In the time we spent waiting for DJ Premier to join the call, Torii told me about her musical background. Originally from Wantagh, New York, she began as a drummer at eight years old, and from there she transitioned to guitar and singing.
The drums weren’t exactly a passion project because young Torii was under the impression a drummer couldn’t also sing, but her pursuit of rhythm and complex grooves made her the perfect match for Preemo. “I have a lot of rhythm inside of me from being a drummer, which is how writing with Preem comes so naturally to me,” she tells me. Her love for Radiohead, trip-hop, and downtempo grit also made her equipped for Premier’s grimy beats.
Her light and vibrant demeanor—a contrast from the chilling and ethereal nature of Flow Riiot—began to make sense to me. After a few weeks of listening, the album felt like a chandelier hanging in the middle of a punk concert: it had edges and glimmers, and it caught the light while sitting in the center of raw emotion. Torii loves the simile, explaining how she’s “constantly being that balance of light in the dark, the balance of soft and edge.”
Shortly after joining the call, DJ Premier chimes in right as I ask Torii how they found each other. Their initial meeting came at the hands of their mutual manager, Ian Schwartzman, whose intuition rightfully told him they would make a good match. Going into recording, neither Torii nor Preem had any expectations. That pressure-free zone is where the magic of Flow Riiot began to unknowingly take shape.
With Torii Wolf being the first woman that DJ Premier has ever worked with on a full-length project, the question had to be asked: why Torii and why now?
“When it came down to working on some demos, I had been pitched the idea from my manager,” Preem began, admiration coloring his voice. “He had met Torii and they became cool. He had been sending me her music, but it was a lot less produced than I wanted to hear. I was on another schedule and didn’t feel like it was the right time. I told him I would be down to do it, just later. Later became another year, and he brought me even more demos.”
Later was the right call, because once the year came and went, DJ Premier was wowed by two demos Torii produced with King Of Chill: “Take It Up On Monday” and “You’re Not There.”
“She actually knows how to attach her style to a gritty and dirty production. She’s not just in this box with her original band and her original demos,” Preem explains. His belief in her translated into a two-week blitz where they both worked tirelessly, never forcing a single song, to piece together Flow Riiot.
Every beat was done one day at a time, explained Premier, with Torii laying the vocals on the spot. Preem could send over a beat in the dead of night and by 6 a.m. that morning, he’d have the rough cut from Torii in his inbox. The nocturnal quality is mutual, with Preem describing their work as two “burglars stealing all the hatred and turning it into love.”
While Preemo was quick to classify Torri's tenacity as invaluable, Torii was a bit more long-winded in heaping praise on her collaborative partner, comparing their energy together to, of all things, a cup of water. “If you fill up a cup with water, the water takes shape to the cup. You want to be fluid so that your music a flow,” she explained.
Torii’s singing allowed DJ Premier to go more left field with his beats, resulting in a track as wonderfully eclectic as “Everlasting Peace.” The record is not only the first track off the album, but was also the first song Premier made specifically with Torii in mind. Their synergy was undeniable; it's no wonder the track was Preem’s favorite day of recording. Torii credits that chemistry and freedom of expression as the reason Flow Riiot has the ability to grapple with identity, addiction, and vulnerability.
Torii’s open and fluid relationship with DJ Premier is, in some ways, what she hopes fans are able to take away from the album, telling me: “I would want people to stay open to feeling and express themselves in the way that we chose to on these records. I want everyone to digest it and chew [the album] slowly, and then feel whatever they’re going to feel from it.”
Preem echoes Torii’s sentiments, describing Flow Riiot as a meal: “It’s different things on a plate: beans, rice, meat, vegetables, cheesecake, and brownie and ice cream.”
Beans and cheesecake might not sound appealing, but Torii’s work with Premier will have you wanting seconds.