Hip-hop radio personality TT Torrez's thick Bronx accent can usually be heard during her 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift on iPower 92.1 FM. But since she unveiled a new online radio show last month CHECKING on AlistRadio.net, her voice is no longer restricted to one spot on the radio dial -- and she can say anything she wants.
Torrez, whose online show runs 3—5 p.m. Tuesdays, has wooed Richmond since February 2008. Her all-new team has pushed the station's ratings way up -- 20 percent during Torrez's “Girl Talk” slot alone. She also plays charismatic host to popular weekend club parties and has led a number of charity efforts, including “I'll Wait Until I Graduate,” which asks girls to pledge to wait until they're successful to have children.
But it's time for a change, she says. The confines of corporate radio playlists and female stereotypes are too tight for Torrez. She says it's impossible to be herself -- and that just doesn't fit into her business plan. Since pulling herself up from poverty to a successful career in the hip-hop world, she wants to start making her own rules.
That's where the online show comes in. She can invite whatever DJ she chooses and interview whoever she wants, even if an artist isn't yet churning out money-makers. As she puts it, she can be “TT to the tenth degree.”
Torrez, 26, began her radio career as a DJ on the student radio station at Norfolk State. Since graduating she's worked for corporate-owned radio stations from Connecticut to Philly to South Carolina. She's gained a strong following not only through radio but also through her writing on such hip-hop gossip sites HottestinTheHood.com and UrbanDaily.com. She keeps up with her 3,600 “Twitter bugs,” video-blogs and has earned a reputation for asking the “Oh, no she didn't” questions of hip-hop's biggest stars. We decided to ask a few questions of our own.
Style: You've been up and down the East Coast working in hip-hop radio, and you cover hip-hop around the globe. Where does Richmond stand on the hip-hop Richter scale?
Torrez: It definitely has some major players. There's D'Angelo, who is a legend. … Trey Songz is on his way to being a legend. Virginia is a staple anyway. You have a lot of people who come out of Virginia: Chris Brown, Pharrell, The Clipse -- they are from all over Virginia and are big for hip-hop.
When you are hosting a club party, what is the one song that drives everyone to the dance floor?
Old-school sets. When [DJ Lonnie Battle] does an old '90s set, everyone gets to the floor. If you don't have a good DJ, then you are not going to have fun. Lonnie makes hosting parties easy for me.
What's your 1-2-3 Step program to becoming successful in the hip-hop industry?
First, never compromise who you are. You better be getting in this game knowing who you are. You have to have people around you to have your best interests in mind. They won't have to jade you into false perceptions of who you are. You see what certain celebrities have turned into. You have to have a plan -- a plan A, a plan B, an execution plan. Most importantly, grind. Grind, grind, grind, grind. Don't get caught up in the hype of it all. People might get into the parties, they become part of the industry and then lose who they are. Some part of them is lost.
Describe the impact of your relationship with your 3,600 “Twitter bugs.”
It impacts my life huge. They are supporters of the movement. If I didn't have the people, I wouldn't have a radio show. If people didn't tweet me back or anyone who follows me, it means more than I can explain. I'm a girl who came from the projects. I'm a girl who came from nothing. For people to ask for a friend request, a picture, to ask for advice -- it is a privilege to be in that position. I come from nothing where I had no voice, where people didn't care to think about my feelings. To have someone vie for me, to love what I do -- it's a humbling experience.
Rags-to-riches life stories season the hip-hop industry. If you could write and perform a song, what would you include about your own story?
I would take LL Cool J's “Around the Way Girl” and use that somehow. That's me. It's my favorite song. I would write things to inspire other people. My rap album would definitely have balance. I think that's what's missing from a lot of artists' music.
What part of your work is the hardest?
Naturally being a female, and being a very vocal female. You get a lot of people trying to make you become something you are not. They want to you to talk a certain way, act a certain way. If you stay true to who you are, then it is only a matter of time before you will become successful. It doesn't happen overnight. … Kanye took Amber Rose from the strip club to his armpiece. She was on the pages of Louise Vuiton ads … It's a false sense of reality.
You recently debuted an online radio show on Alist Radio. What does the online radio movement mean to hip-hop?
The Internet is the first thing everybody goes to in the morning. They start their day, at least my generation does. My show, we can say what we want, we aren't confined to a playlist. We aren't locked into corporate rules. You are not dealing with a corporate machine. There's just so much rules and regulations to terrestrial radio. [Online radio] is like back in the day, when you can play the song, break a song and you could feel good about it. That doesn't happen in regular radio anymore. There are too much politics in regular radio. I can be who I want to be to the tenth degree. Will I let my nephews listen to my radio show? No, I won't. Not for the kids.
You asked Red CafAc last week if he had slept with a stripper. Not that you would be sleeping with any strippers, but what would you do if he asked you that question?
I would answer it. There are no questions I wouldn't answer. If I can't dish it, if I can't take it, I won't ask it.
What's the most revealing question you have ever asked on air?
I have Nicki Minaj on air this week [July 21]. She is a performing female rapper -- allegedly the next best thing to blow. She's associated with Lil' Wayne, Young Money, Young Drake. I have to ask her if she had a mAcnage Aÿ trois. Is she bisexual? I'm not afraid to ask any question. If I'm not afraid to know it, I'm not afraid to ask it.
Had any grudges from interview subjects you may have embarrassed?
Yes, of course. Majority of the artists know what time it is when they come to me. It's never no surprise. At the end of the day, I leave this microphone. I'm done with it. I don't take it home with me. It's a job. What artists don't understand is that when they are going to the next radio station, the next city, I am still here. I have to ask what I ask. I have to ask what people are texting and twittering.
Rapper Jay-Z is one of the few people in the world who trip you up. If you could formulate the perfect question to ask him, what would it be?
Will you marry me? I don't know because I never write down pre-questions. I don't like formulated questions. I like to have conversations with artists. … If Jay-Z is in the studio, though, I would like to learn a lot about his business tools. He could share his business knowledge. He seems like a very smart man. I want to know where I should invest my money, what moves I should make.
So explain this tweet of yours to therealdjkhaled: “I'M TAKING OVA 1 CITY @ A TIME!! OWWW OWW.”
When I was a little girl, I used to visualize having money. I would practice in front of the mirror. I used to want to be Ricki Lake. I adored her. As you get older you have to visualize what you don't have to keep you focused on … what you can achieve. I have not taken over yet, but you will have my brand in every city of the world. Sometimes you have to speak things into existence. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment, seven kids, no food in the house. My mom would say, “If I win the lottery…” She will tell you to this day, when our nights were really gloomy, we would visualize that. That is something that will always help me get what I want -- whether that's taking a trip to Miami [or] New York because it's going to be better in the long run.
Does online radio signal that are you getting too big for Richmond?
It may. Alist Radio has a lot of opportunities coming down the pipe. If it makes sense. It may. I'm not an impulse decision maker. I have to make the best business decision. S
Torrez holds a “2nd Annual Birthday Celebration” with iPower 92.1 Aug. 29 at The Paradise Lounge, 112 N. Fifth St., featuring performances by Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, Ace Hood and more. RSVP by e-mail to: TTTorrezbirthday@gmail.com.