Torii Wolf Premieres Hip-Pop 'Painkiller' Music Video, Talks Collaboration With DJ Premier

Torii Wolf, 2017
Miche Lucas Photography

Torii Wolf

Los Angeles-based artist Torii Wolf didn’t plan on making a full album with legendary hip-hop producer DJ Premier -- it just happened. The two share a manager, who suggested they hit the studio together and see what shook out.

“I understand that he’s a legend and he’s fucking amazing,” Wolf told Billboard. “But I didn’t go into this really with the knowledge of being the first and only female artist he’s ever done a full album with, because that kind of just happened. We just kept creating.”

Premier (or Preem, as his friends and collaborates affectionately refer to him) has produced tracks for the likes of Christina Aguilera, Jay-Z and Kanye West, to name a select few, so his advocating for a new artist like Wolff is significant. Their new album together, Flow Riiot, debuts this Friday, and Wolff’s first single, “Free,” has a guest verse from Macklemore. Still, Wolf -- an esoteric vocalist who is frequently likened to Bjork -- says she doesn’t necessarily see herself as “hip-hop." Instead, she utilizes Premiere’s beats and instrumentation as a juxtaposition for her style.

“I love the grit, I love the groove, I love that sexy vibe -- dirty, filthy,” Wolf said. “I like being able to bring this tranquil, tender and also primal vibe interweaved with these dirty beats. That’s my favorite. The dichotomy of that light in the dark -- that’s how I feel as a human being on the planet, so it’s really nice to emulate that through sound.”

Wolf understands that some might find their partnership strange: Premier is a ballcap and T-shirt kind of guy, while Wolf dons a dark and androgynous style with a mostly shaved head save for a small curly mass on top. They both have inked-up arms, but Wolf’s look is decidedly genderqueer, with few feminine-specific details that many pop star counterparts prefer. Wolf says her relationship with Premier surprised her, too, but that the duo share a “real connection” that has manifested in a true genre-defying LP that will appeal to broad audiences.

“I’ll see people comment when they see us doing our thing on videos, social media and stuff like that, and they’re like, ‘This is such an odd couple. I don’t get it,’” Wolf said. “One of the reasons we vibe so well is because we see each other as souls. There’s no fleshy difference between us.”

Flow Riiot (an anagram of Wolf’s name) is heavily Premier on some tracks, with samples of Marlena Shaw’s “California Soul” and Dilated People’s “Good as Gone” slotting in between Wolf’s ethereal and breathy vocals. There are turntables and symphonies and choruses of “Disrespect this, better hit the exit,” co-existing with Wolf’s croons of “I feel you looking, but I can't see anything/ With these empty eyes/ And this empty chest/ And I am hunting for your noble blood.”

Wolf said every single song was born of spontaneity.

“II would say if you know me at all, it has everything to do with no plan,” she said. “I’m horrible at planning anything and I think the spontaneity is what really is what sparks the most around creativity and emotion. I do a lot of my writing in the night. I don’t really sleep, and I think the reason that it comes to freely to me in those wicked hours is because there’s no pressure around, everybody’s sleeping and I can just let it roll out -- however it’s flowing through me. And with this album, there might be a theme but the theme is not pre-meditated as well. It’s more like just how I feel on the inside, I guess.”

On the newly released “Painkiller,” Wolf takes on the well-trodden territory of love as an insatiable addiction, and while she says other songs are less personal and borrowed from the lives of others around her, this one is highly biographical.

“If anyone has ever had any substance abuse problems or has used in the past at all, you feel this feeling of needing something -- this dependency on getting high and these drugs, so to speak, are what we need so badly -- end up turning on us,” she said. “They don’t care about us is what it feels like -- you use them too much, it ends up biting you and hurting you either way. You need to get high and the only thing that can get you high is that drug and sometimes you’re high and it still doesn’t feel good anymore. And the same thing with a person... some relationships feel that way."

The video for “Painkiller,” premiering exclusively here on Billboard, puts the singer in an abandoned, grafitti-decorated room where she is sweaty and sick, going through withdrawal while clouds of colorful smoke emerge both around and from her. She stands outside a shipwreck in the middle of the sand; she falls through the vast darkness of the universe, but is still among the stars. It’s both harrowing and hopeful.

“I had so many different ideas how I wanted the visuals to be, but one of the main things I feel strongly about is not giving too much to the viewer or the listener,” Wolf said. “I want to create a space for people to -- for their imagination to go. I don’t want to just hand somebody a story. I feel like keeping it open and vague and visually or stimulating in one way or another, or sonically stimulating -- I want people to be in it with me. This video is definitely a little bit more abstract or avant garde. It’s not so much a storyline or plot necessarily—it’s just feeling, you know?”