We want to know our stars, perhaps even more so now than ever, with the rise of access via artist-controlled social media like Snapchat and Instagram. Some artists push back against this trend and play with anonymity (think of The Weeknd’s emergence), while others try to connect immediately and deeply.
If you’ve been following Tory Lanez, the rapper and singer from Toronto, you might be confused about how he moves, as it can feel like there are two different versions of Tory. There’s the cocky and arrogant Tory that we’ve seen lately, where he talks about gunning for Drake’s No.1 spot in hip-hop and boasts that he’s good in Philadelphia (the hometown of Drake's adversary Meek Mill). These actions have led people to believe he is nothing if not confident.
This is balanced by the Tory who responded to Drake’s subliminal dig at the 'new Toronto'—the rising group of artists led by him making waves in their city post-Drake’s dominance—on Drizzy’s song “Summer Sixteen” just a few months ago, sounding more humbled and honored that the 6 God would even mention his name. “Drake could diss me 20,000 times and I would never diss him. I’m a fan,” he said in an interview with Revolt TV. These conflicting sensibilities raise some important questions: How can one be competitive and also tread respectfully around the competition? And is respect in competition even necessary?
When Tory was considered an underdog, he expressed displeasure over calling Toronto “The 6,” the nickname popularized by Drake, in a now-deleted tweet from last October. There was the sense that he didn’t want just one rapper dictating so much about a city he shares with so many other artists. As Tory's buzz grew, so did his need to go after Drake, throwing thinly veiled shots on songs like his remix to Madeintyo’s “Uber Everywhere,” “Line Up the Flex” with A$AP Ferg, and a few radio freestyles with direct lines. On social media, some have come to the conclusion that Tory is riding Drizzy’s wave. Like Drake, he raps and sings, and as evidenced by Tory's Chixtape series, he shares Drake and his producer Noah “40” Shebib’s fondness for working with beats sampling ‘90s and early 2000s R&B gems. Still others suggest that Tory's songs “August 19th” and “Luv” sound similar to Drake’s “Tuscan Letter” and “One Dance,” respectively. With all these accusations in the air, it’s time for Tory to set the record straight and tell his story.
I rep my city and I rep my city proud as a young Canadian. I’m not going to let nothing stop me.
I Told You, his debut album, describes his journey from struggling as a young artist to walking the red carpet at award shows. It includes moments of bracing vulnerability and honesty. When Tory opens up about how his girlfriend at the time went through more than one abortion on “Question Is,” he’s pushing his art into intensely candid territory, looking for that human connection with the listener. “I go through the same kind of situations as other people,” he told Complex. “I have to give that to people, because people have this façade, this mirage, this mirror about me.”
More than anything, Tory wants the listener to understand that his wins didn’t come on a silver platter. He’s worked hard. He deserves this. “A lot of people don’t understand [how] I got this attitude towards things that’s like, Yo, fuck you, I’m the best,” he said. “It’s not like that.”
He opens I Told You with a skit, one of many that link the songs and keep the narrative moving. “American raised, Canadian born," he narrates. "My name is Daystar Peterson. One day I’m going to be the biggest artist in the world.” It’s the first chapter of the 24-year-old artist’s career, starting when he was just 16 and trying to live in Brampton, Ontario. “Steady contemplating where the fuck I’m about to live/Momma died same year, my sister had a kid/It was either feed the fam or get killed,” he raps, inviting the listener to follow him through his recollection of the overwhelming pressures of street life, romantic relationships, and the dilemma of getting his music heard by the right people. Over production by Play Picasso, Cashmere Cat, Benny Blanco, Happy Perez, and more, Tory likens the album to a movie. “When I say movie, there’s skits, there’s interludes, there’s actors,” he says. “I narrate the whole album. It’s a real cinematic experience.” Fans of Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city and YG’s My Krazy Life, to name two recent examples, will recognize the format.
His bid for stardom has made Tory curious as to why there can’t be room for two sons of Toronto. Tory and Drizzy’s feud has grown to the point there the 6 God called out “all you boys doing fake ‘Controllas’” on the first night of his “Summer Sixteen” tour stops in New York. Tory, of course, remixed the song for his Fargo Fridays series on July 8, and based on Twitter reactions, a large number of fans prefer his remix to Drake’s original song. During an interview with Sway in the Morning a month later, Tory, who was reluctant at first to talk about Drake, discussed his decision to record the song: “I just like that song. That’s all it was. I’m not a hater…. We [The New Toronto] like you. We just want to be No. 1. Is there a problem with that? Can I be the best? Can y’all watch me be great? Will y’all allow me to do that?”
Tory chalks up these bold statements to his passionate nature. “People have to remember this—I’ve literally been going at this music thing since my mother passed away,” he said. “My mother died when I was 11 years old. I’m 24 now.”
“I take this craft so seriously,” he continued. “It’s not something that [I'm] just sitting here like, I’m some new kid and I'm feeling myself right now 'cause I got a record on the way. No, it’s not that. I trained for this,” he said. “It’s like going through the Olympics. I trained and I worked through the blood, sweat, and tears. From me sleeping on the floor to running back and forth from the closet to record myself—I did all of that to be here. So now that I am here, I’m sorry if that gets y’all mad, but I’m a little more confident about the skill and the art that I put in.”
Where is Tory? His certified platinum single “Say It” has well over 100 million views on YouTube and peaked at No. 23 on Billboard’s Hot 100. His latest single “Luv” is currently at No. 40 on the chart.
He’s achieved, but he’s only getting started. His future will depend on the reception of I Told You, and ultimately that will come down to the music—something Tory understands. Puffed-up declarations mean nothing if his music doesn’t back it up.
"Let’s let the music talk from this point,” he said. “I’m here for good music; I’m here to make the music. At the end of the day, I rep my city and I rep my city proud as a young Canadian. I’m not going to let nothing stop me. I think sometimes that gets misconnected on the way I go about things but it is what it is. Our city is just going to be No. 1."