TWU Meets Tory Lanez
“I would fall down to my knees and pray to God just to let me win, Even now I’m winning I pray”.
“It’s a tobacco leaf on the outside of it so… yeah it is” [laughs].
We’re in East London, on the top floor of a swankey hotel room. In a dimly lit room, relaxed and comfortable, dressed in black tracksuit bottoms, shoes off and a rolled piece of herb, lined on a tobacco leaf, is Toronto’s Tory Lanez.
Musically, Tory Lanez is fuelled by braggadocio, positive affirmation and freedom (have you seen his energy at his live shows?!). This sense of confidence oozes out into Tory Lanez in person, and quite rightly so. With his self-described “swavey” sound, Tory Lanez music can only be described as the child of an unusual pairing between a 90’s R&B crooner and an ATL trapper: flirting between harmonising R&B fans and turn-up hip-hop crowds. With over 15 mix-tapes to date, sold-out European shows, and a seven-year grind, Tory Lanez has put in the groundwork and is reaping the results.
Yet at the same time, Tory Lanez is complex, he’s in the generation of viral Internet rappers, yet his come-up tale is lined with mix-tapes and its fair share of ups and downs. Although he comes across as confident, self-assured and borderline arrogant, two things are certain: he’s worked his arse off and he’s grateful; “I would fall down to my knees and pray to God just to let me win, Even now I’m winning I pray”.
Talking career highs/lows, mix-tape rappers versus Internet rappers, sing-a-long moments and the UK understanding him, Tory Lanez, gives The Wrap Up a candid look at his life, come-up, future album and being “the biggest artist in the world”. Ride the Lanez wave below.
I wanted to talk about your style, you sit firmly within both hip-hip and R&B, if you had to pick one genre, what would it be and why?
Tory Lanez: Man…. It would have to be R&B. People live their lives through melodies, if you can’t sing, then music is worthless. My favourite singers are people like R Kelly and people like that.
Yes R Kelly, the ‘Trapped In The Closet Series’ was crazy!
Tory Lanez: [laughs] I know right. Yeah he’s really a great singer and vocalist.
Sticking to your sound, I’ve heard you describe it as “swavey”, can you describe “swavey” in three words?
Tory Lanez: Swavey is the movement. Three words… It’s Unique, it’s true and it’s yourself. It’s a very unique thing, it’s true to yourself and it’s all about you just being yourself.
Talk to me about the day you first decided to get into rap, you was playing a video game called Madden with your cousin, right?
Tory Lanez: [laughs] Yeah. We were playing these video games, and he was winning, and I was losing... like badly. I remember going into the garage and I was angry. I wanted to fight him, but I couldn’t because he was bigger than me. I remember going into the garage, getting a notepad and just writing down a bunch of swear words, then I started to make a rhythm… and it sounded cool. And I just kept going with it. I was using the words as my comeback, and I just kept singing it to him. It was so, so long ago, but by the time I got into a real studio I was way past that. That happened when I was like 11, I was really crazy young.
When did you move into the studio and start to make music?
Tory Lanez: I started taking things seriously when I was 16. I’ve loved music since I was like 9. I thought about taking it kind of seriously after the whole Madden situation, then when I was 16 I decided to start going to the studio.
You’re in a generation of rappers who, unlike their predecessors, came up on the internet, no one really comes up via the mix-tape route, it’s very much online now, but your come up wasn’t really on the internet and online, was it?
Tory Lanez: Yeah, like I came via the mix-tape route. No one took care of me, I took care of myself. I would be at the front of the mall from opening till closing, selling my mix-tapes. That’s how people got to know me. Everyone knew me out there, for really pushing and selling my mix-tapes, No one can take that from me, they saw me there, and they saw the grind.
Do you feel there’s a big disconnect in artists who went the mix-tape route via the artists who blow up o SoundCloud/YouTube?
Tory Lanez: Yeah. That’s what makes you real a real N**** or fake N****. The dude that’s out there talking to 10,000 people, the one who’s out there on the streets constantly, is real. People can rush around him and he’s comfortable. But the person who is not used to that, may not do certain things, because they don’t have the mannerisms to talk to random people all the time, or handle when a bunch of people are around them. Selling mix-tapes gave me that; I’ve been in a bunch of situations selling mix-tapes when you’ve made a bunch of money… Like say you make $300 a day. You have to watch out for the stick-up guys, the guys who are going to rush you [laughs] then, you gotta worry about the beef – beef you don’t even have nothing to do with – but you’re in front of a mall where a bunch of people may have some. You gotta worry about certain things, how people look at you to, how people perceive you. Selling mix-tapes, you’re branding yourself before you even get on.
Your career spans over seven years. You’ve had both up’s and downs, what’s been the highlight and lowlight so far?
Tory Lanez: Highlight, like getting signed… That was dope. Then the low was like…. I think the lowest point was after I left the first label that signed me. I left, I took a year off, my name was known, but not really known, the amount of relevance I had was so little. So for me to be taking a year off... was like a lot. A lot of artists don’t come back from that. I got stuck in Canada. Something happened when I first got signed that meant I couldn’t go back into America until I had a visa. So when I first got signed, people know of me because of Worldstar, but then I fell of because I couldn’t go back into the states and do shows and stuff.
Do you have a song that sums up your experience of the highs and lows in your career?
Tory Lanez: for sure, the Godfather is something that sums that up. It’s constant and shows I was just a lil n**** who wanted to come up. I would fall down to my knees and pray to God just to let me win, Even now I’m winning I pray.
I want to talk about a couple of your songs; they have a real sing-along quality, like ‘Diego’ and ‘Say It’. When you do your live shows, to have thousands of people singing it back to you that must be crazy…
Tory Lanez: It’s mad, because they know all the songs, especially in the UK. You lot know it. I feel I’m even bigger out here in the UK than I am in the States and Canada. They appreciate my music how I want people to appreciate. For me it makes me feel the music I make is for here. Now I have the support from Europe, that’s dope. As soon as it pops here now it will go to America. It’s weird, I should be thinking the other way. I see the way you react, and you see my music exactly how I want it to be seen. I think with Europe and me, maybe because I’m from Toronto, there are certain similarities we share. I think for me that’s one of the dope-est experiences I’m going to share, and at the end of the day it’s Europe that has me the hardest. The UK feels the way I feel and respects it, you use what I see in the music and respect it. When I see people singing along to the music, I feel like yes – someone gets it. Don’t get me wrong; USA and Canada still go hard to my music. But here it’s to the point where all the white girls are singing to every N*** * lyric. But you know it’s stuff like that.
When you write those tunes, do you envision people singing along to it?
I think the way I talk and maneuver in songs is different. I say things and people don’t understand me because of how I’m saying it. I know it sounds cool and weird to me in my head; I’m always like people won’t understand it. But I’m always like f*** it let me stick to it. And I do and people still f*** with it.
The energy at your live shows is insane, what city has the best energy?
I like to turn the venue into a jungle gym, into my playground. I like London, it’s usually crazy. Washington too. Last time I came out, London was crazy. Also Paris too that crowd was crazy literally insane and it was so lit. I’m looking forward to Amsterdam too.
You’ve got an album coming out soon; do you have any features on it?
I’ve been contemplating if I want to put any famous ones on there. I never needed them before. It’s one of those situations where it would be nice to, but I don’t need one. For me... [sighs]. Some albums don’t need them. I might wait until the second album to do that. If I do put feature on there, it will be people who are really A-list, people top of their craft, people who deserve a spot on there. I take this seriously more than some trap shit, I’m gonna be the biggest artist in the world. I take this s*** serious.
Words & Interview: Kamilla Rose