Tory Lanez is tired of talking about Drake.
It’s understandable, given the fact that every time the Toronto rapper gets a major, possibly career-boosting interview, including Sway in the Morning, Ebro in the Morning or The Breakfast Club — the holy trinity of rap morning shows in the U.S. — those outlets want to talk about Drake. Whether it’s their similarity in sounds (Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne called Lanez “Drake Lite”) or the supposed beef between the two (Drake beefs being a thing all media seem to be interested in), Drake always comes up.
"I don't have a problem with anybody in Toronto. If somebody has a problem with me that's different," Lanez recently told The Breakfast Club crew, clearly frustrated. A couple weeks before, following a similar line of questioning from Sway, he responded bluntly with, “the thing is about me. I ain’t here to talk about him.”
Sway’s response: “We can talk about him a little bit though.”
Which is where it gets complicated. Of course Lanez, born Daystar Peterson, would rather talk about his new album, I Told You (which was released Aug. 19 and will debut at number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart, led by the platinum-selling single “Say It”), but you can hardly blame media for being so obsessed with his thoughts on Drake, given that a lot of the young artist’s rise has seemed to correlate directly to his adversarial relationship with the self-proclaimed “6ix God.” It goes back as far as 2010, when there was a rumour that the two were even related. Lanez, seizing on the opportunity, challenged Drake via YouTube to listen to his second mixtape, Playing For Keeps. If he didn’t like it, Lanez said he’d give Drake $10,000. Since then, it’s been rare to see Lanez’s name in print without Drake’s beside it.
It’s the blessing and curse of being a young rapper or R&B singer (or both) from Toronto, where a massive spotlight is shining on one of the biggest musicians in the world, but all the up-and-comers are just at the cusp of it, fighting to get out of the shadow. Even with the world watching Toronto, without an OVO co-sign or a song premiere on Drake’s OVO Sound Radio, it still seems like an impossible task.
Lanez, more so than anyone, has had success by being one of the few young artists to challenge Drake head on, whether it’s the $10,000 bet, addressing him online and in interviews or, more recently, covering a Drake hit song, as Lanez recently did with “Controlla” (which I argued was better than the original). And, depending on how you look at it, Lanez was fortunate/unfortunate to also be the target of a verse from Drake, who on “Summer Sixteen” presumably took aim at Lanez’s New Toronto mixtape: "All you boys in the new Toronto want to be me a little," he rapped.
While it’s unlikely Lanez will ever get the coveted OVO co-sign — which has launched far lesser talents to a worldwide audience — the history has had the positive effect of piquing people’s curiosity to know more about the talented 24-year-old rapper who, in his own words, is here to “take his crown.”
When I spoke to him on the phone the week of I Told You’s release, however, I’m asked beforehand to not make mention of Drake — a request I say I can't accept given the relevance of their relationship. Plus, the day before our phone call, Lanez made headlines again for presumably taunting Drake on Snapchat from Philadelphia, the home of Drake rival Meek Mill.
When I do bring up Drake's name, Lanez hangs up the phone.
Below, I speak to Lanez about I Told You, his long road to success and, well, Drake (sort of).
I listened to your album yesterday for the first time, and overall, it’s just very melodic. There are songs with a lot of straight bars on them, but overall you do a lot of singing and it sounds very radio/club-friendly.
It definitely has a certain sound to it that is very melodic. There are a lot of things that I try to do different. Just try to be better than a lot of my old music. You really have to dive into all of it because sometimes there are songs where there are a lot of bars at the ends of songs, in the middle, but mainly it's a melodic project.
The album begins with a skit, beginning in 2008, you're 16, the year before you release your first mixtape. It’s been a long road for you, but in a way this is an intro album for you. Can you talk about the road to get here?
The album is really just me growing, you know what I'm saying, as an artist and as a musician. We're starting to attack on a global scale, more of a main scale, and this is just becoming something people are starting to take ear to. Whether you come late to the part or early to the party, as long as you’re at the party that's the main thing, right?
You’re getting a lot of attention in the U.S. now, doing big interviews with people like Sway and Ebro, the shows any young rapper needs to do in order to make it there. That’s not an easy thing to get for a Toronto artist. What do you think was the breaking point for you?
When I made the record Say It, that's when things started happening. That's when I started getting the interviews and I had something to promote and radio was doing good, things of that nature.
On the album, you rap about “ain’t no time for co-signs,” but you’ve had some along the way. Like Ed Sheeran, who did his own version of “Say It.”
Ed Sheeran was one of the people, he kinda believed and saw this thing early and I think for him to hop on my record was probably one of the biggest blessings for me. For somebody with his notoriety to just be on my record, I think I was most excited about.
Kanye is supposed to be doing a remix of that song too, right?
He was supposed to. People from his team requested the instrumental but nothing happened.
You are probably one of the most confident young rappers to come out of Toronto lately. Even the title, I Told You, which you’ve tweeted is a “f--k you 2 everyone who doubted” you. What do you feel you have to prove right now?
I will say that just at this point, it stands for everything it stands for. A lot of people doubted and a lot of people didn’t believe. They weren’t there and this is the title that meant the most to me. That’s where all this confidence comes from, that I Told You mentality, you know what I'm saying?
I wanted to ask you about the New Toronto. Who specifically are you referring to?
Any young kids coming out the city making music and just trying to be something, you know, trying to unify the city, unity, things like that. I made the New Toronto for the young new youth that are coming out the city and making music, there's a lot of us, you know what I’m saying? There is a lot of good kids making good music and that's all it was about. It's unifying the city 'cus the city had a lot of separation in the past.
On Sway, you talked about Toronto as a “war zone,” and also tweeted about “cold nights and hottest summers.” What were you referring to?
You have to listen to the album from track 1 to track 15 [28 tracks including skits], from that point on you gotta allow it to play. ... It plays out like a story, it has skits, actors, interludes, every song goes into the next song. It's like a story.
OK, you’ve been at this for eight years now. Do you find it’s gotten easier to make it, now that people are actually looking to Toronto for new talent?
It’s changed a little bit. Still kinda hard.
What do you think changed it?
People got into bigger positions that are looking down on Toronto right now to find talent. Because of the music that's come out of this place and the music that people listen to, the influence right now is in Toronto's direction.
[At this point I’m told I have time for one more question.]
You recently tweeted that “at some point .. Ima have to applaud myself for such incredible calculation,” so I have to ask, how much of this thing between you and Drake is being exacerbated by the media, and how much of it has actually been a well-calculated campaign to your album release?
So wait, that was your last question and that's what you chose to ask me about?
I have more, but we ran out of time.
Throughout the whole interview, throughout the whole interview you have no questions about ... nice try buddy!" [Hangs up the phone.]
Tory Lanez is currently on a North American tour, including Canadian dates in November and December. For more information go to itoldyoutour.com. Say It is available now.
Follow Jesse Kinos-Goodin on Twitter: @JesseKG