Tory Lanez on His Hit Song 'Say It' and Getting Cosigned by Justin Bieber

Tory Lanez photographed in 2015.
Courtesy of Sacks and Co.

Tory Lanez photographed in 2015.

Toronto’s Tory Lanez has been one of the hip-hop world’s buzziest names for a few years now, but his 2015 single “Say It” -- his first since signing with Interscope last year -- is also his first to hit the Billboard charts. The R&B track finds the rapper/singer showing off his falsetto as he croons about “keepin’ it honest” (among other things) over gospel-inflected background vocals -- and it’s catchy to boot. Currently at its Hot 100 peak (no. 23) after 14 weeks on the chart, “Say It” also reigns the R&B/Hip-Hop airplay chart.

To celebrate his chart success (and the release of his latest single, "L.A. Confidential"), Billboard caught up with Lanez to talk about hitting the big time, collaborating with Ed Sheeran and hanging with Justin Bieber, and (naturally) to get a little relationship advice.

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“Say It” is your first song to chart -- what is that like?
Basically, this is the first song I created after being signed to Interscope. So for this to be the first record to's actually the first time for a lot of things. Everything has been fairly new. I just take it day by day -- I know the record is big, and I hope it continues to grow.

What was it like the first time you heard it on the radio?  
It was amazing. I was in Connecticut. Random, right? We were just driving somewhere, and then we heard the song, like on a random radio station. It was dope for me because we didn't expect it, it wasn't planned. Nobody called me and said, "Yo, today at this time, it's gonna play," so it was big moment for me. I think the best things happen when they're spontaneous.  

What do you think it was about this single that really resonated so well?  
The single's catchy, but I believe that the success comes from the fact that it was the first track that I ever had a label to push and help me with. I feel like I've made a lot of incredible records that I know would have had the success of "Say It," but at the same time, I do feel like there's a difference when someone will allow exposure to your song, whether it be for radio or wherever. There is other records that I definitely could have put out, but this one had the machine behind it and the support. Luckily, it went.

What inspired the song?
For me, it was a couple of real-life situations. I've had situations where maybe a girl would front on me -- I'm talking about holler at you and you’re acting like you’re too hot just because you had a couple Instagram followers. One day they front on you. The next day, they like you. The next day, something else happens. So I think it was just based off of those situations, and the song is basically just talking about a girl who wouldn't like me if I weren't “in this foreign car,” etc. It's about doing more, proving that it's not just about [the superficial stuff]. It was inspired off of, you know, regular life.

Anything you've said to a girl and regretted?
Yeah -- I had a girlfriend who I told the know since, I'm a guy. All guys cheat at some point, or at least I feel like all guys cheat. So I mean, I kept it real. I just kept it honest. But in the long run, it just gave me more problems. And it caused more problems for the girl that I was cheating with. It just made it a big deal -- so yeah, at the time I regretted being all the way truthful.

Anything people shouldn't say in a relationship?
I do still believe that everyone should still be honest. Everything should still be true. As true as you can have it -- communication is one of the biggest keys in a relationship, in general. If y'all’s communication is not on the same level, it's not gonna work out. So I do believe in being honest and blunt about everything, and just kind of keeping everything on the table so that if anything ever arrives or shows up, it was already said.

How can you tell someone's being honest?
I think it's a feeling -- I think we all know secretly when someone's lying. I mean, don't get me wrong, you don't wanna believe it a lot of the time -- sometimes we convince ourselves to believe that things are true that we know deep down are not. But it's a vibe thing. You know your partner. You know who you're with. I feel like you should know just off of a vibe and the way that they act. Don't ever be afraid to ask questions as well. If you feel like you need to know something, ask away. Ask the questions that you need to know. Give me an advice column! Let me be the guy!

Your R&B mixtapes really pay homage to a lot of old-school stuff -- who are some of your biggest influences in that genre?
Usher is definitely somebody I came up listening to. Ginuwine, of course. The Aaliyahs -- all the people that anyone would expect me to listen to. The only thing is with me -- this may sound weird -- there are a lot of R&B singers from that era that I actually don't know. Like I never grew up on Boyz II Men. I never grew up on Jodeci. I never grew up on things like that 'cause my dad was a preacher, and he kind of kept us away from music like that. I never actually heard a lot records that I should have [until later on].

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Your dad is from the Caribbean originally, right?
Yeah. He's from Barbados.

I noticed there’s some light patois happening at the beginning of the “Say It” video...
We talk like that in Toronto a lot, though. Like that's how everybody talks. I know how to keep it a little more professional, a little more cordial when I'm in my interviews and things like that but when I'm in Toronto, that's how we talk. That's really big out here.

Do you listen to dancehall and reggae at all?
Oh, of course. I grew up listening to a lot of that stuff and being influenced by a lot of reggae and stuff like that. One of my favorite reggae songs is Wayne Wonder’s "No Letting Go." And Sizzla "Give Me A Try." That's one of my favorite songs as well. Songs like that.

You have a song with Ed Sheeran on Chixtape 3, and he covered “Say It” -- how did that happen?
It's actually crazy. I signed with Benny Blanco in 2014 -- he's done a magnitude of work with Ed. They were on tour, and one day he calls me and he's just like, "Yo, um -- I need the instrumental to 'Say It.'" So I gave it to him, and then he's like "Check your email in like three minutes, something like that." I run over and check my email, and like Ed had these vocals -- he did the cover of it originally. I was like, "Wow. This is crazy. He really covered the whole song, and he put it out and all the fans loved it."

I asked Benny if it was alright for me to flip it. So I flipped it, got some more of his vocals. I felt like it was dope to sample a cover of a song of mine, because Ed Sheeran's version is so much more acoustic and the vocals...his version is very intimate.

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Are you a fan of his in general?
Of course I'm a big Ed fan. I'm a big Justin Bieber fan. I've been a Justin Bieber fan. I've been listening to his music. OG, you know. That's also my friend too so, you know. It's just one of those things. We've been supporting each other's music for a long, long, long time. So I've just been hearing the growth of his and I just think it's amazing, especially that he's coming from Canada. It's a thing like that.

Is that how you got connected with him?
Yeah, we basically connected in Toronto. One day, he came out here for a show and I connected with him before. He was actually the person who got me my first deal. It's weird. He's done a lot of stuff for me. He's the person who got me verified on Twitter.

How did he do that?
One day he was chilling with this dude who made Ustream. He was showing the dude my music, and the guy was like, "Yo who's Tory Lanez?" And he was like "How do you not know who Tory Lanez is? Like look at his Twitter." And then when he saw my Twitter he was like, "Oh yo, he's not verified." The dude's name was Mazi, and he's like "Yo Mazi, get him verified." And the next day, I was verified. I was like, "Hey. It's lit."

He helped get you a deal too?
Yeah -- well, when I was younger, he was supposed to be the person I signed with, but at the time, he was too young to sign me. So it didn't work with me and him, but it is what it is. The stars played out the way they were supposed to play out and I'm in the position I'm supposed to be in. And I'm sure he is as well.

What’s the deal with the Canadian music takeover? From December through January, the top 10 of the Hot 100 was mostly Canadian artists.
It's getting' serious. There's something in the water, man. I don't know, there's something in the water. To be honest with you, I just think it's the culture that we grow up in. This place is a big melting pot for culture. My thing's just growing up with all that culture.

A portion of this story originally appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of Billboard.