Tory Lanez has never been mistaken for shy or timid. Indeed, his demeanor has often been characterized as smug, or arrogant because of his impenetrable swagger.
“Most people look at things logically — like if you have the stats to prove it, that’s when you should talk shit,” says the Toronto native, while devouring a fistful of grapes at New York City’s Penthouse North. “Me, I feel like I’ma talk shit before because I know in my mind, I could prove it. Sometimes that doesn’t always work, but I’m not afraid to admit when it doesn’t work.”
For those who enjoy chartwatching, the burgeoning artist has proven to be a formidable Billboard threat early on in his career. His 2016 debut album, I Told You, debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 4, spawning two top 40 singles on the Hot 100, in “Say It” and “Luv,” peaking at No. 23 and No. 19, respectively. Touting icy raps and buttery vocals, Lanez has been on the prowl, vying for a chance to usurp the crown for king of rap, despite his relatively short resume.
During the last several years, the brazen lyricist squared off with hip-hop heavyweight Drake, while nearly getting into a physical altercation with Travis Scott. Despite those muddy incidents, Lanez’s confidence remains unblemished. For his sophomore album, Memories Don’t Die, the hip-hop lothario places love in the backseat in order to obliterate his verses. On the album’s opening track, “Old Friends X New Foes,” Lanez flexes with sharp lyrics like: “You got a million ways to get it, well, I got a milly and five/ I really will donate a mill to my city, it’s gettin’ too real to survive.”
Though he loads up on steely bars with his second album, Lanez doesn’t forget to flaunt his singing prowess, especially with his recent single, “B.I.D.” Billboard caught up with the 25-year-old to speak about his sophomore album Memories Don’t Die, a potential joint project with Meek Mill, ending his feud with Travis Scott, one day working with Drake and why he considers 50 Cent his mentor.
Billboard: Let’s take it back to 2012 and highlight a specific line from your song “The Making,” where you rapped: “When you ain’t got much, you gotta think Sparta,” At what point in your career did you have your Sparta moment?
Tory Lanez: My standpoint of where I was in the industry, a lot of people didn’t really like me, because of how I used to move — as far as just being overly confident in myself, before I had the stats.
My whole career has been proving people wrong. Just that moment of, “No matter what you think I can’t do, I can do it.” That is just a whole Sparta moment in general. The whole thing with Sparta is that there were 300 people that were fighting colonies of warriors, other soldiers, but these 300 people were advanced on a different kind of level. Almost like they were touched, on a God-like level. They were moving and they were killing shit, and they may have lost a couple of people here and there, but to kill one of them, it took a lot. It wasn’t the way that other people were getting killed in the other camps.
For me, I look at things a little bit differently, because of how I came in the game. I came in the game on some, “No matter what, there might be a Goliath, but I’m David, n—a” [mentality]. My whole first and second year, just proving people wrong and doing the shit I did, was my Sparta moment.
Despite all your success now, how have you been able to maintain that Sparta mindset?
Honestly, I kept it in my spirit to always have that hunger, and to always be as hungry as the first time. I don’t feel like I’m at where I’m supposed to be. I’m gonna be the biggest artist in the world one day, and there’s nothing that’s gonna stop that. Everyday I wake up and I’m not the biggest artist, I need to do something to become the biggest artist. That pushes me every single day. As a Leo, I thrive off of that progression. As long as I see myself progressing, I thrive off it and I want to go harder. It’s just a big, never-ending rolling ball, that just gets bigger and bigger.
“Old Friends x New Foes” gave me a “First Day Out” and “Dreams And Nightmares” kind of vibe. Was that intentional, the way you blacked out on the second half of the track?
I wanted the project to just sound different. I personally have never started an album without coming in [to] just start rapping from the top. This time, I wanted there to be a real passage of something that made you really sit there for a second. I’m asking you when I’m starting, “Do you have real friends?” Old friends become strangers, and new friends become dangerous. Old friends become strangers because the fame — they’re not on the same level as you, so they don’t look at things in the same light. Sometimes there ends up being this disconnect and they become strangers.
New people come in and want to become so close that it becomes dangerous. It’s like, “You shouldn’t be here.” Why do you want to be in so quick? What work have you put in, that we have all put in, that makes you feel qualified to be here? Those people are dangerous. The new people that just come in your life randomly sometimes, you don’t know whether or not this person is going to honest. You have to learn new things about this person. This person might do some sheisty shit. Will this person do some sheisty shit? Those things were things I wanted you to have first, before you even got into the spitting.
Once you get into the spitting, you know where you’re at. You know that I’ve brought you back in the way I’ve brought you in for years, as far as anybody who’s been listening to my stuff for years. I brought you into the project the way I always bring you into the project. But this time, every time I rapped on this project, it had to be a blackout. I wasn’t having it. If it wasn’t a blackout, I wasn’t having that whole intricate rap thing. I wasn’t doing it. I had to show people. Like I said, I had to prove to people. It has to dismantle your chest.
On “Hate to Say,” you rapped about doing Meek Mill’s “Litty” record just to show your love for Philly. What is it about Philly that you appreciate so much?
There’s a song on there called “Hate To Say,” and I expressed a couple words about the Meek and the Drake situation. I think at that point, when they started beefin’, there was this thing in the city where Philly was on some like, “If you’re from Toronto, fuck you,” and Toronto was like, “If you’re from Philly, fuck you.” But it’s like, I love both of these cities, because we’re all in the North, and I identify with people who go through the winter and people who go through the struggles in the winter. So, I didn’t want that to be there.
There’s a point in time where people in Toronto were like, “Fuck Meek.” I was more on some, “Nah, not fuck Meek. ‘Lord Knows,’ here, take that. ‘Litty Again,’ here, take that.” Now, n—as is back on that and fucking with it again, because the music is hard, as it’s always been. I did that shit for the love of Philly, because I didn’t want that shit to be the general thing with each other.
Have you been following Meek’s legal situation? Have you visited him?
I talked to [manager Coon Philly] through his phone, ‘cause his phone is still on, and Coon be on it. I’ll ask about the updates on the situation, and Coon would hit me back and tell me a couple things. I’ve asked how I can write to him, but I haven’t gotten the chance to see him. Right now in his life, from what I’ve been seeing — even with the situation with the cops, and them finding out that one of ‘em was a dirty cop — from a spiritual standpoint, I feel like all the times that Meek has gone to jail has been for a bigger purpose.
Every single time he’s been in there, he’s become bigger every time. Every single time he’s been in there, he’s come out as a bigger artist. This last time, I think God wanted to show him something that he wouldn’t have been able to see without being incarcerated. Not necessarily saying jail, but I think he needed to be amongst himself to learn whatever God is showing him right now.
I feel like this will be the last of these issues. I think all these things are coming to light, because there’s a calling and a mandate on his life that is very big, and he may not even know how big it is. One day I even remember I was driving, and I was listening to some old school music of his. Something came over me to tell him, like, “Yo, you are one of those people. You will be looked at like a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Malcolm X.”
I don’t say that as, “You are Martin Luther King,” because none of us will ever be… but in these times, as a young black man, in the way things are going on and what you’re able to make visible to people through your art and your artistry, has been given to you at a different level. It has been given to you at a place where people can feel you with their insides. A lot of n—as rap all the time but you can’t feel it. So from this point, you have to take that and run with it. I feel like all of his things are going to break up now, and he’s going to be able to go the places he wants to go to. He’s going to be able to do the things he needs to do.
With all the records you guys have done together, I’m assuming there was a joint project coming, right?
That’s the crazy thing, because actually — before he went inside, we pretty much started sending each other tracks, and we were supposed to link up and get in the studio. We had been talking about this collab tape for a long time. We were making great music with each other for years, and I think he was kind of waiting for me to get a little more famous or something. [Laughs.] At this point, I’m there with it now. I want to always make music with Meek and vice versa, because we’re two young n—as that find interest in the same things, and we make great music.
Why was Drake not featured on the new album, even though the beef between you two is over?
Originally, he was supposed to be. I had asked him to jump on it, and he was like, “Yeah, I’ll hop on it.” When I asked him, it was really towards the end of the year, when we both had things going on, and then he was like, “Yo, I’m not really dropping music until the next year starts. That’s when I’m gonna be dropping heavy for real.” Then, I was like… “Okay, let’s make it happen after.” After the New Year came, I had already turned in my album. But we were like, “Cool, we’re gonna make a bunch of music this year.”
Whenever we link, we’ll link, and we’ll get in the studio. Inevitably, we’re going to make a lot of music together, and a lot of money together. I’d hope so, as far as us being Canadian, and just being talented on the same kind of level. On the next project, or sometime this year.
On “Hate to Say,” you also rap about getting into it with Travis Scott at a festival. How did you guys end that situation peacefully?
We almost got into that fight, and we made up and we were cool about it after. He came in and spoke to me like 30 minutes after the situation, and we sat there and talked as men. We explained to each other how we felt about the situation, and I understood him at a different place, and he understood me at a different place. Hopefully going into the future, we could work [together]. I’m definitely a fan of his shit and I’ve told him on many occasions. I just wanted to apologize to him, because I was kind of the one who was like, “N—a, we fading.” I was just kind of like, “I’m sorry.” He came in the room to figure out the situation.
Your sophomore album is called MEMORIES DON’T DIE. What memories do you have from your past that keep you grounded today?
I remember there was this time I was coming home from school in 9th or 10th grade and I was coming off the bus, and I remember being so broke. I remember asking myself like, “Yo, how can I be this broke? How could I have no money?” I’m calling my dad and he has no money. I’m calling everybody and nobody has money, and no one could help me. How am I so broke? At this time I was staying at a spot with some other dudes, but I remember that same night, I had to go back to the ways of begging people for change. I had to go on the corner and beg until I had $20. I’ll never forget that day. I was so broke, and I was like, I could never be this guy in life again. One day, I’m not gonna be this guy.
Things like that always remind me that you always got to have humility and shit. You got to treat everyone humbly, because every single person that I meet, I look at them like when I met n—as on the corner and y’all was all in a bigger situation than me. I don’t look at n—as like I’m Tory Lanez. I look at them like “Yo, I don’t know who this n—a is, but he’s probably in a more fortunate situation than me.” That’s where it comes from. That’s a memory that always keeps me grounded.
The “Pieces” record with 50 was really hard-hitting, man. You have to some kind of crazy visual coming for that.
We’re shooting crazy visuals for everything on this album. That’s one of the things I feel like I’ve had a problem with in my career. I’ve never shot videos for all the right songs. There would be times where things are going, and I would just not shoot videos.
You regret doing the “Say It” and “LUV” videos?
Hell no. I love those videos. I just wish I could have shot more shit from the album. I was just so focused on doing it in this way I felt like was right at the time, but it wasn’t. This time around, we’re shooting videos for everything. I bought a RED cam so I could have certain visuals at all times, and I don’t have to ask n—as. I hate asking n—as for shit. Real talk.
If you could do it yourself, why not?
When I was a rapper before, just by myself and I wasn’t singing or anything, I would ask n—as to hop on my hooks and no one would sing my hooks. So I taught myself how to sing. I used to suck at singing. Horrible. But I taught myself how to sing, because no one would sing my hooks. Nobody wanted to shoot my videos, so I taught myself how to shoot videos. My thing is, everything is a self-taught thing, because nobody wanted to help me. I hate asking people for things. I just hate it.
I got the RED cam so I can stop asking people for things, and I could do my own videos now. I won’t have to wait for a camera crew and I won’t have to wait for the label to put this budget behind it. I can shoot and spend whatever money and I can go to the label after and ask for the reimbursement. I’ll shoot my own shit. Everything from this point is going to look like it came off a damn commercial. Holla at me.
50 has that same mentality. He’s like, “If I could do it myself, why the fuck not?”
By any means. I love 50, man. I look at 50 like my mentor. When I meet 50, he just sits there and he talks to me for like two hours. He just be talking to me about all kind of shit, and I appreciate it more than he may realize. Coming from an OG and someone of his stature, it’s incredible to me. He doesn’t have to do that, but he sits there and takes the time to really talk to me, and guide me through certain things. I appreciate that shit.
You recently teamed up with 6ix9ine on the “Rondo” record. What intrigued you about his artistry and him as a person to get in the studio with him? You know everybody is kind of iffy on him.
I don’t care, man. I’m the type of person where it’s like, unless you did something to me personally, and I can say I’ve been there to see you do some fuck shit to people, I can’t put that on you. I can’t put that on you until I’ve seen you. I have to meet you, and see that you’re a lame, or you’re somebody who’s not who I thought you were. I hate when people do that shit to me. I don’t prejudge people.
At the start, I heard his songs, and I heard the first one and I didn’t really understand it. I didn’t really understand the “GUMMO” record, but I liked how he came in the video. I’m a cinematic guy, so when he came up out the video and he lifted his shirt and it said the big “69,” that’s when I thought it was cool. My whole thing was like, “Nah, I wanna fuck with this guy,” even off the fact that n—as don’t wanna fuck with him. N—as are iffy, and then it’s like, “Well, I’ll be the guy to expand myself.” At the end of the day, he’s just another n—a that wants to get on as much as I do. Whatever he deals with on his own personal time, that’s on his time. That’s never going to affect my time. I’m not one of those dudes that will look at another person’s situation and not be me to the fullest.
In Los Angeles, he called me up to go to the club with him. This guy is walkin’ around one deep in Los Angeles. All-Star weekend, he’s walkin’ around one deep. And I’m with him now, so it’s me, him, his man and I got like four or five dudes that I’m with. If I come out to New York and I holla at you, but when I’m in L.A. and there’s a problem, I can’t do the same? Nah. I’ma be the same me no matter where I go. If I’ma hang out with you here in New York where I feel you’re comfortable and safe, I’ma hang out with you where I feel like you’re not comfortable and safe. At the end of the day, I chose to hang out with you. Period, point blank.
I look at him and I kind of appreciate the whole, “My n—a, I’m a little n—a but they’re not gonna throw me no L’s.” I look at that like, yeah, talk your shit.
Rapping, you got it. Singing, you got it. Video shit, you got it. Songwriting, you got. But you still have that underdog mentality where you feel people don’t really rock with you.
You know what it is? I feel like I been that cool kid that comes to school and he’s cool, and everyone’s like “Yo, should we fuck with this kid? He might be a little too popular, or he thinks he’s too cool, because he knows he’s cool. I would like this guy better if he didn’t know he was cool.”
Do you think it’s an arrogance thing?
I don’t think it’s an arrogance thing, but I think some people can’t factor in my confidence. Like, “Why is he so confident in himself when he doesn’t have the stats to prove it?…” Some people either like it, or they don’t like it. It’s not necessarily me being arrogant, but it’s just how I look at myself. I’m confident.
What would you say is the most underrated aspect of your game?
Just my consistency of great records. I don’t think people have heard my whole catalog. People have heard the select songs that they’ve heard and that’s it. That’s also why I feel a lot more videos need to be shot. I’ma do this thing where I go and shoot old videos and shoot old songs I made. Brand new videos. If there was one song on Swavey that I should’ve shot and everybody knew I should’ve shot it, it’s gonna be shot. There’s songs that I just didn’t put out, and I’m like, if they had videos and people saw them, people would be like, “This kid’s a continuous hit maker. He’s someone that’s constantly coming with a record.”
I don’t like being overlooked. That’s why I made this album and I’m going about it the way I’m going about it, as far as making sure I’m putting mad visuals behind it.
I gotta ask this because I know Toronto dudes, even me being here, have love and admiration for Vince Carter. What is it about Vince that makes him Toronto’s Michael Jordan?
Vince was the first n—a that came to the city and started wildin’ shit up. When he was about to run and dunk, when he was on the fast break, you knew it was gonna be a trip. You knew it was gonna be something hard.
Vince Carter was the sickest. You’re just too sick, bro. We would be watching the game and you’d see Vince out there, and he’d be the only one just showing out for our city! He was the first person to just really show out as a basketball player for our city. Even nowadays — no offense to the Toronto Raptors, and I love everybody and what they have contributed to the game — but none of them n—as is Vince Carter yet.
You don’t think DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry could reach that level?
I think any of those n—as could reach that level, and all those n—as are talented [enough] to surpass Vince Carter. No offense to Vince Carter either. It’s not about your skill. It’s about the flavor that you brought to the culture. He put his arm in the fucking rim.
There’s ball players doing that in the dunk contest now. He inspired a generation.
That’s what I’m saying. There’s certain things he did that were iconic. Athletes now, it’s very hard for them to be iconic. Think about it. It’s a whole league of new n—as that just got signed, and there’s only really like five or six n—as that you care about. Like you could go to the club and be like “Oh, this n—a’s here tonight? I’m gonna go to that club.” A lot of sports n—as you don’t care about because you don’t know them all. You only know the James Harden’s, the Kobe’s, the AI’s, the people who had this name.
I love asking rappers this question, but if you could compare yourself to anyone in the NBA, who would you pick and why?
I knew you were gonna say Westbrook. Why Russ?
He believes in himself wholeheartedly and he knows he is one of the most all-around people. He’s all-around talent. He wants everybody to just respect him for his all-around talent. But because he doesn’t have a ring yet, people try to act like it’s not, but you know that it’s that. You know eventually he’s gonna get his ring, bro. He’s gonna get his ring. Fuck around, he might just get his ring and not stop getting rings. Real talk.
I kind of got that [Westbrook] vibe when you did that Hot 97 freestyle with Flex.
You should see this one I just did on Sway. I just came from Sway to here. I went for nine minutes.
If you could pick one word to title this chapter of your life, what word would it be and why?
Memories. I feel like I’m gonna go through a lot of things in this coming year that are gonna be a lot of the biggest memories that I’m gonna hold. I know throughout the rest of my career, it’s gonna be full of a lot of memories but I know these specific memories of coming from the B-list guy to the A-list guy — ‘cause that’s where I see myself — I feel like the memories of how this is gonna happen and how this is gonna work are gonna be crazy.
If you could pick a song or album as the soundtrack to your life right now, not from your discography, what would it be?
“Can I Live” by JAY-Z. My life has always been a reflection, being in situations and looking back at them like “What have I done right” or “What have I learned?” or “What was this for?” That’s what it’s been. In my life, it’s just been a reflection of all the things that have happened to me, whether they’re good or bad, I have to roll with the punches and I have to live with these things. I’ve been well aware and reflective on these things. That’s why I would say “Can I Live.”