For years, Tory Lanez has dwelled in the underground as another disciple of post-Drake R&B-rap, showcasing singing and rapping talents over moody production, though with a more hardened, street mentality. Lanez and Drizzy have traded subliminal shots for years, and with Tory obviously hoping to snatch the crown from his fellow Toronto native, his debut album I Told You feels like a defining moment. Is he a star of the future, or just an artist currently gaining massive buzz with an adept ability to conquer the popular styles of the moment?
Tory catapulted to semi-star status in the wake of last year’s nostalgic smash single, “Say It,” but don't for one second think the multi-talented Canadian is an overnight success. With over 15 projects to his name spanning seven years, Tory has been honing his craft for close to a decade. What is that particular craft, you ask? Well, it’s hard to tell—it’s difficult to pin down exactly what he's trying to accomplish musically. Lanez bounces around like a chameleon: from hazy but hard-hitting street tales to sensual bedroom jams to manufactured pop hits and most recently dabbling in the Caribbeanflavors currently permeating the airwaves.
The lack of true identity hasn’t stopped Lanez from releasing a stream of quality loose efforts. His #FargoFridays series has been a consistent source of great music—remixes of hits like “Controlla” and “Uber Everywhere” rival their original counterparts - but never do we get a sense of Tory’s originality. Even his latest hit, “Luv,” owes much of itself to Tanto Metro and Devonte, who are heavily sampled. Sometimes he sounds like Drake, sometimes Miguel, sometimes Future... the list goes on.
Perhaps it makes sense that I Told You is a concept album built around and telling the story of the life of the man born Daystar Peterson. The LP, his major label debut on Interscope, plays like a movie, with narrated pieces and scene-like skits bringing the listener in and out of each track.
So, is the picture an end of summer blockbuster or is it Suicide Squad?
3 Standout Songs (other than “Say It” and “Luv”)
“I Told You / Another One”
Apparently, it’s the year of extremely long intros. Following solid album openers from OVO names like dvsn and PARTYNEXTDOOR that top seven minutes, Lanez kicks off his debut with a nearly nine-minute double effort and woooooooooh, it's a heater. We’re forced to sit through a verbal berating of a younger Tory by his grandmother before launching into the booming, bass-heavy title track. But after going “Kristi Yamaguchi with the dough,” Tory pivots to “Another One” over the same beat. Bars seem to drop from skyscraper height, the chorus is catchy enough to find yourself repeating, and a vicious beat switch towards the end only enhances the ferocity.
“Guns N Roses”
The very next track finds Tory embracing his softer, bedroom-focused side, the highlight of such efforts on the album. The swirling production has just the right tinge of rock, and the vocals are as light as a rose petal. A la Pat Benatar, love is a battlefield, and here Tory is at his most vulnerable.
While much of the album’s content fits nicely into buckets like The Come Up, Having Sex, and Flexing Material Wealth, “Question Is” goes deep into Tory’s personal struggles. The 24-year-old tackles touchy subjects like his girlfriend's three abortions, the lack of a real relationship with his father, and past thoughts about the desire to kill someone that was once close to him, each admission shining a light onto Tory as a man, and not just an artist. Every time the hook repeats, “Can you forgive me for the way I love you?” it should hit close to home for anyone who’s ever made a mistake.
Although the album’s first two singles, “Say It” and “Luv,” were perfectly primed for radio play, interestingly the rest of the album is not. Instead, we get upbeat and cold-hearted Tory, ready to go to war at any moment, and we get softer, romantic Tory, equally capable of stealing your girl for the night or holding down a long-term relationship, but neither sound much like hitmaker Tory.
The skits and interludes attached to each track make for a more cohesive album experience and help to piece together his numerous personas, but unfortunately, they also make the listening experience quite tedious upon return visits. I Told You is a decent effort - a nice blend of Tory's different styles and a better look into who he is as a person - but it isn't an album that will help him lay a hand on Drake's Toronto crown, let alone steal it away.