The stories I heard growing up about the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird taught me the importance of having a rival. Someone that you see as an adversary, a challenger, a mountain that you aspire to overcome. I saw it in all aspects of life: every sport, classrooms and the schoolyard, I even saw it on my Gameboy when I started playing Pokémon—the first thing you do is name yourself and then you name your rival. The clash between rivals was a lesson in the benefits of friendly competition—having that one person as a competitor keeps the fire ablaze to always push further, motivating you to always be the better one.
On a surface level, I look at the relationship between Tory Lanez and Drake to be just that—a rivalry. It didn’t start that way, but from the beginning of Tory’s music career, he has been intertwined with Drake. Their story dates back to February 2010, when a video surfaced on YouTube titled: Drake's Lil Brother Tory Lanez Freestyle In The Room. The video features a young Lanez, who sounds eerily similar to JAY-Z. Tory doesn’t look anything like Drake, doesn’t mention Drake in the rap, there’s nothing about the video that connects them as brothers except for the subject line. The YouTube account belongs to YHHNNify with links promoting the website HipHopNews24-7.com. If you go to HHN247’s official YouTube page, however, the video is nowhere to be found. YHHNNify has only a handful of videos uploaded to the account, and only a few have done numbers; Tory's video is the third most popular with over 89K views. You can see this as marketing masked as an innocent lie, using another rapper’s likeness to propel yourself isn’t some new sin, but Tory’s connection with Drake didn't stop there.
When he was 17, Tory released Play For Keeps, a mixtape that he believed was so undeniable that he dared Drake to listen with $10k at stake if he wasn’t impressed. A polygraph test would determine the authenticity of Drake’s honesty. The year was 2010, Drake was buzzing off So Far Gone with Thank Me Later just months away. He was not yet a superstar but a blinding light of potential. What I found strange about the challenge is that Tory didn’t ask for a deal, he didn’t ask for money, he was prepared to pay Drake simply for his opinion. I don’t know how much worth was in a Drake co-sign back then, but I think on a deeper level what Tory wanted was approval, acceptance, and recognition. Drake never gave it to him, at least not in public. I believe that’s when Tory named his rival and it happened to be the biggest rap artist coming from Toronto.
Just last month, the internet was buzzing with the relentless rumor that up-and-coming emcee Tory Lanez is related to Grammy- and Juno- nominated artist Aubrey “Drake” Graham. Lanez is once again a hot topic, as he just released a video Dismissing all rumors and issuing a challenge aimed at Drake; he asks Drake to simply listen to the "PLAYING FOR KEEPS" MIXTAPE , due for release today. With conviction Lanez states: "I like your music but I got 10 G's here that says you will love mine.... I can't lose." Tory Lanez has the talent and confidence to bet on. If Drake is not impressed Drake will receive $10,000. The catch? If Drake accepts the challenge a polygraph test will be performed to verify his answers - Tory Lanez $10,000 Challenge To Drake (What Do Ya'll Think?)
Six years have gone by since the original challenge, and yet, Tory is still trying to bait Drake. Tory doesn’t need a co-sign. He doesn’t need acceptance, nor recognition, from Drake, but he continues to taunt him publicly. For example, the video of him in Philly—immature, childish, but also a blatant shot at the Toronto God (on The Breakfast Club Tory refused to comment on the video and Drake). The BlackBerry shot that Tory sent during his Sway In The Morning freestyle could only have one target. Tory teaming up with Joe Budden for the single "Flex" is nothing but a personification of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." I wouldn’t call it beef, and I don’t think Tory has any malicious feelings toward Drake. It’s more like the way Lebron saw Kobe, or how Wayne used to look at Hov - an adversary, a challenger, a rival.
Since he got his start, Lanez has been asked what it feels like to be “the other guy” from Toronto, and his response is now practiced. “I was actually the second artist that got signed [to a U.S. deal] after Drake—before the Weeknd, before PARTYNEXTDOOR, before all these guys,” he told The FADER last fall. “And I think what made it so emblematic for the city was that I was the only guy, next to Drake, who was talented at the level of being able to spit a hot sixteen, sing amazingly, and write songs. I was the only person from the city coming head-to-head.” - The Brief History Between Drake and Tory Lanez Explained
Drake and OVO may not go blow for blow with Tory, but they’re aware of his existence. Drake clearly looked in his direction on “Summer Sixteen” with the references toward, “All you boys in the New Toronto want to be me a little,” since New Toronto is the title of Tory’s mixtape. Almost the entire beginning of his second verse is a taunt without saying a single name. It’s even more scathing that he doesn’t mention Tory by name, but that’s a usual Drake tactic—more passive than aggressive. Drake calling out all the "fake Controllas" on stage is without a doubt a shot in Tyga and Tory's direction.
When Tory tweeted that calling Toronto “The 6” wasn’t cool, OVO’s P Reign took to Instagram and let it be known that he saw Tory’s post and that he needed to “behave himself.” The post was later deleted because that's what rappers do. Boi-1da, a prominent Toronto beatmaker who is also one of Drake’s in-house producers, had an interesting Twitter exchange with Tory after becoming fed up with artists who deliver poorly executed dancehall records. After Tory sent him a link to his single “Luv,” Boi-1da responded with a picture of the Pokemon Ditto—well known for its ability to transform and take the attributes of the Pokémon it battles. It was a hilariously petty reference. Boi-1da let his Twitter fingers loose recently, implying that Tory can't be compared to Drake because of where they are in their careers—one artist selling out Madison Square Garden, the other trolling for album sales.
Even though OVO has acknowledged Tory, the rivalry feels one-sided. There’s something deeper that drives Tory, something beyond a challenge or rivalry. Listen to “Loners Blvd” from Tory’s I Told You album. Listen to the beat, the flow, the content—does it sound eerily familiar? Almost like a complete replication of Drake’s “Look What You’ve Done”/”Too Much”? The elegant piano production, the sample that plays in the background, and the sentimental autobiographical storytelling using Drake’s exact flow. Tory’s Aunt Suzanne seems to contrast Drake’s uncle that let him drive his Lexus. It’s also rather amusing that on this record Tory mentions performing at Warehouse in Houston where he was booed while Bun B watched. The same Warehouse that Drake mentions in “Too Much,” when he reminisces back on 2009, being nervous if Bun B would show up if anyone would show up. Nathan once wrote about how Tory was coming for Drake’s spot by making Drake music, like a grand scheme to “do Drake better than Drake,” but there’s a line where passion starts to look obsessive. Tory is a deal with Microsoft/Android away from me being really worried.
Pitchfork’s Sheldon Pearce pointed out in his review of I Told You how the album title feels like a distant cousin to Drake’s Thank Me Later. There are two songs on Tory’s album, “4 am Flex” and “Friends With Benefits,” that sample’s Drake’s “We’ll Be Fine.” Instead of trying to step out from Drake’s shadow, Tory is asking for people to see the two in the same light. There’s no denying that Tory knows Drake’s music, so none of this is a coincidence, but what is he trying to gain? Is he using Drake’s likeness to propel himself forward, or is it deeper than rap?
There’s a thin line between going to war for the crown and wanting to wear the emperor's clothes. Tory can deny he wants to be Drake, but his music begs the question: who are you trying to be?
I feel like in Toronto, we’ve always tried to have a particular sound, and I feel like Drake happened to be one of the dudes that paved that sound. feel like [Drake has] helped me piece my sound together, and I feel like subconsciously, as an artist, you’re gonna take certain things from what you hear on a day-to-day basis. - Tory Lanez Chronicles His Journey From Homelessness To A-List Collaborations
I think Tory is talented. I believe he has the potential to go much further than his current position. There's some smoothing to be done to a few hard edges, and an original voice to be found, but the promise is there. I think being from Toronto, and seeing how big Drake has become, puts a chip on his shoulder. He’s running in the shadow of a giant. Instead of trying to escape that shadow, he's chasing after the giant's back. He wants to conquer that giant, he wants to overcome that mountain, and that can be motivating. I worry he’s on a path where his rivalry with Drake might consume him, and completely jade the dream he’s chasing.
A rivalry is all about bringing out the best you, not just defeating them. It doesn't matter if Magic beats Bird, or if Magic doesn’t also get the ring. Chase the ring, Tory, not the giant.
By Yoh, aka Magic Yohnson, aka @Yoh31.