After Tory Lanez’s sound check, the singer walked towards me, distressed. “My brother,” he told me, perturbed, “Before we do the interview, and I don’t even know if you can fulfill this request, but I really need some tea. And some honey.”
I thought he was joking. “Tea?”
“Yeah, with lots of honey, as much honey as you can find.”
I’m a big tea drinker. “I got you, Tory.”
“And lemon, can you find lemon?”
“Yeah,” I told him, and ran across the street to steal a lemon while my friend Tom boiled the water and steeped his tea.
My decision to interview Tory came at the last second after some quick research and perusal of interviews like this and tweets like this, this or this. I couldn’t say no.
The kid Tory Lanez is a hip hop jack-of-all-trades out of Toronto, Canada. He sings like a grisly Chris Brown or a raspier Tim Vocals, but turns on a musical dime with a versatile flow occasionally reminiscent of Autotune maestro Kirko Bangz, other times punchy and violent, an A$AP Rocky-Tyga hybrid. His music feels similar to these cats, too – glam rap with big cars and bigger grillz and Scarface story music videos. His mixtapes have well over 100,000 downloads on DatPiff.com, the paragon of free hip hop online, and he was recently featured on Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers 3, an album closing in on a million downloads since its release three weeks ago.
Tory poured a quarter of my honey jar into his tea, which was apparently not enough because he stopped drinking his tea and just began squeezing honey into his mouth from the bottle. Then he turned and looked at me and said, “Ready for the interview?” Yeah. Shit. I’m ready.
Lawrence Neil: So Tory — your name is Daystarr, originally, right?
Tory Lanez: Mhm.
LN: Why the switch to Tory Lanez?
TL: When I was about 12 or 13, I lived in Atlanta. There was a janitor – Hakeem was his name – he had nicknames for all the kids in the neighborhood. So everywhere I’d go he’d always call me Lanes. The reason why he’d call me Lanes was because I always used to run across the street, not watching traffic — I was a bad lil’ kid, you feel me? I never really had respect for the rules of day to day pedestrian life. I used to violate that, so he called me Lanes all the time and boom, people started calling me Lanez from that.
When I started taking hip hop more seriously, around 14 or 15, I wanted people to call me Notorious because one of my favorite rappers was B.I.G.. I didn’t want them to call me Notorious B.I.G., because that’s who I wanted to be like, just Notorious. It came to a point where people in my hood were like, ‘Alright, we’re not gonna call you Notorious but we’ll shorten it and call you Tory.’ I used to look at that like Notorious Lanez, but really it’s just Tory Lanez.
LN: Side note: I wasn’t going to ask this, but there’s another famous person with a really similar name to you.
TL: That chick! I was watching her [adult film star Tory Lane] last night! Wow!
LN: You’ve heard of her!
TL: Yeah but her name is T-O-R-Y L-A-N-E. Mine has an extra Z. It’s a little different but it’s the same shit.
LN: Have you met her?
TL: No — I’m trying to find her, tell her she should hop on a mixtape or something! Tell her that there’s another crazy motherfucker with the same name as her.
LN: Well, this is Cali — she’s probably down in LA.
TL: I don’t doubt it. She does some wild shit.
LN: I read an interview where you were asked about your inspiration, and you talked about men in El Salvador who wake up at dawn and fish for a living. On that note, are there artists within the hip hop world that you would consider an inspiration?
TL: The art of music in itself is an inspiration. There’s no one artist specifically. In my mind, it’s much more important to listen to as much music as I can be exposed to, so that my output can be a reflection of all these people. My whole goal isn’t to draw inspiration from particular people, but rather good music in all forms.
LN: So on that note, who do you listen to that people may not expect you to, who will in turn have repercussions in your own music?
TL: I listen to Toro Y Moi. He’s a very dope dude and his music seems like it’s from the 90s. It’s very artsy and very dope. I listen to James Blake, a lot of trance-y ass music. I fucks wit his shit heavy. You know that group SBTRKT?
TL: I’m a big fan of their lead singer — actually I’m not sure if he’s their lead singer, but with a voice like his, he should be. Name is Sampha [Ed. Sampha is primarily known for his collaborations with SBTRKT but is a solo artist.] He’s very dope. Those are some left field people I listen to.
LN: What about outside of music? Do you find yourself inspired by other types of art?
TL: I’m inspired by life, the misfortunes I’ve had and when things aren’t so dandy. When I drop any sort of musical project, in order for me to really write good music, I can’t drop another project until I’ve lived six months of life. And then I’ll start writing again. I speak about things that have really happened to me. Even when I say things that are farfetched, like every rapper does, the difference is that all the farfetched things I’ve said in the past have come true. So I’ve learned that the music I make will come true, and anything that I say will happen. It’s that powerful.
LN: You’re a psychic.
Tom O’Neill (O’N): Is that ever frustrating? You talk about having to wait six months before you can figure out new material, so have you found a way to cultivate it besides just time?
TL: As an artist, you’re going to go through roadblocks and your creative juices are going to be calling. They want more, something new and invigorating and innovative and something that will keep your stems going. Until you get that, you’ll just be stuck there. But I always bounce back because I know that if I keep writing and making music consistently, it’s going to turn into something crazy. Music will always come — I never get a road block and think, ‘Damn, this is it.’ Doesn’t happen.
LN: Talking about inspiration, I’ve read that your father is a preacher. You talk about conflict a lot, your mixtape is titled Conflicts of My Soul and you’ve said that making ‘devilish music’ can sometimes be a conflict for you.
TL: My father always told me to make music that’s positive. My name, Daystarr, comes from when my mom was in the hotel, she was pregnant with me, and my dad was praying and put his hand on her stomach and said, ‘May God grant my son longevity and long life till the day dawns and the day star rises,’ and he said God stopped him in his prayer and said, ‘That’s his name, that’s your child’s name.’ So it’s bigger than just my Dad, it’s what my name is and what my purpose is. I look at it this way — sometimes you have to go into dark places and be dark to get people out of the dark, and relate to these people to bring them to the light. There’s always a positive message behind my music and it’s never for negativity. I may fuck up, but I’ma do my best.
LN: I feel. So you said you grew up in Atlanta, and then you moved to Toronto?
TL: Actually I grew up in Miami and moved to Atlanta at 12, and after Atlanta I moved to New York, and then to Canada when I was about 15. I was moving really frequently, always around and going different places. Then once I got up to Canada, I stayed there for a while.
LN: Because of your father’s work?
TL: Some of it because of his work, yeah, but some was just because my life was going in different directions.
LN: Toronto right now is coming out with a bunch of hot shit. Drake is blowing up, The Weeknd is blowing up. You’re starting to blow up. Why Toronto and why now?
TL: There’s something in the water, B. There’s something in the bags of milk. You know milk comes in bags up there?
LN: No shit.
TL: Yeah. I really think the things you see reflect the things you put out. Our stoplights are yellow, not black, the grass is greener, and it’s a lot of difference of perspective that creates something in the atmosphere that lets us create that sound.
O’N: Do you think moving around, bouncing between hotbeds of hip hop and very diverse styles, has impacted you musically?
TL: Without that, I don’t know where I’d be. I think I’d be less dimensional and versatile than I am today. That allowed me to cultivate my music, and I was able to capture the culture of each place while I was there just by listening to radio, or seeing what was poppin’, or seeing what the people would listen to in the club. Knowing that and being able to relate to people in different kinds of ways helped a lot.
LN: We noticed that you were on the new Dreamchasers mixtape, so congrats on that. You’ve worked with Kirko on a song with DJ Mustard. What producers or what artists are you looking at next? Who is your ideal collaboration?
TL: (thinks for a while before responding) I want to do some work with Kanye. He’s one of my favorite artists. I definitely want to do some work with Drake as well.
LN: Has he reached out to you at all?
TL: I met him one time and I told him he was an inspiration and he told me, ‘Thanks, I really fuck with your shit as well,’ and I was like, ‘Thanks.’ But I’ve only met him once. Hopefully in the future there’ll be a record. Honestly I want to do something with Coldplay.
Tory stands up and grabs his tea.
LN: How’s the tea?
TL: Great, thanks.
LN: Speaking of Drake, we were checking out your twitter and noticed you had a few comments on the Kendrick/Drake beef over ‘Control’. What do you feel like the hip hop environment is like now since that track dropped?
TL: I feel like he made a political move and hit his target. I mean, it has nothing to do with me. I feel like there was a certain competitive spirit that was alive a few years ago, and when the artists changed their genres away from gangster shit and being hard, that competitive edge went missing. Kendrick, as an MC, wanted to reestablish it and that’s a big move. It’s a calculated move and he hit his target.
LN: Word. We’ve been looking at a lot of your twitter feed actually and it’s hilarious in general. You had one where you were like ‘what am I doing in this pic lol’ [make a goofy smile selfie] and then out of nowhere, thousands of beautiful people like it on Instagram!
O’N: I don’t know what you do, but women love your shit! Like you say ‘it’s raining’ and you get hella girls out of nowhere liking it –
LN: Like ‘Yeah, Tory, it IS raining!’ and ‘Yeah Tory, I <3 the rain!’
O’N: I don’t know how you do that shit.
TL: They just have a thing for it, man, I don’t know.
LN: What’s the Swavey movement, what’s that about?
TL: The word swavey has two definitions. You can use it as an adjective, meaning embodying differences but being true to yourself. The other definition is actually a genre of music — embody your differences and own it. When you can create from different genres of music and own it, you’re a swavey artist. A lot of artists right now are rapping, singing and producing. Labels say they’re confused, but they’re not confused, they’re just swavey. It’s a brand new genre. I feel like Drake, Wayne, Kanye are swavey artists. If you were ask them how they feel about being a swavey artist, what are they going to say — no? They don’t feel like they’re talented enough to embody that title?
LN: Right like ‘No, I don’t embody difference and own it.’
TL: (laughs) Right!
O’N: And fans put them in a tough place because they’re expecting one thing, like Kanye and College Dropout, but then he goes and drops Yeezus.
TL: Exactly. Music doesn’t stay the same, it evolves.
LN: For my own curiosity, how old are you?
TL: I’m 21.
LN: Twenty one? Fuck.
O’N: Jesus, dude. All of sudden famous athletes and musicians are our age, and it makes me feel like shit, man.
LN: Like, we haven’t done anything.
TL: Naw man, like what you’re doing right now, this could potentially be the biggest fucking arts site. You just gotta work.
LN: We’ll have you tweet it out, and then we’ll suddenly have six hundred extra really cute followers.
TL: (laughs) Exactly.
LN: So what has that been like, coming from where you were two or three years ago to now being on tour and on the biggest mixtape of the year?
TL: I never want to put that in my head, like I’m this famous guy. I’m just like everybody else, and there’s nothing that separates me except that I do something that might be different from your hobby or your passion. The last year and the places I’ve been, don’t get it twisted, have definitely helped me become the person I am today and I recognize that. But I’ve learned so much about calculation, management and making moves at the right time. I’m patient.
O’N: Is Tory a stage persona whereas you’re Daystarr offstage?
TL: Naw, I’m always the same guy all around. I don’t jump into this other guy once I’m on stage. It’s the same love when I’m up there. I find a lot of artists that are on stage with a persona of the greatest guy, and you meet them offstage and they won’t even want to take a picture with you. I’m not that guy — I’m all love straight down the board. What you see is what you get.
LN: Seeing you in soundcheck demonstrated that — the sound guy is giving you a hard time because you’re asking for standard vocal adjustments and you say, ‘You’re the best at this, and I just want to have the best show possible for all of us.’ I was mad impressed with that.
TL: You have to be humble with everybody. Someone once told me that – you have to respect everyone because everyone has potential, and the potential to do something great, so treat them like they’re already great.
Tory opened for Shlohmo at Stanford Concert Network’s recent back to school show. His latest release, a statement freestyle over A$AP Ferg’s Shabba, was featured on XXL’s front page here. We’d like to believe it was influenced by what we spoke about in our interview. Peep his frequently hilarious Twitter page here.
photo credits: Eric Eich