Between hookah pulls, Tory Lanez has devised another master plan. Mirroring his savory sonic palette, the Toronto native reveals how he intends to release three albums over the course of three weeks. Each album is an ode to a personality all his own and sounds we wouldn’t expect from the multi-hyphenated artist. “These are timeless records on these projects,” he insists on the phone. One is an album inspired by the synths of the '80s, an acoustic project akin to the early works of Ed Sheeran and a Spanish album. “I’m beginning to get into a space where there's really just a different genre of music here. It's crazy how I was able to keep it under wraps for so long.” I’m not surprised at his motion picture-like ideas. Just last year during his press run for the chart-topping project, Chixtape 5, he manifested himself on the cover of VIBE. One pandemic, fifty-eleven twerk sessions, and a Drake shot-toast later, Tory has unlocked another goal all thanks to an unplugged mic and an Instagram Live chill session that would evolve in Quarantine Radio.
In the early days of America’s self-isolation from the novel coronavirus, the artist chilled with his team in Miami, enjoying 2000s hip-hop hits on his Instagram Live. Tens of thousands tuned in thanks to people engaging in social distancing in real life but stepping onto the toes of others at DJ sets on social media. In late March, he formed his own soundclash with Bryson Tiller, where the two exchanged songs in the categories of bubblegum pop from Christina Aguilera, pop-punk via early Panic! At The Disco and vintage R&B from Otis Redding. After a very impressive battle, Tory formed Quarantine Radio where more of his talented bredren could hop on, take a shot and look for the real stars of the show–the women.
“It was totally organic, it was not even supposed to be a thing,” he says with a chuckle. “The dude who does the ad-libs, he's a part of my day to day management and he ended up passing me the mic and headphones. He started doing the ad-libs and we found it funny, and it just became a thing, you know? I ended up yelling for four hours because I was just on Instagram having a good time.”
Quarantine Radio is two parts speakeasy, five parts twerking and three parts 2010 Twitter. Some girls dropped it low in gas stations and forests while others absorbed strawberry milk in their thongs. Stars like Chris Brown, Ben Simmons, Lizzo, Casanova, Tinashe, Megan Thee Stallion (who even got her Hot Girl twerk on), and more were in the popcorn gallery chatting with Tory on how to remain “corona free.” There’s also the essence of Demon Time, a red light rendezvous believed to be created by Justin LaBoy. With guests like The Weeknd, YG, and Lil Yachty, the virtual strip club has enticed libidos and increased bank accounts of its participants. In between Tory’s hilarious adlibs, Quarantine Radio adapted Demon Time with fans getting creative with every twerk session.
Before Instagram cut the party short due to a violation of nudity, he found himself with 2 million extra followers and a then record-breaking live session with over 360,000 people watching. But inspiration comes from everywhere. Enter Sha Almighty, a South Bronx native who kicked off the Almighty Trap Show in December 2018, a virtual funhouse on Instagram where Taylor Port wine replaces bottle service and Pandora’s Box is split into two live screens. “I wouldn’t say I’m the inventor of Demon Time, but I am definitely the reason everyone knows what it is now,” admits Sha. With co-host Trap, Sha says his lingo (like “I need a calculator,” “They shooting duck,” "WOWW") and swag have helped boost the profiles of LaBoy and Tory’s interpretation of the scene. “A lot of facts are missing,” he said. “I think [Tory] is a fan and just needs to give me my credit. I just feel anyone can do the Instagram Live show but just at least bring your own originality.”
Part of Tory’s originality stems from his unique way to flip a turn up into an opportunity. He says Quarantine Radio and its moving parts came together casually with no one else but those in the Miami hangout. As participants like DJ Duffey, Johnni Blaze, Veronica Rodriguez, and Natalie Nunn made their mark as clear cut winners during contests, Tory was living his childhood dreams on Quarantine Radio by shipping off beat pack requests to Swizz Beatz, and flirting with living legends like Raven-Symoné, Trina and Tisha Campbell. He even plugged “Comeback,” an upcoming steamy collaboration with R&B siren JoJo, and talked DMX into growling. We were soon anticipating Quarantine Radio shows soundtracked by the discographies of Ja Rule, Juvenile, and Mack Morrison with Tory–also known as DJ Corona Free–in the booth. Tory pulled off weeks of potential meetings with his peers into only eight episodes of Quarantine Radio.
But Tory’s casual yet thoughtful viral ideas never overshadowed his music. He recently hopped into his rap bag and dropped The New Toronto 3, his last offering to Interscope before parting ways. It earned Tory another Top 10 album on the Billboard 200 which means next to nothing for him. As an artist who has released 25 projects in ten years would tell you, it’s all about the game baybee.
“C'mon, it's like a million people inflating their streams,” he claims. “Some people are just doing numbers where that's just impossible. As someone who understands a lot of things behind the scenes, I can't allow it to dictate, at least somebody like me, who's not cheating.” Since his debut studio album I Told You was released in 2016 with hits like “Say It” and “LUV,” the Grammy-nominated artist says he’s enjoyed the increase in streams over the years because of its genuine nature.
“I had never passed 60,000 [units in the first week], but I've always been relevant,” he says. The New Toronto 3 moved 64,000 equivalent album units which he attributes to his growth as an artist. “I know that it takes a certain amount of building for you to make real numbers. So when I see people have these numbers out the gate, I'm like, 'You don't have these numbers out the gate, no one knows you.' I just don't think it’s fair for artists nowadays who are not cheating, but this shouldn’t discourage them. At the end of the day, if the music is connecting, and you have an audience that cares about the music, and who is hitting you on Instagram and saying 'That song is crazy,' and doing what they can to let you know your music is great, then you're doing what you need to do and it doesn't matter.”
The New Toronto 3 takes us back to Tory’s ability to steer into MC territory (“Do The Most” and “Broke In A Min” are fan favorites) while enjoying his R&B hits in the rearview mirror. Chixtape 5 brought the journey full circle with the creative teaming up with his soulful heroes like Lloyd, Ashanti, T-Pain, Chris Brown, Mya, and more for a lesson in enjoyable sampling and hilarious skits. Both projects have done Tory plenty of favors as it officially released him into independent waters. The artist has remained vocal against his disdain for Interscope Records, which also houses buzzy artists like DaBaby, Moneybagg Yo, and Lil Mosey. Looking back on some of the creative differences he had at the label, Tory admits he’s held on to his best material and is ready for the world to hear it.
“Sometimes I feel like in my situation I didn't really have the person to be like, 'Yeah, this belongs on 'XYZ’ so we're going to spend this amount of money so you can actually get that',” he says in his best white voice. “I didn't feel like I had that for a long time so I kept certain music away. It's not going to take long for me to release things. I don't have a specific time where I have to get stuff out to the label. I'm putting out a lot of music and a lot of heads will turn my way because they never knew I made this type of music.” That type, Tory says, is everything under the sun. He guarantees his highly anticipated Spanish-language album will see the light of day with fans ready for him to jump into “Fargo Fridays” again (dropping a new song every Friday) or hone in on the hunger found on early projects like Lost Cause. No matter when or how the music drops, Tory knows people are watching.
Derailed albums, canceled festivals, and shows have flooded the concert industry with a projected loss of $9 billion. Streaming has reportedly seen a decline but artists like Drake have continued to shine with the release of the Tik-Tok friendly “Tootsie Slide” and others like The Weeknd, Dua Lipa, and Lil Uzi Vert have solid fan bases who have taken their recent releases to the top of the charts. There are also artists like Tory who have capitalized on live streaming to either perform, share music, or just talk to fans. While Quarantine Radio wasn’t a part of Tory’s business model, he believes the music industry should learn a thing or two from it.
“Just chill the f**k out (laughs) that's it, bro, chill the f**k out,” he says to the industry. “As an artist, when we're not getting lots of views or anything we want, you feel like, 'Damn I gotta do something to get back and stop putting so much energy into things that don't even work.' When you just don't [give a] f**k anymore, things just start to go your way. It's going to be okay, dawg. Be you, be happy, be humble, and that's it.”
He doesn’t hold any resentment about his past record deals. Instead of folding, Tory has made diamonds from the pressure. “I'm a person that will not accept defeat in my career,” he says. “When it comes to you know, that fourth-quarter pressure, I'm someone who's going to always rise to the occasion. Being that I went through what I went through and I still somehow came out of that and exceeded five albums. I own all my masters and my publishing, so even for me to be at my hottest moment culturally—where the cultural acceptance of Tory Lanez the brand is now a thing—and to be in this place when I'm leaving the label, it's truly just a blessing. It's something I'm extremely happy about because like I said, I learned that I'm a person that won't accept defeat. It took this situation for me to really really realize why I feel that way.”
His love for the culture almost wrecked his sound as casual listeners pigeonholed him for sampling. His breakthrough 2016 hit “Say It,” samples Brownstone’s “If You Love Me,” and “LUV,” samples the classic reggae jam “Everyone Falls In Love Sometimes” by Tanto Metro and Devonte. Tory’s rookie year in the game continued to receive some blows as he and fellow Toronto native Drake engaged in a brief beef of sorts. Despite the pushbacks, Tory says he’s always remained true to himself.
View this post on Instagram
“There's a demographic of people for everybody,” he explains. “Nothing looks purer to people than you being yourself. Like ni**a, I don't walk around being mad all the time or being angry every single day so why would I walk around like that? I'm truly happy inside and whether the world knew that or not, that's who I was. I'm very outspoken and whatever the case is, but at the end of the day, I'm a very happy guy. If you're going to see me for four or five hours, you're going to see me being happy. I will say that I am happy that the show helped a lot of other people not really take things so seriously. Let's just get drunk with everyone, that's it. I don't take any of it seriously. The buttons are funny, the sound effects are funny. I really laugh at the ad-lib guy, it's just funny to me.” Ad-libs like “Ultimate Light Skins” to reference artists like Drake and Chris Brown, repeating “quarantine” and air horn sounds help drive fans into a frenzy.
In addition to a new album, new fans, and a renewed energy, Tory has also pulled out his philanthropic hat. This week, Tory partnered with charitable organization the Dream Center to officially launch The Tory Lanez Dream Fund to help with COVID-19 relief efforts for struggling families. So far, companies like Amazon Music have matched Tory’s personal donation of 50,000 diapers by covering the cost of 100,000 diapers for families searching for help at the Los Angeles Dream Center. Meals have also been provided through home deliveries, walk-ups, and drive-thru Dream Centers nationwide.
For Tory, giving back in and out the industry has always been a goal worth manifesting. “When I think about ownership, I think about One Umbrella [his label imprint], I think about what I’m about to do,” he says of his label which includes Latinx powerhouse like Melli, R&B vocalist and Coachella bound Mariah the Scientist and Mansa, “who everyone should fear,” he says. The deals keep coming his way. He recently discussed Viacom’s interest in teaming up with MTV for a 30-minute segment, but his focus is on the art of independence.
“Especially in my case right now, when these labels are trying to tell me, ‘Hey, $20 million for two albums!' and I'm like, 'Bro, no. Simply no.' I would like to own my music. Ownership to me is the most important thing right now. It's a very powerful word.” Family is another priority when asked about his biggest inspirations. “I find the joy out of life,” he says while thinking about his son, Kai. “If it's not God or my child, I'm not taking it seriously.”
There’s a raucous of laughter that spills between those hookah pulls and my inquiry about his comments about the late Tupac Shakur. After sharing with Genius.com's Rob Markman recently how he’s been inspired by Tupac, the rapper was met with immediate backlash.
“I don't know why motherf**kers get so upset when a ni**a says something about Pac,” he says.“Bruh, to all those ni**as in the comments that get so mad about it when anybody says anything about Pac, Suck my d**k, my ni**a.” Tory goes on to reference Pac’s 1994 MTV interview where the late rapper shared his intentions on inspiring the youth. “Every time I speak I want the truth to come out,” Tupac said two years before he was gunned down. “Every time I speak I want a shiver. I don’t want them to be like they know what I’m gonna say because it’s polite. I'm not saying I’m gonna rule the world or I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee you that I will spark the brain that will change the world."
“I'm a fan of Pac and I'll say this. I never said, ‘I am Pac,’ what I said was that I had similarities to him,” he said while pointing out comical, but iconic similarities like their nose rings and love for bandanas. “I'm not Pac, but I do feel like I was one of the minds he sparked and I hope another person feels the same way. Wasn't that the point?”
In an effort to keep the creative train going, Tory promises when “this is over, Quarantine Radio is over.” He hasn’t gone on Live to promote Quarantine Radio, but he has promised fans it will return this week. “I'll say this; if it gets to a place where they say, 'There's one more day left of quarantine, and it's done on the 30th [which is probably won't be] then on 29th, we'll have the last day of Quarantine Radio. Some things are just meant to be what they are.”