Tory Lanez' single "Luv" – a featherweight take on dancehall, built around a home-run interpolation of Tanto Metro & Devonte's "Everyone Falls In Love" – recently cracked the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hitmaking may be the new normal for the Toronto singer/rapper: The first single off last month's I Told You, "Say It," was certified Platinum in April.
"It doesn't take long to make catchy songs," he tells Rolling Stone. "That's not my problem."
But it's important to him that listeners do know about the problems he did have. In 2008, Lanez' grandma kicked him out of her house, forcing him to make a living on his own as he pursued a career in music. During one of the many interludes on the album, he remembers being dumped by his girlfriend, leaving him with "less than a dollar and a dream." Soon after, he raps about a show in Houston that he describes as "my worst show ever."
"I wanted fans to see the mishaps and the falls," Lanez says.
Possibly as a result of enduring a long climb, Lanez is very confident about his current position — he's ready to out-perform any artist in his age-group onstage, and he suggests that his longtime beatmaker, Play Picasso, is functioning at a similarly high level in the studio. Rolling Stone caught up with Lanez to talk about his honest lyrics and his "crowd walking" habit.
Are all of I Told You's album skits based on real life experiences?
Definitely. Some things are just a representation of the things we've seen growing up also. For me personally, I'm big on giving people the reality side of things when it comes to music. Making you feel good about the music, but also letting it be real and vulnerable. That's why the things that are going on in the songs are like that – it's not that I'm trying to glorify anything bad, I'm just showing people an inside look at my life deeper than any artist is going to do. I'm not an artist that has a problem with being honest.
There's things that we go through that are very intense. A lot of people think that it was all peaches and cream. It's not like that. I talk about the abortion that me and my girl had to go through and things like that.
Did you ever lose hope as these things were happening?
There was definitely points where I didn't have nothing, and I didn't know how it was going to happen. But I also had the faith that I was going to make it happen. I dropped out of school, I got fired from my job. Those were my roughest moments, but I always knew through it that I was going to be great.
You've been working with Play Picasso as a producer for years – how did you two first connect?
We were going through a low point when nothing was really going right with the music. Meeting him was one of the changing points in my career as far as the quality of the music that I started to put out. He's my mentor when it comes to producing.
What do you like about his production?
He's honestly one of the most versatile producers. We've put out a lot of music that's always been very cinematic but still kind of trap-sounding. I think people have gotten a misconception that Play only does trap at that phenomenal level. He makes incredible beats all around the board at a phenomenal level. I stand behind the fact that I don't think there is any young producer out right now that's doing that.
It's magical in the studio, mystical. I walk in there; smoke be coming out the booth. I know it sounds funny, but it's really really magical. He's doing a beat, I tell him to stop midway through, put it into a Pro Tools. I just run in the booth; I don't write nothing. That's the great thing about it. We go off feeling. I don't write anything down – it comes from my head and my soul and my heart and my pain. That allows me to make the best music I can make. We both have the same view of how music should be done.
Did you always work off the top of your head?
I started doing this just with the singing a couple of years ago, a year and a half ago. The whole I Told You, there's nothing written. That was all out of the feeling. That's why the album is so incredible to me – it's all out of the heart, I didn't take time to pre-calculate it.
There's a lot of attention paid to features these days, but you didn't bother.
It's my first album. It's what I've been going through. No matter what it is, I can look back at that music and be like, "Wow, I was going through this." That's why I'm so honest about it. If I focused solely on putting features on my songs to make them hot, instead of making a genuine golden thing of my own, it wouldn't be right. The music would be more about other people. I don't believe in using other people to carry you.
You recently extended your North American tour?
86 cities, man.
I saw you at a show once where you walked on top of the crowd.
I walk on their hands. They put their hands up and I walk on their hands. I'm the greatest crowd surfer alive. I'm the best. For real. I don't know anybody who does this better than me. I crowd surfed up Red Rocks. Not even surfed – I crowd walked up and surfed back down and almost died five times. I don't know anybody who does that. Nobody's crowd walking to the second level of the venue. People are just not doing things like that.
When did you start doing that?
I always was crowd surfing from my first shows. Then it developed into crowd walking and treating the venue like a jungle gym.
Have you ever gotten hurt?
It's very dangerous – I almost could die every night. That's part of the reason why you go to my shows. I take it so far. There's a possibility that thing you jump on could slip and [I could] die. Aw, fuck! I take it there. In my generation and my age bracket, if I'm not the best performer already, then I'm aiming to be the best performer. I don't want anybody to feel like they're better than me in my age bracket. I'm willing to go head-to-head with anybody who wants to be on that stage with me. I will rock the show. There's no way you'll have a better show than me. I'm willing to die on that stage.
Live performance doesn't always get the attention that it used to.
My shows are very interactive. You're definitely gonna see me up close at some point. I guarantee I'm gonna look you right in the eye at some point. It doesn't matter where you're at.