Tory Lanez talks fronting the ‘swavey’ movement that includes Drake and The Weeknd, jumping off balconies and his love of grime
The first bit of Tory Lanez I see are the soles of his shoes as he cruises a sea of people, hands are splayed open to catch the enigmatic rapper/singer as he crowdsurfs towards the back wall of KoKo, London. The crowd acts like a tidal wave, giving him enough momentum to swing from the gold railings two levels up. Similar to a rapidly changing tide, his set ricochets from the ominous, thumping “Diego”, to the dulcet 90s R&B tribute “Say It”, and a surprising, vibrato-fluttering cover of Ginuwine’s “Pony”.
23-year-old Daystar Peterson, who previously worked under the moniker Argentina Fargo, is 15 mixtapes deep, with a debut album touted for this coming summer. Following a collaborative EP Cruel Intentions in 2015, the Brownstone sampling “Say It” was his first hit after signing to major label Interscope. He’s just dropped the video for “Came 4 Me”, been flexing with A$AP Ferg, remixing “Uber Everywhere” and writing for Meek Mill, Jeezy and Akon.
While Lanez isn’t known for being modest – it’s only a matter of time before he’s the ‘biggest artist on the planet’, he tells me – his journey to today is one filled with bumps and scuffles that have built him to be a relentless, resilient artist. Essentially homeless at 14, bouncing between states and schools, while mourning the loss of his mother, it’s not been an easy ride. “I’m a 5ft 5” high school dropout stood up here on this fucking balcony!” he screams on stage before launching himself across the crowd again. The Toronto-born artist’s feet are firmly planted on the ground the next time we meet, following his sold out Camden and Brixton shows.
So your live shows are crazy – jumping off balconies, crowdsurfing. What’s the thought process behind attempting to scale a 20ft wall at Koko while you perform?
Tory Lanez: There’s this moment on set where I snap out of everything. I don't see people at that point, I just see energy, and wherever I see the energy moving, I curate my performance to that crowd. I’m really obsessive: if this one group in the back is not turning up and everyone else is turning up, I'm going to try my best to crowd surf all the way to them just to get them to turn up. Anything goes. I don’t have security. I mosh with everyone no matter what, even if 10 of these kids could take a moment and stab me, at my shows we understand each other. I feel like one of the people.
Krept and Konan played with you at your London shows. How did that come about?
Tory Lanez: Yeah KK. Those are my boys, man. I really fuck with Krept and Konan, they're two dudes who show me love from a while back. We've done a couple of records that haven't come out yet. When coming to London, I always wanted to bring someone that was authentic to the city. For them to embrace it and to come out and smash it the way they did, I think it was just amazing.
How tuned in are you with the grime scene in the UK then?
Tory Lanez: It was crazy, I've been listening to a lot of UK music for a long time. The first person I was really listening to before KK was a dude named Jay Spades. I used to watch all the Tim Westwood shows where they would go in and just start spitting all the grime, and it would just be mad grime rappers like Wiley, Ghetts and Chipmunk.
So you're definitely a grime fan?
Tory Lanez: Definitely a grime fan. It goes hard.
What else is influencing your sound? Your father’s a missionary, but I heard he dabbled in music too?
Tory Lanez: Before he became a preacher and converted his life over, he was a dancer. My dad danced in the 80s back in the days pop and locking was a thing. He was in one of the first black groups to ever be dancing in certain places that just didn't allow black people at the time. Hearing stories of him being this rolling stone always made me wanna be one as well.
Was music secular in your house?
Tory Lanez: I was shielded from a lot of music. I think I was born with certain morals and things that too many people don't have, but because of that, I think that makes me unique – I put these morals in my music.
“I’d like to write for Drake, The Weeknd, a lot of people out of my city, because I think we all have something special that we share” – Tory Lanez
Do you draw a lot from your personal life when you write for yourself and others?
Tory Lanez: I don't ever write anything fake. It sounds weird, but before rap, I lived like a rapper. I've always been a good entrepreneur and a hustler, so I've never been in situations where I couldn't figure out how to make the best out of this. When I was 14, I was pretty much homeless. You learn humility, just having to ask people for things. I'm a Leo so I'm very lion-like, do-it-myself, king of the jungle. I’ve pride and an ego. Learning those lessons help me understand the people I’m listening to. I'm so for the people that I'm with the people.
I can't sing someone else’s song because it's not real to me. Even if you're thinking about subjects that mean something, it's not real to me unless I write it. Cause my heart didn't yearn to write that down. Music is so intimate to me.
Are you going to continue writing for other people as you get bigger?
Tory Lanez: All day, every day. I'd like to write for Drake, The Weeknd, a lot of people out of my city, because I think we all have something special that we share, and me just being an incredible songwriter I can give away content! I wanna shout out the whole Umbrella Crew and Rory True Story too.
You're touring internationally now, but how keyed up are you with what’s going on in Toronto? Is your connection strong?
Tory Lanez: I'm always connected to Toronto. I make music out there. This is the new Toronto, this is the beginning of something incredible and I'm not going to stop unless someone kills me. I plan on being the biggest artist from in Toronto and out of Toronto, period. For me, I'm still connected to the city no matter what. Even when I'm not there for too long, I'm still connected to the city and owe it my identity.
So you have this multi-faceted musical movement called ‘Swavey’. Can you explain that?
Tory Lanez: The Swavey movement is basically a lifestyle and genre: you can take things from anywhere and allow it to inspire you. I thought I was too talented to make one form of music and I didn't want to be put in the box. I wanted to make a word that allowed me to live without borders. Swavey is the new standard. There are artists doing hip-hop, other doing R&B, but so many in 2016 can’t define exactly what they do. Singing, rapping, rocking, producing, DJing. It’s all fusing together, and being Swavey is that standard point of saying, ‘I'm talented enough to make something new’. There are a lot of Swavey artists, a lot of people do Swavey music: me for sure, Drake, Bryson Tiller, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Trey Songz. Nothing else fits me and nothing else fits these artists, and I like it.
“My music is going to stop war, it’s the healing music. I see myself in Brazil, in Syria, in Darfur, and places where they really need hope” – Tory Lanez
Do you think this self awareness is missing in the scene today?
Tory Lanez: Of course a lot of people don't know who they are, and it's sad. Because there are a lot of people in positions where they've shared light, are influencing people, but they don’t know exactly who they are, so it’s confused. My goal is to know who I am, and inspire people with that. Not conforming to anything that anybody else is doing. I feel like I'm here to be a leader, and I've been signed and I've been given this position to write history it's like, why not? People don’t share that idea. Everybody everyday makes history: you and me are talking. I might slip up and say something stupid, and it ends up being one of the most controversial interviews of my life. Yours and my history just happen to be paid attention to, and it’s important we know what message we are sending. I want to leave a legacy where I want HAM. You can't have that when you don’t know yourself.
How involved are you in making your videos?
Tory Lanez: I'm super involved, super, super involved! I edited “Say It” and helped shoot it scene for scene, like we did for “B.L.O.W” which we did back-to-back. With others, I’ve helped in the editing room – there isn’t a video that has come out that isn't guided by me. I used to edit all my old videos back in the day, but there was such a long time lapse because I’m so intricate. I’m not a dickhead and won’t take credit for things I haven’t done. Zac Facts is a director I mess with. He shot “Diego”, and the Weeknd and Future’s “Low Light” video. He’s just starting to pop off and I’m proud to have worked with him.
What are your biggest causes outside of music?
Tory Lanez: It sounds cliché, but to make the world a better place with the talent that God has given me, to help bring soul to dark places. God put me on this earth to bring souls back to the Kingdom of God. You don’t need to pray ten times a day – you just need hope. My music is going to stop war, it’s the healing music. I see myself in Brazil, in Syria, in Darfur, and places where they really need hope. I have to be the biggest artist in the world to show all the kids that they can do it too: I dropped out of school in tenth grade, I'm not one of those guys – you know what I'm saying. I always try to show there’s a way for the kids that feel like they're low lives. In anything you want, you can be the greatest at it, even without school, if you want. Know your route.
What is the album plan? It’s pretty hotly anticipated.
Tory Lanez: The album is coming out this summer. I just found the name for it, and I think it fits exactly what I wanted to call the first album, and I was struggling with it for a long time. I would tell y’all but I can’t yet, although it’s real sharp. That's what we'll say about it. It hits you in the chest.
You’ve collaborated with a lot of people in the past. Are there any big or emerging artists you’ve worked with on it?
Tory Lanez: I was having that debate with myself about putting famous people in the album and I just kind of don't want to do it. I have this struggle where it's like, I don't really need y'all on the album. Maybe next album, but this one is very personal to me. It’s my debut and it will be timeless.
Who would you like to work with in the future?
Tory Lanez: I would like to work with The Weeknd. That's my boy though, that's my friend. We just never got a chance to work yet. I want to work with Kanye, of course. I love 50 Cent. I know it sounds weird cause a lot of kids might not say that right now, but I definitely want to work with 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Coldplay, I want to work with different artists that are going to push my music to a new level. Not just in urban music.
Tory Lanez: Nah, nah, nah, I love Coldplay!
Can we expect anything outside of music?
Tory Lanez: I think I would say expect the unexpected. I'm beginning a short film, I’ve just finished writing the last scene. It’s called Kill Fargo and it's very dope. It will drop with the album. The album is going to play like a movie, so it's going to play like an audiovisual.