Wholly unjust as it may be, your output is only half the battle when it comes to ascending up the industry ranks. An idyllic concept on paper, the eternally optimistic viewpoint that “the cream rises to the top” can be circumvented by a shrewd and tactical approach to marketing and presentation. The difference between a cult following and a coveted spot amid the genre’s elite, it may be a sad state of affairs that crafting the best art possible isn’t the be-all, end-all of triumph in hip-hop but it is one that rings true time and time again.

Steeped in the game for over a decade, this is a bitter pill that Tory Lanez had to swallow first-hand. While an abundance of talent was always in his arsenal, it still took many years of tireless work before finally, something clicked. This is perhaps best epitomized by the fact that the tenured Toronto native was nominated for “Outstanding New Artist” at this year’s NAACP Image Awards (!). Yet, for followers of HNHH, his presence is by no means "new"-- it’s taken a long time for the multi-talented Lanez to seep into the public consciousness. With three fully-fledged studio albums and 17 mixtapes under his belt, it’s clear that it wasn’t a lack of creativity or dedication that had stunted his growth, but a business model that needed to be retooled. Speaking to Forbes in 2016, the long and arduous journey was acknowledged by Lanez and it’s one that he knew could’ve ended on a sombre note had he not taken the necessary steps:

“It was like six years of watching everyone else around me do their thing because they had major labels to back them, but I’m happy the way it went. I didn’t have a cosign. I was glad that I was able to start fresh. People knew me, fell off of me and then I had to re-brand myself and come back, and sometimes when people do their re-branding, they don’t come back.”

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Nowadays, the man that was at the forefront of The New Toronto is among its biggest exports. Fresh from a lengthy European tour with foe-turned-friend Drake, he’s been nothing short of an omnipresence over the past year and a half. The strategic manoeuvres and persona that Tory has built is ripe for analysis and exploration of its pros, cons and wider applicability for other MC’s, in the first of a series of articles where we will examine a given artist's "business model," for lack of a better word.

Although it may have its origins way back in 2010 with his $10,000 challenge, the height of his feud with Drake birthed a mindset that’s he carried with him over the past few years:

“When the record came out, I turned shit into sugar. Everybody looked at it as a negative, but I looked at it as a positive. Last month, I made $20,000 off of The New Toronto merch alone.”

An ethos that he’s adhered to ever since, Tory has moved through the past few years undeterred by any perceived roadblock in his way. Brash and uncompromising by design, 2017-2019 has seen Tory blaze a trail through the whole genre and find himself in plenty of verbal altercations along the way.

Like many rappers, self-confident hubris has been a key component of Tory’s make-up and it’s one that became a double-edged sword in recent months. Whether it was his lyrical sparring matches with Don Q and Joyner Lucas or his decision to pull up on Dax, Lanez has opted to heed the wisdom of his past and steer into controversy at every turn. Rather than emerging from unfounded arrogance, his battle with Joyner proved that he had the skills to back it up and forced those who were previously agnostic towards Tory or wrote him off as an R&B artist to acknowledge his attributes. Situated in the layoff between the release of 2018’s dual albums Memories Don’t Die and LoVE Me NOw and April’s International Fargo project, these detours into diss tracks ensured that he was a constant fixture in the news agenda during what would traditionally be thought of as downtime. No stranger to market saturation, it’s a tactic that he’s been employing since way back in the days of Fargo Fridays-- but what really matters is whether it’s working or if it adheres to the law of diminishing returns.

By adjourning to his YouTube account, it is notable that-- aside from a star-studded remix of “Talk To Me” with Lil Wayne, Rich The Kid & DJ Stevie J-- his “Litty Again” rebuttal to Joyner is his highest performing video since the Meek Mill-assisted “DriP Drip Drip” from October 2018. At 10 million, this number way surpasses the performance of his recent single “What Happened To The Kids?”, “Freaky” and each International Fargo track which all failed to breach a million on the platform but narrowly did so via Soundcloud.

For an artist that has aspirations of becoming the “biggest artist in the world,” the fact that a non-commercial track has overshadowed all of his new releases since must make for disconcerting reading. Bound to hip-hop’s adversarial traditions and undying urge to assert dominance over your fellow wordsmith, there’s no doubt that his wars with Joyner et al., have been advantageous in bringing his name into new circles. But as explained to Pitchfork’s "Levels" in April, it’s not necessarily the pathway that he’d like to take:

"What the misconception comes down to is, I don’t wanna battle everybody. People think I just wanna battle everybody. No. Let’s go on the same song. We could do this as a collaborative effort. You do your best and I’ll do my best. And then the people will decide who’s done their best and who’s better."

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Yet to garner a number one album, Tory’s onslaught is far from tapering off as we move into the next quarter of the year. Alongside the long-gestating Chixtape 5, purported “small collab projects,” Cause, LoVE Me Now Reloaded and others, another record that’s rumoured to be entitled El Agua has been teased sporadically since way back in July of last year. Now, it appears that its rollout process could be underway courtesy of the announcement of “Broke Leg.” Primed to feature Quavo and Tyga, the new track emerges today, with an accompanying video and has been preliminarily dubbed a “summer anthem” in the making. In typically Tory fashion, he took to Instagram to proclaim that “THIS ONE IS GOING PLATINUM IN THE FIRST TEN SECONDS.” Overzealous as it may seem, this remark isn’t just some throwaway comment from Tory but one that speaks volumes about his positioning in the industry and his greater ambitions for the future. More than willing to admit that he announces things hastily as “I too am a fan of the music,” his recent claim may seem as though it’s just egotistical boastfulness but it has its roots in his desire to achieve a GOAT-level that he's always believed he's capable of.

Little more than a week or so ago on Twitter, Tory’s self-assured veneer gave way to feelings of inadequacy and omission from the top tier that he struggles to reconcile with. Although they performed well and garnered him top 5 positions on the charts, Tory took a moment to reflect and declare that “y’all really slept on I Told You & Memories Don’t Die that’s crazy.”

Content in the knowledge that “I’m outside the boundary of normal thinking,” Tory Lanez’ decision to embrace controversy and release music at an accelerated rate all boils down to one common goal. For the Toronto MC, it’s not enough to simply be widely regarded. In his mind, anything other than dominance over the airwaves and sold-out arenas is a catastrophic failure. “I feel like I am the greatest rapper alive. When will the world see that?” He enquired in April, and no quote has ever summarized his position in the rap game this meaningfully but succinctly.

After ten years of toil, Tory Lanez’ only purpose is to establish a hegemony where he stands triumphantly at the top of hip-hop’s proverbial mountaintop. Anything less and it’ll be an abject failure in his mind. With its pros and cons on display for all to see, aspiring rappers could certainly learn from the self-belief that divinely influences every single action and reaction.