After a long grind, Tory Lanez finally gets to realize his dreams on his debut album. Does his vision match up with reality?
With last Friday's release of his debut album I Told You, 24-year-old Tory Lanez has arrived at a crossroads after years of expanding his following and evolving his sound. He's earned success by way of a prolific mixtape output, last year's triumphant single “Say It," consistent features for artists like YG, Meek Mill, and G-Eazy, and an incessant grind that puts virtually every other artist to shame.
There have been other "highlights," such as a hot/cold friction with fellow Torontonian Drake, who is often held up as a comparison to Lanez not only for their mutual home but also for their self-aggrandized blends of rap and R&B. Depending on perspective and bias, you might suggest one's influence over the other, yet at this point Tory Lanez's work has brought him into circles where even Drake has yet to tread, such as the WeDidIt producer camp in LA or his associations with more pop-oriented acts. Given this long and storied career for such a young man, I Told You has every right to resonate with such insistent grandeur.
I Told You is a concept album that follows a 16-year-old Lanez during a stretch of days filled with crime and sex and culminates in a predictable crash of tragedy, reconciliation, and ultimately, success. After all, who wants to think of Lanez as a 'loser' on his debut album? Listeners might compare Lanez' raspier moments on the album to Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.a.a.d city. One disparity is Lanez takes his various skits and isolates them into connected yet individual tracks. The result, a record that on paper clocks in at 28 tracks, could look daunting to anyone. However, the thematic continuity distracts from, rather than supports, the musical content on the album, as the constant stop-start momentum somewhat takes away from the continuity Lanez strives for.
When you drain the album of its conceptual weight (in other words, skip the skits and listen song-to-song), standouts are obviously the singles "Luv" and "Say It." Together they close out the album, an ending that feels like a welcome reward after persevering through such a long saga. Not to say that there aren't gems throughout the album -- Lanez is a multi-talented artist with considerable production talents (only further enhanced with assistance by his cryptic associate Play Picasso, the likes of the WeDidIt crew, and former Dr. Luke affiliate-turned-solo hitmaker Benny Blanco) and a chameleon-like gift with rap flows and diverse singing styles alike.
Opener “I Told You/Another One” takes a haunting pipe organ loop and propels it forward at an aggressive tempo to match to Tory's melodic, Atlanta-influenced triplet flow while elsewhere, the gloomy and thunderous "Dirty Money" finds Tory effortlessly evocative, using a winding flow reminiscent of Future or Rich Homie Quan at their darkest with production that's deceptively claustrophobic. “Friends With Benefits.” meanwhile drifts like a calm lullaby, taking the dreamscape of Frank Dukes “Cop Blood” to occasionally puncture it with nightmarish glitches of harsh industrial noise like a chop-shop massacre, whereas the stadium anthem pop of “All The Girls”, with the lurching swing-beat of its chorus and the light groove of the wah-wah guitar has potential hit written all over it. The DJ Dahi-assisted “Loner's Blvd” holds onto a great heartbroken chorus, but oddly joins it to an inspirational autobiographical rap-driven track about Tory's darkest moments and determined grind finally manifesting into realizing one's glory.
Otherwise, Tory's focus sometimes drifts, falling further into cliches he's exhausted and more dated sounding album filler. "Cold Hard Love" has a crunchy, club-tempo groove ready to make people dance, yet when placed in that pop R&B loverman role he comes off distracted, only made the more bewildering by a suddenly intense rap that belies the mood of the song. Elsewhere, on "Guns And Roses," his glistening and passionate falsetto glides effortlessly over verses, but descends into a throwaway chorus, only married to unremarkable 'woozy' production which Tory has more often transcended before. It's a mix of successes and failures, and when songs fail they tend to place a demand on the listener to be patient for those next highs. At the same time its when he lands on the gold, Lanez can be as eagerly entertaining as any A-lister in pop or rap.
I Told You is nothing if not ambitious and lavish, with Tory Lanez determined to seize a destiny he believes is his for the taking. Much of his considerable talents as a rapper/vocalist and a producer are here in full display, but ultimately play a supporting role beneath his desire to validate and prove his importance to the listener. The result is an album that works hard at leaving the impression that, while this young man believes he is a future star, his music isn't necessarily allowed to be the one who does the convincing for the audience. Nonetheless, after years and years of toil, Tory Lanez has the satisfaction of proving to the world that his work and determination have paid off. The future seems only brighter from here.