Tory Lanez's confidence comes full circle on "Memories Don't Die."
The second studio album from Tory Lanez, Memories Don’t Die, is a cathartic insight into the artist’s life. The project is a look back on the years he’s lived up until now; a point where he can boast about his success because it comes on the back of hard work and grit. Within the album, he manages to experiment with the sound he’s become renowned for while maintaining his aesthetic with aplomb. Throughout the sprawling sophomore album, we’re treated to some of the best work to-date by the Toronto rapper.
After a much-lauded series of mixtapes, there was a lot riding on the shoulders of Lanez. With I Told You, his debut album, delivering both commercially and critically, the Brampton-native needed to show that he wasn’t just another flash in the pan-- in fact, for the majority of his career, this has been a sort of mission statement that has constantly fueled young Lanez: the insatiable desire to prove both his longevity and worth. Memories Don’t Die serves as the project to cements the rapper's position.
With that insatiable desire, Lanez has often exhibited a sense of arrogance, perhaps before the time was “right.” If we wanted to dig deeper into the psychology behind this, (and apparently we do, briefly), it could be a mechanism of self-defense: a reaction to street life, never-ending comparisons to Drake, constant industry obstacles. Simply put, he had to believe in himself in moments where no one else did. The sense of braggadocio that arrives with Memories Don’t Die, and undoubtedly in the interviews that come alongside, is now deserved, or perhaps, accepted, given his current success and wealth. There is a grand self-confidence on display throughout Memories Don’t Die, it’s not just that though, there's also a sense of assuredness that lives behind the layer of confidence-- an important aspect to any ego. This sense of grandness, of confidence isn’t just in verses (“Don’t need it tinted / I want you to know who’s in it”), it’s embedded into the music itself.
The 18-track album is littered with bits of soul, r'n'b, trap and rap, with Lanez never relying on any single genre too much, allowing the project to be an amalgamation, where the rapper is seamlessly picking at what he likes best from each. It’s in this way that we see a confidence shining through the music itself: there’s no sound Lanez is not afraid to try, borrow, or experiment with. When Lanez does borrow, whether it be a flow from Rick Ross or Drake (see: “Benevolent”; “Hate to Say”), or else a familiar soulful sound on the production side, it acts more so as a statement to his versatility.
That versatility has also become the artist’s distinctive, signature aesthetic. All that to say, we expect it from someone like Lanez. Whereas I Told You came across as r’n’b-heavy and relient, Tory brings back some of the fan-heralded styles he’s used in mixtapes and loose cuts that helped forge his career: the long-winded rap. The 4 minutes and 9 seconds on “Hate To Say” are some of the most genuine lines you’re going to hear in 2018; it’s Tory Lanez putting his heart out on the table, playing all his cards so that we, the listener, can glean a rare insight into his life. One of several rappity-rap records on the album, Lanez is showing us how memories are the main motivator for him to continue pushing himself.
Not only does Memories Don’t Die offer a more hip-hop heavy style than its predecessor (which again, goes back to the Tory mission statement: it’s a way of proving his stature and status in the rap game first and foremost), it offers featured guests. The artists Tory Lanez does have on the album serve to be nothing more than extraneous fat, though. Future on “Real Thing,” Wiz Khalifa on “Hillside,” Fabolous on “Connection,” -- they’re all forgotten in the grand scheme of things. You pine for Lanez’s return even on club-ready banger “Dance For Me” with NAV’s auto-tuned vocals not doing the production justice. In a way, Lanez doesn’t cede an ounce of himself or his bars on the album to the features. If anything, he’s showing how he can stand up alongside some of the best in rap to do it-- he does so brilliantly on “Pieces” going bar to bar with 50 Cent.
The former G-Unit leader seems to travel back in time for his verse on “Pieces.” Easily one of the stand-out tracks on the entire album, and perhaps the only "necessary" feature, 50 spits bars like, “Stunt, get jumped on, slashed or dumped-ons / Same block you pump on is the spot you get slumped on,” while Tory’s storytelling is chilling. A heart-wrenching story about rape, pedophilia and living on the streets, it’s akin to songs like Kendrick Lamar’s “Tammy Song (Her Evils)” or Outkast’s “Da Art of Storytelling (Part 1 and 2).” The theme of this album -- memories, like scars or tattoos, are with us everywhere we go and affect us more than we know -- is felt most prominently on these long, elaborate songs; the ones you want to go back to because you uncover new and crucial bars every time you replay it.
Right as “Pieces” ends, Lanez hits listeners with a smooth dancehall and R&B-inspired track, “Connections” that cleanses the palette, allowing you to easily digest what you just heard and prepare you for the winding down that is to come. The transition into the slow, baby-making hit is even more prominent when you realize the juxtaposition of the entire track-list itself: placing songs purposefully next to each other for a better listen, Lanez trusts in the album’s production to take you on a journey, and the transitions, either within the songs themselves, or else moving from song-to-song, helps facilitate this.
The project’s overall production is cohesive and tight, with mainstay Play Picasso, as well as C-Sick and Dr. Zeuz handling the majority. The production isn’t a stark departure from his previous work, with the beats ranging from fast-paced triplet hi-hats to anthemic club bangers. Though, he does switch out his anthemic sound for stark, darker, and more introspective production on tracks that warrant it, such as “Happiness x Tell Me,” “Pieces” “Hate to Say.”
There are haunting bits of Tory Lanez’s memory coming to the fore on the album, pieces of his life placed together to create songs that are sure to stick. It’s the culmination of the album, though, the excellent 3-minute-and-34-second-no-hook track, “Don’t Die” that sums up Lanez and where he is in his life right now: on top of the world and still climbing. “My life upgraded and I ain't going backwards / Closest thing going backwards is me rollin' Backwoods / Lookin' at you niggas like there's no more factors / Until the story over like there's no more chapters.”