Tory Lanez – “I Told You” (Album Review)

Toronto native Tory Lanez proves that success is the best revenge on his debut album.

If the only viewing platform into the life of Tory Lanez you have is through his social media, then I feel sorry for you.

What you’ll find is an admittedly arrogant rapper/singer doing what every dime-a-dozen rapper/singer does – spout off about the release of their latest project – which of course, they self-describe as genius – and showcase the rotating background of Beverly Hills mansions, downtown Atlanta strip clubs and expensive European sports cars. But in the case of the Canadian born, American raised Tory Lanez, the loud and brash antics of his social media are byproducts of his success story, each picture, video and snap serving as a testament to the climb out of the dark recesses of his former street life. Lanez major-label debut album, I Told You, is the embodiment of all the challenges and overcome hardships of his success, because in his mind, he’s finally ‘made it’, or is at least well and truly on his way. Yet, just because an artist has had a Billboard hit or two doesn’t mean their debut albums will be solid, especially in 2016, begging the question – will I Told You just be a radio hit surrounded by kitschy pop numbers or will it serve as the musical timestamp of the progression of Tory Lanez career that he’s touting it to be?

Tory Lanez does two things well; flip the R&B hits of the 90’s and 2000’s into contemporary hits that maintain the same charm and wonder, as well as proficiently rap with a raw and operatic tone that rivals other artists in the same lane, namely his ‘arch-nemesis’, the 6 God himself. His most recent mixtapes Chixtape III and The New Toronto, the former following the path of modern sampled R&B and the latter dealing with Mafioso rap stylings, perfectly represent Tory’s self-proclaimed “Swavey” style. Sprinting to the late summer release of I Told You, Tory’s Soundcloud went into overdrive, dropping bangers like Tim Duncan, For Real, Real Addresses and the A$AP Ferg-assisted Line Up The Flex during his Fargo Fridays. Tory complemented the massive amount of content he showered his fans with by dropped original music as well as some remixes, like the flipped Kelanhi song Unforgetful, the remixed version to Drake’s Controlla and the swave session to I Got The Keys. The man was on a mission.

Despite this however, Tory has never struck the perfect balance between rap and R&B on a project (though came close on 2015’s stellar Cruel Intentions, his best work to date), with I Told You being his first major effort at this. Trimmed to a lean fourteen tracks of only Tory himself, the album production vaunts the talents of Cashmere Cat, Benny Blanco, Play Picasso and XXYYXX. The album is the blunt, cut and paste collage of Lanez’s life up until this point, from him getting kicked out of grandmother’s house, to doing B&E’s in the neighborhood and all the way up to him being on the red carpet, revealing his newest hit song.

Beginning with narration from Mr. Lanez’s himself, intro track I Told You / Another One is the ultimate middle finger to every one of his naysayers, an immediate banger that starts at the finale of his grandmother yelling at him. The dynamic combo of Tory rapping the lines “I told, I told you all/ I know how I’ma get mine” over the thumping chorus of Play Picasso’s production is beautiful, with each hard-hitting beat change serving as a platform for Tory to further demonstrate his surprising technical and lyrical prowess. Containing interpolations from “Everyone Falls in Love” by Tanto Metro and Devonte, the album’s outro, hit single Luv, not only helps bring the album’s story of struggle and strife to an enjoyable close, but also allows Tory to throw his hat into the ever-growing ring of artists implementing the tropical influence of the Caribbean into the mainstream – even if the newfound dancehall wave in mainstream music is bound to be short-lived. , Luv does dancehall better than Drake does because it feels much more authentic and natural.

The RIAA platinum-certified Say It falls into place on the album very well and is still one hell of a song, maintaining its airy fixture and infectious chorus despite hearing it a million times . The songs Question Is and Loners Blvd put Tory at his deepest bounds, first exploring the rotating and often incomplete circles of fatherhood in his life, and then his journey through the music industry, including some of his biggest embarrassments in front of hip-hop royalty.

The trio of tracks Guns and Roses, Flex and 4am Flex, capture Tory’s range when it comes to love, women and his lifestyle, at its most poetic and innocent as well as at its most superficial and adult. The latter half of 4am Flex, an utterly shameless bite of Kendrick‘s Art of Peer Pressure, jumps back into a skit and then into a moody boom-bap instrumental accompanied by a  verse about the aftermath of a break-in gone wrong as Lanez and his crew dip from the robbery in a car (sound familiar?). The stark divide between Tory’s love life and the life of crime he lives breaks into the album at a constant rate, just as it does in his life, transitioning from the cloudy and melodic into the brash and violent, like on the track Dirty Money.

As an album seeking to tell a story, I Told You does it well – however uninspired and familiar it all sound – but at times it truly struggles. The skits on the album, though well-produced, are unfortunately generic, long and forgettable, more often than not sounding unintentionally funny. These skits weigh down the album in their cut-and-dry approach to storytelling that could’ve been handled with much more nuance and subtlety; the record label phone call at the end of Loners Blvd is painfully cliché and bland that it feels as if it were written for a Lifetime movie. It’s bad skits like this that lead into the bad parts of the album and its most skippable portions.

Songs like the wince-inducingly corny All The Girls, a track that could and would have been made by a Young Money artist at the cusp of the ringtone-rap era, and the off-kilter, filtered tom-tom-driven High serve as needless padding in the tracklist – in addition to other weak, radio-fodder cuts like Cold Hard Love and the clearly Fetty Wap-influenced To D.R.E.A.M, tracks that could have been replaced by the better entries of the Fargo Fridays or the potential sleeper-hit, Miguel-assisted L.A. Confidential. There are glaring spots in the track-list where Lanez focus drifts and he feels the need to address topics that have no footing within the album’s context.

I Told You is essentially a Frankenstein’s Monster of a project, an amalgamation of blatant influences from two differing styles of music into a cohesive piece. Whether or not you enjoy Tory Lanez’s personality, beefs with rappers and singers or all-round aesthetic, his music proves to be equal parts infectious and well-crafted, qualities that many artists’ making similar music lack. I Told You is one of the year’s most solid releases of 2016, ushering in one of the most vocal and brash artists of this generation as his testament to a bumpy climb to stardom.

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