It's likely that, at this very moment, you do not know rapper/singer Tory Lanez. Minus a following he's culled in his hometown of Toronto, and minus being briefly nudged into the spotlight in 2010 when Justin Bieber cribbed a few of his lines in a song, he's mostly an unknown. But anonymity appears to be losing its grip on him.
Last month, the 20-year-old released his first proper single, the undeniable "Hate Me on the Low," an effortlessly melodic track that managed to sound both watery and metallic all at once. Blogs swooned. Early this week, he released a second track, "Fourteens and 40's," which slows the best parts of Method and Mary's classic "You're All I Need" into a near-wobbling-but-completely-controlled crawl. The praise multiplied itself.
The story behind it -- at least the immediate story behind it -- is simple enough:
At 14, young Tory was pushed away from the care of his grandmother and father ("I just saw life a little differently than they did," he cryptically responds when asked why he was put out). He moved into an apartment in Toronto with his older brother and three of his older brother's friends that had also found their ways out of the reach of their parents. And they did what kids without guidance tend to do (hoodrat shit, basically). Thus, the song.
But it feels heavier than it should be. Lanez's otherwise buoyant voice drags its feet through the gravel, his brags more aggressive and confrontational than he flexed on "Hate Me on the Low." It hints at the devastating the back story that set his rap career in motion.
At eleven, younger Tory's mother, the central piece of his then family died of a disease that snuck up on everybody as a byproduct of her anemia. It warbled his entirety. He recalls that day with a noticeable, understandable passion.
"I had made some kid come to school with the new Def Jam Vendetta video game," says Lanez, from Austin, where he's currently staying. "Walking home, I was so happy. Walking home with that game, nahi'm saying, that's the greatest feeling," he recalls, laughing. "I got home. Boom! Walked inside. Ran in and put my bag down."
"I saw my sister –- I'm from a family of six, four boys and two girls. I saw my sister; she was coming down the stairs. She looked mad as hell. I'm like, 'Alright.' I walked downstairs. I seen my dad in the kitchen. That morning my mom had to go to the hospital because she wasn't feeling well. So when I saw him in the kitchen I asked. And he sat me down. And he was like, "Son, your mother, she passed away today." It hit me like WHAT!? Woah? My mom? I remember I was sitting there like … I was crying and crying and crying. I cried for a good ten minutes. And then I just got up, I went upstairs and put the video game on. I feel like because I had the game there – it was like when you go to the doctor and they gave you a lollipop. I sat there and played that video game because it wasn't real to me. Everything changed right then."
His brain malfunctioned. Every time it tried to calculate or process a situation, the only response it'd spit out was "FUCK EVERYTHING."
After his father remarried a year later, his family splintered. The youngest of the six, Tory stayed with his dad, a traveling preacher who'd made his way to Florida. But Papa Lanez couldn't control him. Eventually, he was bussed away to New York to stay with an aunt. New York's grasp wasn't strong enough though. Shortly after his arrival, he found himself sent down to Atlanta. And then from there, to Toronto, where his brother took him in. Over a two and a half year period, from between his eleventh birthday and his fourteenth, he was shipped around nearly 5,000 miles and expelled from every single school that was silly enough to let him enroll.
And all of that, all of that latent angst and anger is what's inadvertently wrapped up inside of "Fourteen and 40's." It's an auspicious start to his career, to be sure.
"That song just brings me back to a certain feeling," says Lanez. "I don’t want you all to think I'm this cool ass n***a all the time, like I'm getting off the plane with two bad bitches waiting for me. Life's not like that. Life's not that easy."
Not even at 14.
Not even at 11.