Ever since Drake blew up, the spotlight has been on Toronto as a hotbed for young, emerging talent. Alessia Cara, from just outside of T Dot, has seen her popularity grow with her huge single “Here,” Jazz Cartier has become something of a blog darling thanks to Marauding In Paradise, and Roy Woods has been blessed with the coveted OVO co-sign. It feels like every other hot new artist is connected to Toronto.
Amidst all this, Tory Lanez has been consistently dropping heat for years on end. Drake has never publicly acknowledged the Toronto rapper/singer/producer (who wrote the hook and co-produced on the intro to Meek Mill’s latest album), and the snub is almost certainly intentional; this year we’ve seen how Drake picks and chooses whose waves to ride. Perhaps he senses a dormant star in Lanez and doesn’t think it’s wise to boost someone already on the come-up in his own hometown. The unspoken tension between them has only been heightened in recent weeks, when Tory took to Twitter with the message, “This whole calling Toronto the ‘6’ thing…it’s not cool bro.”
To his credit, Tory doesn’t need a co-sign. When he was 16 he made a public challenge to Drake that if the OVO head honcho didn’t like Tory’s music, he’d throw down $10,000. Instead of going public, Drake met with Tory and told him he did, indeed, fuck with his work. Nonetheless, the two have stayed at arms length ever since.
Now Tory is becoming impossible to ignore. Earlier this year he signed to Interscope via Mad Love, an imprint started by Benny Blanco. Blanco is a pop producer who’s worked with everyone from Katy Perry and Maroon 5 to Wiz Khalifa and Trey Songz, and along with that announcement came the incredible single “Say It,” which fortifies itself with an age-old formula: sample a well-known classic (in this case, Brownstone’s “If You Love Me”) to introduce a new voice with a familiar sound. There’s no reason the song shouldn’t go #1 on the Hot 100; it’s an absolute clinic in pop songwriting.
So as “Say It” continues to climb the charts, we wanted to give people a better sense of Tory’s already-huge catalog. With 14 solo projects already under his belt and an album on the way in early 2016, this is by no means a comprehensive look at his best work. He’s only getting better though, so now’s the time for a proper introduction.
Karrueche (prod. by Noah Breakfast, co-prod. by Play Picasso) 
In 2014, Tory dedicated a woozy song to G.O.O.D. Music’s Teyana Taylor, pining for her in the most public of forums. A year later, he followed it up with an ode to Karrueche, and it might be the best song Lanez has ever done, as he lets the strings waft lazily under his chorus. What helps is production from a genius behind the boards, Noah Breakfast, with assistance from one of Tory’s main producers Play Picasso. The beat’s punchy percussion would have fit perfectly onto 808s & Heartbreak, leaving just enough space to let Tory show off his soul-piercing falsetto.
Gold (prod. by Tory Lanez, Noah Breakfast & Play Picasso) 
If there’s one essential entry point for Tory’s music, it’s Lost Cause, the flawless 2014 project with more obvious choices than the one above (“The Mission,” “Henny In Hand,” and “The Godfather” are equally as stunning). But “Gold” has such an innocent, simple charm. It’s always the one I’m pulled to when I throw this project on. Tory has an ear for drums, and here they punctuate the beat like a blade cutting through air.
Tory wasn’t always flexing his singing voice like this. If you listen to his earlier stuff, you’ll see he was focusing more on the hard rap thing. Songs like “Konichiwa” and “Wooden Beads” have a Lil Wayne vibe to them, but he soon developed his style into hybrid sing-song raps. Lost Cause shows off this maturation well, and also does an excellent job of telling Tory’s harrowing story, from the death of his mother to getting kicked out of his grandma’s crib.
Chixtape 2 is a fan favorite and a good indicator of where Tory was going with his production, but I prefer the first Chixtape, which is pure, unadulterated pop music, much like “Say It.” It’s fantastic, but somewhat beguiling. How has stuff like this not blown up yet? Peep “Loud,” another must-listen from the tape.
Know What’s Up (prod. by DJ Mustard, Tory Lanez & Xaphoon Jones) 
This is just one of a handful of examples that prove DJ Mustard needs to do more R&B production. The fact that he’s one of three co-producers on the song also figures into why it doesn’t sound like your typical Mustard beat, thumping though they are.
This was the biggest song from Tory’s 2013 tape Conflicts Of My Soul, and the hook is so good, you can imagine it being on radio rotation two years later. It even foreshadows the emphasis on body language that other singers like Kelela and Bieber have picked up on in 2015. And speaking of Bieber, Lanez has an excellent song with him, too.
Hate Me On The Low (prod. by Daniel Worthy & Tory Lanez) 
One of the most rewarding things about listening to Tory Lanez is hearing where he takes each melody. Here he splits the chorus between two different cadences, launching into higher notes to ask how you could hate him. And if that’s not good enough, he finishes with a riff of the hook form Rupee’s classic “Tempted To Touch.” This kid has more talent in his pinky finger than most vocalists have in their whole body.