Words by Richard “Treats” Dryden
For nine weeks, through July 7th, Drake’s Views charted as Billboard’s No. 1 album in the United States. A week after he was finally dethroned by California, the reunion album by popular ‘00s rock band Blink-182, Toronto rapper/singer Tory Lanez has followed suit by jacking the beat to “Controlla,” the dancehall-fused thumper that helped propel Views to dominance.
Lanez hasn’t necessarily one-upped Drake, but, with the much talked-about freestyle Lanez has become more relevant, adding his name to the long history of Canadian rappers who draw influence from the West Indies. His “Controlla (SWAVE Session)” freestyle sees him interpolating the melody from I-Wayne’s “Can’t Satisfy Her,” introducing the track with a promise to “get on some real yard shit,” before singing in patois: “No one gyal can satisfy me/Mi need more fuel for the lime green/Mi nuh know one gal cyan deny me. Mi know seh mi chain shiny but why pree?” Through his heavily auto-tuned vocals, he references I-Wayne’s perfectly pitched singing on “Can’t Satisfy Her,” which naturally peaked to falsetto over the Father Jungle Rock riddim. In case you’re in need of a refresher, I-Wayne’s metaphorical lyrics about a lady needing more “wood for the fire” earned the Jamaican singer mainstream radio play in 2004 and 2005 while, at the same time, bringing awareness to the subject of prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases.
Lanez, whose father hails from Barbados while his mother comes from Curacao (Lanez himself, while originating from Toronto, also spent time living in Miami and New York City), makes a clever move with his I Wayne homage, and patois-laden verses. If you’re keeping count at home, Drake has two different “Controlla” versions, each of which showcase his embrace of dancehall: one with three original verses from Popcaan, plus the album cut with a sample of Beenie Man’s “Tear Off Mi Garment.” If the competition between the two Toronto artists keeps escalating in this manner, it might be time to call for a soundclash.
While Joe Budden recently took blatant shots at Drake on two diss tracks, Tory Lanez and Drake have been going back and forth with more subtle jabs. On “Summer Sixteen,” Drake references the latest wave of rappers from his hometown with the line, “All you boys in the New Toronto want to be me a little.” Tory Lanez planted the flag for the New Toronto when he wore a T-shirt printed with that term in his video for “LA Confidential.” The two have a history: a then-unknown Lanez once called out Drake, offering him 10K to listen to his music, challenging the better-known artist in an effort to promote his Playing for Keeps mixtape, and even had to put to rest a rumor that he was related to Drake.
Lanez going the yardie route is his way of showing that he can do exactly what Drake does — flex his connection to the Caribbean. Along with an ease moving between hip-hop and R&B, this predilection for Jamaican patois seems to be a unifying factor shared among the latest wave of Toronto rappers—which also includes Roy Woods, whose newly-released debut album for OVO Sound, Walking At Dawn features the dancehall-inspired single “Gwan Big Up Urself,” and Ramriddlz, the Egyptian-Canadian rapper whose “Sweeterman” was co-opted a year ago by Drake.
But while there is clearly no Tory Lanez “New Toronto” without Drake, the most popular and influential rapper ever to emerge from Canada by a longshot, we also have Drake because of Kardinal Offishall and k-OS, Ontario rappers of Caribbean extraction (Jamaica and Trinidad, respectively) who were breaking through to international audiences during Aubrey Graham’s youth. And before Kardi, and his ’90s-era T-Dot colleagues Choclair and Saukrates (rappers of Jamaican and Guyanese descent, respectively) Toronto birthed The Dream Warriors, a duo which once offered a tribute to the Jamaican board game Ludi. Not to be forgotten is Jamaican-born female rap pioneer Michie Mee, who bigged up her fellow West Indians in the 6 on “Jamaica Funk: Canadian Style,” back in 1991.
The lineage of Canadian artists rapping about and highlighting their Caribbean heritage is deep. While some might peg hip-hop and pop’s recent co-opting of dancehall as a fad, such influences never faded in Toronto—a city where, even before Drake, kids from all ethnic backgrounds and walks of life could be heard using patois phrases like tings and my yute in everyday conversation. Such phrases have been lingua franca for Toronto rappers, both West Indian and otherwise. The Jamaican pride exhibited by Michie Mee and Kardinal Offishall continues the narrative that began when Kool Herc brought hip-hop and DJ culture from Jamaica to The Bronx in the late 1970s. And which now comes back around again, as Caribbean sounds return to the mainstream, by way of Toronto.
Right now, Tory Lanez is clocking two dancehall nostalgia records. The “Can’t Satisfy Her” nod on his “Controlla” remix was preceded by his new single, “Luv U,” a not-so-subtle update of Tanto Metro and Devonte’s classic “Everyone Falls In Love.” Lanez has the potential to make more dancehall/reggae-fused records, not just to compete with Drake, but because it yields an enthusiastic response when mixed properly with R&B and hip-hop in 2016. A non-Jamaican artist can easily find themselves on the verge of a hit on the island, when their beat construction fits in with homegrown rhythms. At press time, “Luv U” sits at No. 19 on Jamaica Weekly Music Countdown’s Top 25 Dancehall Singles chart. Lanez singing in patois is the icing on the cake. He spoke a little patois last year on his single “Say It” but now he’s doubling down on a different vibe and sound than he did a year ago with that straight up R&B track sampling Brownstone’s “If You Love Me. It’s hard to tell, though, which he is more directly inspired by: the region from which his parents hail, and from which Drake has taken so much inspiration, or Drake himself. Drake not only fathered Tory Lanez, but he fathered New Toronto.