Written by Frances Capell
Photographs by Nick Walker
It’s an overcast January afternoon at Wedidit Studios on Melrose, and Tory Lanez is demonstrating his signature dance, The Papi, which is essentially a two-step embellished with some slick head-bobs and shoulder shimmies. There isn’t much to it, really, but the move is distinctively Tory—inimitable and dripping with charisma. "I'm a jiggy dude," he boasts.
The 22-year-old Toronto native knows what he likes. He'll rarely eat anything apart from spaghetti or King's Hawaiian bread, and he's just as particular when it comes to his music. "It's an emotion,” he says, “something in my soul when I spit or when I sing. I know when it doesn't feel right." Though he's highly selective, his tastes also wander far from the realm of your average hip-hop dude. On last year's Lost Cause mixtape, he distanced himself even further from conventional R&B and rap with contributions from RL Grime and Ryan Hemsworth. Now, he's hard at work on an EP with the whole Wedidit crew. "I'm gonna be the dude who always brings you something new, the dude who always wants to go left field," he vows.
Enter Snakehips. The UK production duo show up at the studio fresh from a stint on Holy Ship!—the floating extension of HARD electronic music festival—and an inaugural US tour that transformed their Soundcloud notoriety into sold-out crowds. They're all smiles, though a bit nervous about working in such close quarters. "We never produce together in the same room," says Ollie, the taller of the two with a shock of platinum blonde hair. "We always start stuff individually on our computers and send things over email."
Ollie and his wisecracking counterpart James flip through early beat sketches with Tory in the smoky control room, where black drapes blot out the evening light. Tory gravitates toward a violin loop with aggressive drums; miles away from the breezy summer sounds of previous Snakehips releases. For now, it's shelved in favor of of a softer, sunnier instrumental fitting for a backyard barbecue.
Art by Bastard Graphics
"I'll try it," says Tory, "and maybe it’ll spark something new out of me." But before he can hit the booth, he's gotta explore every avenue and see what sticks. The beat is spruced up with additional keys and then stripped bare, played backwards and then forwards again. Tory asks to slow the tempo, shaving off one BPM at a time, testing the waters, freestyling on top. Beat by beat, he arrives back at the original speed and, hours later, something’s still missing. "I can do better tonight," he says.
James and Ollie revisit the violin riff and Tory perks up instantly. Expanding on an earlier comparison of beats to women, he explains: "You know when you meet one of those cool chicks, and they're like, I know you've got other females out there, just as long as you come back to me, do your thing. That's how I felt about that beat."
he production duo give the two-bar loop a boost with some new drums and heartier bass. "It doesn't sound like a Snakehips song, but this type of music is something that I'm really into," says James. The string riff was his creation, although he usually does the more technical mixing and production while Ollie hunts for samples and brings the groove. "We make lots of stuff like this," he says of the harder-edged sound. "We just don't put it out."
Midnight approaches and Tory's finally holed up in the vocal booth. He works in micro-changes; stretches a syllable just a little, swaps out a word or two. He does this one line at a time, take after take, adjusting his flow to mimic the the snap of the drums when he hits "la vida lo-ca."
"Dimelo" takes shape as an ode to crushing competition and reaping the benefits of success—nice things and beautiful women—but for Tory, it's less braggadocio and more positive affirmation. "Late at night, when I'm in my room, I'll tell myself I'm gonna be the biggest artist in the world," he says. "Anything less than a hit is unacceptable." Be your own biggest champion, and success will follow. “There are burning desires in your heart,” he explains, “and they're in there because it's actually possible for you to reach them.”