Tory Lanezis not a vocally trained singer -- he's happy to admit that he taught himself. He also trained himself on how to make beats. Lanez's DIY mentality has helped him achieve a flourishing career as one of hip-hop's most versatile artists.
Along with his voice and beats, his taut lyricism has served as a building block for some of his best bodies of work, most notably his revered Chixtape series. Started in 2011, Lanez's Chixtape collection showcases his adoration for the hip-hop hits of the 2000s. From seamless flips of Fat Joe's "What's Luv" to Chingy's "One Call Away" to even Diddy's "I Need a Girl," no beat is safe around the Canadian polymath.
Chixtape 5, out on Friday (Nov. 15), is aimed to pull the heartstrings of 2000s fanatics. Instead of merely remixing his favorite tracks, however, Lanez went a step further this time around and recruited the songs' original artists to join him on the remixes: Trey Songz, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne and Ashanti all join Lanez on the blast from the past, to help recreate the magic he once felt as a teenager.
"Everything is 2000s-inspired," Lanez tells Billboard. "Everything is inspired by the times when things were golden for us. I think all those pieces and everything that we've come out with has been all about nostalgia. I'm about to take you on a whole journey musically."
On Chixtape 5, Lanez's crusade into the 2000s takes several pit stops. First, he pairs up with T-Pain for "Jerry Sprunger," which remixes "I'm Sprung," before colliding with Chris Brown for the sultry remake of "Take You Down." Alhough Lanez is known for his high-octane raps, he doesn't pause the show to burst into a lyrical frenzy, instead flaunting his vocals alongside some of R&B's elite singers. "I was just trying to create something great," explains Lanez.
Billboard spoke to Lanez about Chixtape 5, his most challenging track to remake, picking Ashanti for his album cover, and more.
The Chixtape series has played a vital role in your career. What does this fifth installment mean for you?
I think it's just the evolution of where I'm at as far as R&B is concerned], and Tory breaking down the barrier of something new, but also something classic. I think it's the evolution of where the Chixtapes went and what they are, but also, it kind of feels like every Chixtape in one, you know? You finally get every piece of production. You get every piece of extra vocals. You get everything. It's damn near overwhelming at a certain point because it's like, "Wow. Y'all did that." I think five is moreso evolution, and a revolution towards what the Chixtape means to fans.
Where's your confidence at from a vocal standpoint, now that you paired up with traditional R&B artists on this project like Trey Songz and Ashanti?
I feel like if I was in their era of when they were singing and I have the voice that I have now, I think I'd be able to stand with them. I think it's moreso of a my-world-meets-your-world kind of situation. I've always wanted to say something along the lines of "I did this" or have something like, "I worked with this person that I've always wanted to work with." I always wanted to have those accolades and accomplishments. So now that I'm at this point where I can reach out and my arm can actually reach these caliber of artists] and I can get that record done, it's just a dream come true for me.
What was the process of remaking some of these records with their original artists?
It was crazy. It really just came from me doing two records. The first two records that I actually had cut were the "I'm Sprung" sample, which is "Jerry Sprunger," and it was "Foolish" with Ashanti. Those two songs then created how I would walk into the building, because I had Ashanti on "Foolish" and T-Pain on "I'm Sprung," and those songs are so classic that it helped me make an imaginary track] list for certain artists.
Let's say you were just an artist from that time and I needed you on the project, I came in there like, "Yo. This project is this, that and a third. I got T-Pain on 'I'm Sprung' and Ashanti on 'Foolish,' and the list goes on." There was no list, but I had those two names that showed if these guys did it, it's big enough for me to come back and do it. At this point I said let me try to make the list bigger. As I kept going, the list got bigger. By the time I was looking at the list, I had 10 features on it, and I was able to be like, "These 10 people did their best songs. Are you going to do it or not?"
Did anybody show any hesitance?
Nah, everybody showed love. That's the crazy thing.
Artists can be sensitive!
Nobody felt like that. I think that was the most pleasing part for me as an artist -- that my work and my craft was known enough and was respected by these people that I call "the greats," but respected enough for them to be like, "If it's him, I'll let it happen." There's a variety of artists that I know that would have tried to do this and it would have not gotten cleared. And I don't think certain artists would have took the time to come back and hop on the song because if it didn't matter to them, then it wouldn't have mattered. It's their best songs and I'm asking them to remake 'em.
Which remake was the most challenging, creatively?
Lloyd and Lil Wayne's "You." I had a whole different way that I came on the song and the beat was actually different. Like, the way that we have this tribal kind of sound to it or this Afrobeat kind of sound to it, it was never like that before. The song was totally different. It was slower and it sounded a lot like the real song, but it got eerie for me and I didn't like the way I sounded on it.
I went back and forth doing the song four, five times, and I didn't know if I wanted to do the record. This was before I even thought Wayne or Lloyd would hop on it. Then, Play came with this beat and we added the "You"] sample to the beat. It just sounded even crazier. So we said, let's try to make this work. Play went crazy on that beat, but even for me, production-wise, I didn't expect us to take it from here to here. That's what we did.
What was the thought process behind some of the beat switches?
Oh, man. The transitions are so crazy. The beat switches, that's all me in my head. What people don't understand is that's what makes the Chixtape series so nostalgic for people and it touches them in their souls. Anytime I do produce, I realized that's when people do feel my music the most. I think for me and for those who don't know, Chixtape is the only time I really come back to produce-produce. The only other album that I was heavily involved in with the production was probably I Told You and all the other mixtapes.
So I don't know how to produce like Metro Boomin, Timbaland or any of those people who have a formula in doing it. I wasn't taught like that -- I wasn't taught at all. So when I make beats, it's very unorthodox. They sound fucking weird. It's not the normal hats that you're used to. I just go off vibes and feelings. I think just me doing that multiple times and wanting to evolve is what made it so crazy.
Your love for skits returns on Chixtape 5. How important was it to align your love for nostalgia along with the skits?
If you ever looked at the whole Chixtape series, they all started with a skit. It started with me trying to get this girl Julissa. When you mention the importance of the skits with the nostalgic theme, I went back and got the same girl to do the same voices. Like the girl who did it four years ago, I went back and got her to do it again. So I just wanted to make sure everything was cohesive and sounded the same.
I've always stuck to my same formulas, even when people were against it. Like when I did I Told You, people were like, "Why you did so many skits?" I said, "Yo. I'm trying to tell my life right now." There's not a bunch of skits on this one, but there's enough for you to get a view of what's going on even if you come in as a new listener to this project. If you go back to Chixtape 2, that's when the story started. From Chixtape 2 to Chixtape 4, it's an ongoing story that you gotta really listen to. It's really like a chapter book. Everything had to be right.
Why did you choose Ashanti for the cover?
Same thing. That's how it's going to feel. How did you feel when you seen Ashanti back in the day? Especially seeing her now, looking the exact same way, I just felt like that was a piece to talk about. It's such a warm welcoming into what the 2000s were. That's not to say that Ashanti is only from the 2000s -- because she's still dropping music and doing relevant things to this day -- but it's the fact of what she meant to the culture at that time too that was crucial. She's stamped. She's a certified legend from that culture.
Which feature overwhelmed you the most when you first got it back?
Mya surprised me. I think Mya bodied it for sure, but I also think Chris did his thing. I didn't expect him to do his thing on "Take You Down" with the hook and stuff. Trey Songz did a great job. He definitely surprised me because it's just always strange having to go back on something that you made such a big record, you know? The fact that he came back and showed out next to a beat that was very much like the original beat -- it was just dope.
What do you miss most about the 2000s?
I miss when things were simple like a pair of Air Force Ones. That was bless, you know what I'm saying? Everything wasn't so fashionista. I feel like somewhere down the line the industry turned into Beverly Hills. I felt like there was a rugged rawness about the 2000s that even creatively, it was all about creating your own art like airbrushed tees. I just think the expression of freedom was different back then.