Tory Lanez Enlists the Biggest Names of Noughties R&B For ‘Chixtape 5’
Tory Lanez has coined his own term for his style of music. He calls it “Swavey,” which he defines no more specifically than as a blend of various genres. This is true enough, and consistent with Lanez’s own moniker, given to him for how he used to restlessly cross lanes with no care for traffic. Lanez is indeed a polymath, as he sings, raps, and produces, proving himself far more than a dilettante in each role. “Chixtape” was among his early mixtapes, released in 2011, and we now find Lanez releasing the latest installment, “Chixtape 5,” as his fourth studio full-length. The new record showcases all the aesthetic instincts that characterized Lanez since the first iteration, but channels them this time into an ode to ‘00s R&B, recruiting some of that scene’s defining figures for a star-studded set of songs that fashion nostalgic musings into sounds decidedly grounded in the present moment.
The album is based around a few skits, in a nod to the ‘90s when this was the norm in hip-hop. The first track, “Jalissa’s Back,” begins the silly story around which the songs are weaved, as three girls, Jalissa, Leah, and Keisha enter the scene, cueing the music. Lanez has spoken of how he thought Jagged Edge was the ideal group to start the album off and set the mood, and he makes that happen with opener “The Trade.” The R&B group have stayed at it, dropping a new album every few years, but they were all the range in 2001, when their hit “Where the Party At” could be heard all day everywhere. Jermaine Dupri, who signed them, makes a brief appearance, although it would be a serious stretch to even call it that. T Pain was featured on over fifty chart-topping singles during the second half of the aughts, which makes him an ideal recruit for the next track, “Jerry Sprunger.” There’s a brief bit that melodically recalls Shaggy’s 2001 single “It Wasn’t Me,” and a reference to Busta Rhymes’ “Make It Clap” from 2002. Otherwise, it’s classic T Pain, and it gets the album going with plenty momentum.
For “Beauty In the Benz,” Lanez samples Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams’ 2003 hit “Beautiful,” splitting and separating the chorus, and pitching the vocals down. It sounds like a bit of a train wreck at first, although this only makes it more gratifying when the beat drops and everything falls into place. Then when Snoop Dogg appears, it becomes instantly classic, although only for a mere thirty seconds, which can be endlessly frustrating. This is misleading advertising, to say the least. Next, Lanez takes another Snoop and Pharrell single from a year later, “Let’s Get Blown,” on “Blowin’ Mine’s,” presumably a pun on “blowing minds,” although that last apostrophe can be confusing. Lanez’s singing sounds especially inspired on this one, as he oscillates behind the beat with plenty swagger, propelled by sliding bass blasts. The track doubles as another skit, “Leah’s Introduction,” which finds Lanez hollering at Jalissa’s homegirl Leah, who resists his advances at first, but seems receptive after a few moments.
There’s no telling where things will go from here, although we get a clue in the next song, “The Take, “ modeled after Chris Brown’s 2017 sex jam “Take You Down.” Again, Lanez pitches down the refrain of the original, drops a beat over it, and takes off. He’s on a roll at this point, singing in fast torrents of syllables over a loose, gauzy backdrop. Brown, who has collaborated with Lanez twice before, drops a verse in the same meter, and unlike so many other features on the album, actually stays long enough to make for an effective collaboration. Upon the last line, “And promise when you promise, keep them promises,” there’s a seamless transition into “Broken Promises,” which sustains and extends a sample from the preceding track, as Lanez riffs off its overtones on a beat of stuttering snares and sultry vocal samples.
For “The Fargo Splash,” Lanez takes on Ludacris’ 2007 single “Splash Waterfalls.” It’s the same format again — Lanez crooning away over a beat centered around a pitched-down sample, with an appearance from Ludacris. While it’s a stale formula by now, this is one of its more successful applications, as Luda drops a proper, full-length verse, and Lanez sounds particularly at home. Lanez has cited The-Dream as the artist who inspired him to take up singing, and it’s always inspiring to see musicians team up with their idols. On an album in which the concepts of most tracks eclipse their sound, “Love Ya Gyal // Love Sounds” is a standout. The first half takes inspiration from the Dream’s “I Luv Your Girl,” and the second from his “Falsetto.” Lanez wavers about and weaves through a more sonically adventurous beat, effectively channeling and reimagining the sounds of the original tracks.
“Yessirr” draws its title from a single line in “Your Body” from Miami, Florida’s Pretty Ricky, and on this track, Lane departs from his general formula, fully embracing that group’s Miami bass-informed strain of Dirty South hip-hop, and making for another standout. “Best of You // Busted” teams Lanez with another major inspiration of his, Mýa. She sings over the greater portion of the track, and outshines most of the record’s other collaborators. The second portion is another skit, bringing us back to the hood soap opera. Find out for yourself how the drama unfolds, but expect a twist. Lanez deals with the situation by pouring his heart into “The Cry,” with some help from Mario. It’s a particularly wild production, full of clipped, overlapping vocal samples over a shape-shifting backbeat, with Lanez and Mario taking turns at their most expressive.
At this point, Lanez is in heartbreak mode, and it inspires some of his best material. “Still Waiting” is an offshoot of Trey Songz’s 2007 cut “Can’t Help But Wait,” about hoping that a relationship will eventually fizzle out, so that one can step in for the rebound. Musically, the new song is far removed from Songz’s, but Songz appears in top form, and Lanez puts on one of his most impressive performances, wildly shifting registers and packing syllables as he croons away about the state of affairs. He wallows in the drama for a bit on “A Fool’s Tale (Running Back,)” which samples Ashanti’s 2002 debut single “Foolish.” Ashanti and Lanez shuttle lines back and forth with a rare chemistry, and Lanez switches things up from his usual singsong in the second half, rapping a long verse that is a shocking reminder of the skills he usually so modestly keeps at bay.
Now, Lanez is completely smitten, as heard on “Thoughts,” a head-in-the clouds R&B outpouring. Lloyd sings a verse, and it’s remarkable how his and Lanez’s inflections mirror each other’s, showing influence come full circle on a single track. It’s on the whinier side, but this gets a tweak when Lil Wayne shows up in the second half, in his half-and half rap-singing mode. The downside is that it’s another unsatisfyingly brief, perfunctory appearance. “If You Gotta… “ lightens the mood, with a bouncy beat and a feature from Fabolous. It’s a thrill to hear him drop his tagline, “F-A-B-O-L-O-U-S,” which branded so many noughties hip-hop hits, and you can tell how thrilled Lanez is to bring this back. Next, Lanez samples 112’s 2005 track “U Already Know,” and enlists Slim from 112 in one of the album’s most striking features. Slim’s style is at once more classic in its phrasings and more idiosyncratic in its voicings than most R&B singers, and his appearance here makes for a solid final song. After he and Lanez take turns expressing their infatuation for the girl in question, the album comes to closure with a final skit, “Last Love Letter,” to resolve the melodrama.
“Chixtape 5” is an album both playful in nature and ambitious in scale. Being designed in the style of a mixtape, with all the contextual casualness, enables it to somewhat get past the outrages of a few phoney features that tease and disappoint. Fortunately, the substantive appearances predominate, and the roster of illustrious artists on display has to be appreciated. The self-aware silliness of the skits and their storyline provides a fun framework for a nostalgia-rich project like this. Any fans of aughts R&B will find great thrills in all the pointed throwbacks. While the tracks can be hit or miss, the album abounds with colorful, engaging production, and impressive, inspired performances from Tory Lanez and his cast of characters.
“Chixtape 5” is available Nov. 15 on Apple Music.