The modern-day rap show is plagued by many pitfalls: an overreliance on background vocal tracks. DJs with itchy sound-effects trigger fingers. Subwoofers that obliterate not just eardrums but iPhone microphones. Seizure-inducing strobe lights. An overemphasis on getting the party started rather than actually performing. Unfortunately for the audience at the Fillmore Silver Spring on Wednesday night, Canadian rapper-singer Tory Lanez fell into many of these pits.
Lanez was touring in support of his debut album, “I Told You,” a “Menace II Society”-styled bildungsroman that dropped in August. Across more than a dozen mix tapes released in the first half of the decade, Lanez seemed unsure whether he wanted to be a street-tale rapper or a soft-voiced R&B crooner. On “I Told You,” he managed to be a man who can do both, like Toronto forebear Drake and contemporaries Bryson Tiller and PartyNextDoor.
But the seductive tenor that Lanez flashes across “I Told You” was mostly absent on Wednesday night. In its place were plenty of half-sung duets with prerecorded vocals and entreaties for the audience to sing not just along but alone. Some audience participation is the norm, but too much of it makes one wonder why they were packed in a stuffy club and not just singing at home.
Although he didn’t have the ability or inclination to sing or rap the entire show, Lanez certainly was engaging. At one point he asked the sold-out crowd to move closer to the stage, and while his DJ looped the lyrics “I might fall in,” Lanez walked his compact frame across the crowd, performing in their hands and on their shoulders. Eventually, he closed the show by climbing to the Fillmore’s balcony; falling into the crowd was one of the literal pitfalls he avoided.
Physical feats aside, there were a few moments where Lanez showed off his vocal talents. Toward the end of his set, Lanez took a dancehall-laced detour, freestyling over Drake’s “Controlla” and segueing from Gyptian’s “Hold You” into Lanez’s latest single, “Luv.” But inevitably, he would rely on the audience to sing “Say It,” his Brownstone-sampling breakthrough.
From its title on down, “I Told You” is an album dedicated to the chip on Lanez’s shoulder, and that attitude permeates his live show. At times, he was coiled in a fighter’s stance, surveying the crowd for doubters. More than once, he indulged in started-from-the-bottom storytelling, recounting getting fired from Denny’s before his big break and eventually delivering a “follow your dreams” lesson. It was an honest moment, but not a particularly entertaining one. Next time — to paraphrase that old writer’s koan — sing, don’t tell.