A Reminder for Drake and Others: Tory Lanez is Not a Martyr

Music

Drake compels the masses like a seasoned advertising director. He knows sharing something as simple as a new hairdo will strangle social media for days on end. So when he called for Tory Lanez’s freedom on his Instagram story, he knew it would garner similar visibility as activists screaming “Free Meek Mill” from the streets of Philadelphia. On Monday, Drake posted a picture of Tory and “3 You,” a version of “Free You” where the three were set to represent open handcuffs. 

“Free [Insert Person”] is standard cultural parlance in communities of color. “Free Meek” was a stand against the Philly rapper’s prolonged probation. “Free Mumia [Abu-Jamal]” is about amplifying a freedom fighter who people believe was unjustly convicted. Other times, like with “Free Bobby Shmurda,” it can be a complicated admission that even if we know someone did wrong, we understand that systemic inequality can encourage bad choices from good people, essentially creating a long-looping form of entrapment. 

You may scream “free” someone as an advocate, loved one, or an empathizer. But screaming “Free Tory Lanez,” is an asshole move. 

Last August, Tory was sentenced to 10 years in California State Prison for shooting Megan Thee Stallion in 2020. In December 2022, he was convicted of assault with a semi-automatic firearm, carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in a vehicle, and discharging a firearm with gross negligence. 

He’s on a recorded call apologizing to Megan’s former friend Kelsey for an unknown grievance that many deduce to be Megan’s shooting. During testimony, Kelsey called the notion that she shot Megan “ridiculous.” A witness in the trial testified that he saw a “shorter man,” alleged to be Tory, firing “four to five” shots and then beating Megan as she lay bleeding in a fetal position. But despite the mountain of evidence suggesting his guilt, Drake, Chris Brown, Meek Mill, and others have since expressed solidarity with Tory. Are they saying they don’t believe Megan, or that they don’t care what happened to her?

Since that night, people treated the shooting like a soap opera or binary of fandom instead of a traumatic incident that someone should atone for. On “Cobra,” Megan rapped about dealing with depression, alcohol dependency, and suicidal ideation since being shot. Her account of that night was scrutinized by armchair sleuths, and she was relentlessly lampooned by entertainers and consumers. Tory even took part in the circus, chopping a horse leg in his “CAP” video. As I noted before about Tina and Ike Turner, hip-hop has a penchant for playing too much, perhaps because many of its progenitors are so predisposed to toxic behavior and violence that we don’t know how to take domestic violence seriously. But that dynamic almost always turns into disrespecting women survivors, and it’s no excuse for how Megan is being treated.

Drake’s had several weird dustups with women in recent years. During a recent stop on his Big As The What tour, he made a point to play “Work” with Rihanna, then tell the crowd that he doesn’t perform the song anymore. That comes after dissing her and A$AP Rocky on For All The Dogs’ “Fear of Heights.” And, more alarmingly, he’s shouted out rapper and friend Baka Not Nice, who in 2015 pled guilty to assaulting a 22-year-old woman who he was charged with forcing into sex trafficking. The woman didn’t testify in the case, so he wasn’t tried on the latter charge. While Baka was incarcerated, Drake rhymed, “I might declare it a holiday as soon as Baka get back on the road,” on 2015’s “Know Yourself.” Would women be invited to that celebration? Perhaps Drake should head to his room full of bras and reflect on whether he genuinely cares about the humanity of any of the former owners. 

It’s unclear when he and Megan, who were pictured together in 2019, first fell out. In 2022, he rapped “this bitch lie ’bout getting shots, but she still a stallion” on Her Loss’ “Circo Loco.” Last summer, he made it a point to snidely clarify “not that Meg,” while shouting out photographer MegYup during his It’s All A Blur tour. And now, after Megan may have dissed him on “Hiss” (she intentionally refrained from naming names so hit dogs could holler) he’s advocated for her attacker. 

Drake isn’t the first person to speak up for Tory post-sentencing, either. Chris Brown, who assaulted Rihanna and has been accused of over 20 instances of violence (many against women), called to “Free Tory” on streamer Adin Ross’ live stream, calling Tory “a solid dude.” His morally questionable comments are unsurprising. 

Last July, Meek Mill screamed “Free Tory” while performing. He later doubled down, tweeting, “I say free young thug … free lucci … free melly I don’t even know why y’all start dealing with us if yall gone try to smear us.’ Of course, there is a layer of nuance. Anti-prison abolitionists believe that the justice system is inherently racist and should be uprooted. But even those progressives didn’t feel much sorrow when Tory was convicted because of his conduct and arrogance throughout the leadup to the trial. Restorative justice advocates believe there can be a world where people who commit violence can take accountability, and apologize to the person they hurt, and everyone can heal without the need for incarceration. 

There is a belief that the modern justice system, which essentially requires a suspect to deny their guilt, doesn’t help a survivor heal, and the dehumanizing conditions of prison certainly aren’t a rehabilitative environment for violators. Some abolitionists may believe that Tory shouldn’t be incarcerated because prisons shouldn’t exist in the first place. That is a complicated discussion. But it’s also not likely that Drake, Brown, or Meek were saying “Free Tory” from an abolitionist lens — they were just trying to support the boys club. 

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Despite Tory’s conviction, the bowels of the gossip blogosphere, run by misogynistic podcasters and streamers, still cling to rumors of suppressed videos and secret witnesses and anything else that may appear out of fairy dust to legally absolve the Toronto artist and affirm their twisted belief that women are never to be trusted. It’s sad to think that so many of music’s biggest names enabling that cohort.  

Despite their increasingly blatant misogynoir, artists like Drake still boast devoted fanbases who will propel him to record-breaking streaming numbers and refer to him as their figurative “husband.” It’s more proof that advocacy for a convicted violator of a Black woman isn’t a cardinal sin. If anything, it’s the norm. How long will we let that be the case?

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