Drake-endorsed rising star Roy Woods: “I was in a dark place and needed to get back to the old me”
Imagine having Drake on speed-dial – pretty good, huh? Well, that’s a reality for Roy Woods, who’s signed to the pop star’s label OVO Sound. The genre-redefining enigma blessed the music world with his six-track R&B EP, ‘Dem Times’, at the end of May – and we’re still obsessed with his multi-faceted talent. And guess what? The 24-year-old Canadian juggernaut still has more in the vault for us this year.
Woods tells NME that his latest venture is meant to get you “shaking your shoulders a bit” with its moreish six-track journey full of “relaxing vibes”. And if you listen ever-so-closely (assuming that you’re a ma-hooo-sive long-time fan like us), this EP has quite a nostalgic feel. Drawing on his glum and vulnerable sound made famous by ‘Exis’, his 2016 debut EP, which featured the Drake-assisted ‘Drama’, this project sees Woods explore his trademark hip‘n’B style. Speaking from his beautiful Canadian home on a Zoom call, he says that he wanted “to give a little mix of the old with the new” – namely, his combination of ‘00s R&B with ‘10s hip-hop .
The Brampton, Ontario native’s as-yet-untitled third album is coming this year, though he’s playing his cards very close to this chest about it. Yet Roy does reveal that he’s done a lot of soul-searching for the record. “I just had to go through life, to be honest, and let the experiences talk through the music,” he says. “I needed to be attached to feelings again. I was going through a lot – very dark, dark places – and I had needed to go back into the old me, and what I used to do before I even got signed.”
He was just 19 when he bounced onto the scene and, after gaining traction with a few of his tracks, it wasn’t long before he was cruising the streets of Toronto with Drake’s manager and another of the co-founders of OVO, Oliver El-Khatib, and getting signed to the influential label. The singer has previously described Drake as a “God”, but we’re here to talk about Roy Woods – and you can’t deny his evolution from 2015 to now. Having emerged from the dark backrooms of R&B/hip-hop to become a big act on a global stage, he’s settled nicely into his sound.
“I feel like it’s a little bit more mature now,” he says. “Especially when the album comes out, you’ll definitely hear the maturity. I’m definitely innovating and not copying [modern trends] or anything like that. I’m just creating my own vibes.”
And the R&B world is desperate for these vibes. At the top of this year, the brazen New Yorker rapper Young M.A made a statement that spun the world, claiming that “music don’t feel the same because we barely have R&B”. She’s got a point, but 2020 saw the re-emergence of the traditional, baby-making blues everyone loves from the CD-turned-digital era of the ‘00s. With new stars such as Kaash Paige and Don Toliver producing ethereal, soul-clenching tunes and the superstar singer-songwriter Kandi Burress announcing a potential comeback album with the three-time Platinum selling Atlanta group Xscape, you could say that R&B is back and better than ever.
So what does new-gen hero Roy Woods make of the current state of R&the genre? “[It’s] coming back to a lot of vibes that I feel like the world’s been missing,” he says. “By the end of this year, I think we’re going to appreciate all of the music that came out, especially from this quarantine – the whole of 2020 has been a rocky road everybody.”
And surely we can all agree with that. With even his own labelmates putting out traditional R&B sounds within this quarantine – like DVSN’s stunning comeback ‘A Muse In Her Feelings’ – OVO is often seen as the label with the best talent. Roy is often compared to labelmates PartyNextDoor and DVSN – does he find the comparison reductive? He answers the question in one perfect sentence: “It’s naturally what we do taking in music as human beings, so I can’t get mad at it.”
Roy Woods isn’t what you’d call a natural interviewee. He says that he’s not a fan of opening up to everyone – even though he “used to be a big extrovert” who “loved to party, and always wanted to be around people” – which begs the question: what does he love doing? Turns out Roy is a big history buff, and has been spending his spare time brushing up on his knowledge about the Vietnam war.
He also likes a conspiracy theory – who doesn’t? – and tells NME of a mind-boggling encounter with the extraterrestrial: “This one time, I actually had seen some shit in the sky. It was kind of going back-and-forth and more things came. I was with a whole bunch of people too, so I was like, ‘Everybody’s seeing this, right?’ We [were about to have] a little spliff so I wasn’t high. That’s what made me get into [alien conspiracies]. I knew it wasn’t a helicopter. Nothing can just ride in the air like that.”
His ambitions for the near future are surprisingly – and endearingly – less out of this world. Roy wants to start his family and all that good stuff, but due to his “love, love, love” for animals and plants, Roy wants to get his hands dirty and become green-thumbed: “I was just thinking about maybe just getting into growing my own things. Not just weed but vegetables – onions, potatoes and stuff. I’ve never planted before, but I want to learn all that stuff first”.
It sounds like Roy Woods, who’s done a lot of growing up in limelight, is keen to fast-forward to OAP status. Yet he says the opposite is true, and that he wants to nurture his inner child. After some time off from making music, Woods returned to the studio and “felt like I was almost a kid again”. ‘Dem Times’ saw Woods dipping a toe in the waters with this self-declared “new vibe”. But when he goes all in, hopefully on his next album, he’ll show us all why it’s well worth immersing yourself in Roy Woods’ world.