“Being That Vulnerable Was Kind Of Scary, Even For Me” – MM Meets Roy Woods
30 Mar 2023
Coming up to almost a decade in the game, Roy Woods has already proven himself to be one of the most innovative voices in the world of R&B. The OVO signee burst onto the scene with his debut project, ‘Exis’, in 2015, which cemented Woods as a heavy hitter within his genre. Since this breakthrough, Woods has experimented with different sounds, working with the likes of Drake, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and Nines to name just a few. As he gets ready to release his latest project, ‘Mixed Emotions’, the Canadian artist looks set to embark on a new chapter in his already stellar career. I caught up with Roy to discuss his journey so far, his place in the genre of R&B, and the assimilation of culture between London and Toronto:
Tell me about growing up in Brampton, Ontario…
Brampton was very interesting because it’s a little bit different from Toronto. People from Toronto would usually say Brampton is not a part of Toronto because it’s in the suburbs, but where I grew up? It was a little rough over there. We were always just causing trouble, running around, smoking weed you know? Teenager stuff.
I used to always sell clothes. Snapbacks and vintage gear was poppin’ so I used to never be home, just running around different parts of the city. I was taking the bus and just hustling to make a bag. It was interesting because there wasn’t a lot going on but you would get just enough of every kind of lifestyle and every form of life. In the city there was so much diversity so it was very interesting to say the least. You can definitely have fun in the city but it does run out.
What did you take musical inspiration from at this time? Who would you say were your influences?
I was listening to a lot of the biggest songs that were coming out because in school we were always talking about the new releases, so I was always big into anything new. Big Sean was big at the time, Wiz, A$AP, Drake, Nicki, Lil Wayne was huge, you know? Even Fab(olous), a lot of Rap. On the R&B side, The-Dream was popping them times. I used to listen Bobby V. when I was a kid because my Mom loved Bobby. We would always play Ne-Yo, Usher, Chris Brown. Chris was big then and I remember he started rapping with Tyga and stuff. That was interesting. We were just taking in anything and everything, really.
Your first big record came in 2015 with ‘Exis’. How do you think that project has shaped the rest of your career?
It shaped me in a way where I feel like I could be as vulnerable as possible, and it wouldn’t be looked at a way, which was perfect for me because that’s what I love doing. I do make a lot of different types of music, right? I came up rapping first, in a Rap group called High Rollers Club: HRC for short. So I used to rap before I started singing so I was always just tapping into different sounds trying to find out like, “Okay, what’s my lane?”
When Exis dropped it gave me a chance to really tell my stories the way I wanted to, in a sense. I can tell these love stories, right? I really wanted to tell a lot of love stories: The good, bad, whatever I felt like. You know, no one really made music like that as much and if they did, it was only for a short time period, or you’d only get glimpses of it. I really wanted to stay in that realm of just releasing a lot of emotional music. Exis allowed me to be that and still kind of do a lot of different stuff. For a song like ‘Innocence’ for example, it’s completely different from the rest of the EP but it still is very emotional and raw. I could still have the freedom to do what I wanted to and not be looked at as different or weird.
As you said, you’re willing to show emotion in your music. Would you say that your vulnerability is one of your greatest strengths?
Yes, most definitely. I go to places I feel like artists may be scared to go to sometimes. Honestly, being that vulnerable was kind of scary, even for me because getting further into my career, I started going through more stuff, right? I feel like it made me more of a private person, so it became harder for me to become more vulnerable even though that’s what people know me for. Low key I’ve been trying to figure how to become just as vulnerable as I used to be, without making it feel like I’m saying too much, you know?
There’s a lot of versatility across your discography. If you listen to ‘Dem Times’ for example, it almost sounds completely different from ‘Exis’. What do you put that versatility down to?
I feel like with Dem Times, compared to a lot of other projects I was like, “Okay, let me give them a side of Roy that they never seen before.” It’s always been there. To everybody else, it felt brand new, but to everybody around me who knew me, it was like, “Okay, well, now they get to hear this side.” It wasn’t far fetched for me, because as I told you earlier I was rapping from before I was dropping music when I was singing. Everybody knew I rapped and my fans from early – early, early, Roy Woods fans like, from 2015 days – heard those songs and stuff. When I did drop Dem Times, I was giving people that piece of me, that side of me. It was just very unfamiliar with my fan base and what they know Roy Woods to be, right? To them I’m a very vulnerable, emotional, sad, melancholy kind of guy. So yeah, I feel like you could say it was down to experience, but it wasn’t a side that was unfamiliar with me.
As you’ve alluded to earlier, the lines between Rap, Hip-Hop, and R&B have been blurred in recent years. Do you see this as a good thing?
I feel like it doesn’t happen enough. I feel like, you know, when it does happen, it’s like a little moment, but it’s not like back in the days in the mid 2000s. There was hits dropping where you got the the R&B hook and then rappers just drop some bars in the verse. Those vibes you don’t really hear anymore. I really think we do need more of it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. I think we just need more, you know?
What do you think of the state of R&B at the moment? Is it in a good place?
I feel like R&B is not in a bad place and it does have a lot of moments, but it’s not the moment. Trap music has been everywhere since 2016 and all types of Drill have taken over now which I feel like is a continuation of Trap music. I wouldn’t say that these sounds need to die down, either. Trap music and Drill music are just the front runners right now. So yes, I feel like R&B could be in a better position, but it’s not in a bad place at all. As R&B artists we really just need to come together and make the most of these moments.
Where do you see yourself in that space? Do you think you can be at the forefront of that genre?
2000%, definitely at the forefront. I feel like I’m gonna bring so many different things when it comes down to the sound of R&B. Not just with my voice but through my delivery, the type of sounds that I can bring, the nostalgic feelings that I’m bringing, I’ve been on this wave where I’m, I’ve been experiencing with so many different flavours of sound, different eras of sound besides R&B. I’ve just been on some crazy scientific shit of just trying to create something out of nothing really and make it feel new, but also feel like something that we have heard before growing up. I’m looking a lot at the 90’s and early 00’s and kind of revamping it. I feel like I’m going to be right there. I want the other R&B artists to bring their A-game because I’m not playing – I know that. I know there’s a lot of fire out there so when we come together it’s definitely going to be crazy. I’m excited and I know I’ll be there.
Across your career you’ve worked with UK artists from Nines to Tinie Tempah. Are there any other artists you’re checking for right now?
I like Jim Legxacy, I like the energy he’s bringing and he’s going up right now, for sure. I’ve been taking Central Cee in for a few years now, like before he got big big. I’m glad to see where he’s going. He’s always been a personal favourite. Stefflon Don as well – she’s always hard.
We see a lot of collaborations between the UK and Canada from yourself to the likes of Drake, NorthSideBenji, Skiifall. Do you think that’s down to the similarities between the two?
I feel like Toronto and UK, besides the music, is always so relatable just because of the diversity and the culture is so similar. I’ve been into UK music from like 2011 when Grime was big, right? In the city we always knew about it and one of my big bros was always listening to that stuff. We always appreciated the scene and listened to the music and I’m very glad to see where it’s at right now from where it’s come from.
We’re also underdogs when you look at it, right? Coming together as underdogs doing big dog shit – it’s dope, you know? I feel like it’s definitely because of the culture: just us paying attention to each other for so long. It was bound to happen. Even working with UK artists, it was never something that seemed far-fetched. In Toronto, we always had a scene here too, but it was never where it is right now. Now is the time, right? I feel like both places know each other’s cultures and so we can come together and appreciate each other’s music.
You’re soon about to close the chapter on the first decade of your career. What’s been the highlight for you and is there anything you would have done differently?
I feel like I should have probably taken a little more control earlier on in my career with certain things going on. I feel like not taking control didn’t hold me back tremendously, but it definitely didn’t help me. Besides that, I don’t really regret anything. I love the run; I love the things that I was able to do. Madison Square Garden twice? A lot of artists can’t do that or say that. I’m very blessed and thankful for a lot of the opportunities that I had.
I managed to make new fans around the world – like I met Mike Tyson! One time we were jamming out and I was singing and he was just rocking to my shit. I saw him from the stage and I was like “Oh shit, that’s Mike Tyson!” Someone came up to me and told me that he wanted to meet me. It was such a mindfuck, it was crazy. Even little moments like that you have to be thankful for.
You recently released a single on Valentine’s Day and am I right in saying you’ve got an album coming out soon?
Yeah, ‘Mixed Emotions’ on the way.
What can we expect from the new project?
A lot of R&B Roy. I’m going to be giving a lot of those flavours that I was talking about. I’m trying to give that nostalgic feeling, very vulnerable too. There’s three different types of love stories on the album. I know a lot of my fans have been craving that. I’m also trying to give people some new flavours they haven’t had before. I feel like everything’s been coming from a mature place since my previous project, ‘Say Less’. You’re gonna get something similar but it’s very amplified. I’m coming from a mature place so it sounds different. Not too different because it’s still me, but it’s a very mature sound.
What do you put this maturity down to?
A lot of growth. A lot of growth with myself, with the music that I want to make. I want people to view me as the type of artist I am right now, instead of the kid that they met me as. So yeah, I feel like there’s just a lot of growth going on in my life, and everything I do in my music reflects my life, so it’s one of one.
Going forward, what plans do you have for the rest of the year?
As soon as I drop that album, I’m trying to get back on a road and tour a lot of places. You’re gonna see me everywhere. I ain’t stopping (Laughs) you’re gonna get annoyed of me. I definitely want to tap in to different markets – smaller markets, big markets. I want to be everywhere that I haven’t before. There’s so many fans from different places and I see all the love I get from my DM’s so I see it all. Whether it’s across the world or in Canada or America, I’m definitely going to be outside.
Thanks for your time, Roy!
Thank you, appreciate you■
Self assured and passionate about his craft, Roy Woods seems confident he can be the artist to lead the genre of R&B to new heights for the rest of his career. Woods seemed to have a genuine excitement about the prospect of his new project, which bodes well for his listeners. With ‘Mixed Emotions’ dropping soon, the artist looks to illustrate his newfound maturity and growth as a person through his music, building upon his early successes and redefining his sound along the way.