Roy Woods is the person you wish you were. Aside from his clear musical talent (his sound is synonymous with slow wining in the club and slipping into a fluffy bathrobe after a long soak), the OVO-signee is everything you'd want in a good date: polite? Sure. Playful? Definitely. But above all, pretty damn passionate.
Which definitely hasn't hindered his allure. Woods, formerly Denzel Spencer, sexily addresses all the issues plaguing those seeking love in the digital age through his music, as well as the most regrettable aspects of the human experience (one of his greatest hits is titled "Jealousy"), with wisdom one might not believe possible of his 21 years. His recent release, sophomore project Say Less, is the manifestation of all this and more. Woods smooth Patois-tinged vocals slither across lyrics in a way that would have you Shazam-ing at your local spot, or swan-diving in your feelings on a Sunday night. Much of the Brampton-born singer's appeal is that he's unafraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, and unashamed to be labeled "soft." The young romantic already had his heart broken thrice, dealt with drug abuse and depression, all of which he has channeled into a musical output that rivals some of Toronto's heaviest hitters.
Now, Woods is working on a new mixtape and preparing for a North American Say Less tour, but right this minute, he's sitting in a Toronto hotel bar describing the double standard that surrounds male and female sexual agency. It's a long way from releasing indie collabs with up-and-comers on the city's burgeoning R&B scene, and Woods hasn't stopped moving since, earning co-signs from OVO's finest, Drake and DVSN, on top of a whole heap of love from across the border. PAPER sat down with the singer to chat rap vs. R&B, putting down the prescription pills and his checkered history with the ladies.
What do you think it is about your music that connects?
I don't know what it is, I really don't. I think it's just good music.
Did you think about rapping?
I rap, too.
I've never heard a rap track from you.
Because I haven't dropped anything. But you're going to hear it on this mixtape. I'm rapping on this mixtape, but just a little bit, not too much. There's no sauce. I was thinking, for me emotionally, there are a lot of emotions and feelings that are sometimes left out from the music. There are rappers that make R&B songs, but there's no rapper rapping about the R&B lifestyle.
What is the R&B lifestyle?
It's more about loving women instead of degrading them.
Right, it's not like, "I fuck bitches and keep it moving." It's tender.
Exactly, it's more like, "I want to keep you." Corny stuff.
You have a super feminine energy, too. Do you get that a lot?
Yeah, I do. People just don't know how to engage, they don't know how to be a person. There's nothing to be so cool about. What, just 'cause your outfit is like, twenty racks? That's cool, I can do the same shit, but I don't. I'm a human being, I have to shit like you, I have to go to the doctor's just like you, I feel like shit when I wake up, brush my teeth. We all have to do the same things as human beings, and it doesn't make me any different from you just because of what I do.
How do people react to you? Can you still be normal, do you get recognized? What's Toronto like, being well-known?
People tell me that the time, they're like, "Yo, you're the weirdest… Most different celebrity I've ever met." But the celebrities I'm friends with, they're like me. They're my friends I link up with, I talk to, seeing how they doing — like family. Those guys are the nicest guys on Earth. It's crazy. A lot of them have a much different lifestyle to me but you'd never know. Jaden Smith comes from a different lifestyle, and PnB Rock comes from a different lifestyle. But they both have such beautiful energies.
Pnb Rock may be the best person I have ever met.
Really? I told you, he's amazing! His energy is spreading, and it's so amazing to see that. A street guy with such energy like that.
You also always find that these people are so enduring as artists or have had such long careers and just stayed relevant for so long, are the people that just everyone just loves. It's the French Montanas, or the Drakes. It's just the ones that everyone goes, "Man, he's just the nicest dude."
Facts. When you can really be a nice guy in this industry, and people can talk about it and really know that you're being genuine in the nicest way, it will work better than being an asshole or trying to be the cool guy. It doesn't really last. It goes for a couple of years and that's it, most people forgot about you.
Have you experienced the other side of the coin, people affected by fame negatively?
Around me, yes. To some friends and shit, yeah. With family, yeah. In order for me, I have to cut people off or I keep you at a distance, because I love you and I want to have you around, but I can't because you're bringing me down as a person. But I'm trying to focus on other things. Everybody has wants and needs, and I'm just the person others look to for help or for guidance. It's just the energy, People just love my energy, my mom always told me, "You have your dad's energy, everyone goes to you."
It's really exciting to meet someone who's just grateful to be here. You can feel the passion.
I've just been waiting for this.
But you always knew this was going to be your life?
No, not at all. I just knew I wanted to do something like this. I didn't want to do anything in school. I did not want to go to college and not be happy with that for the rest of my life. I knew that, and I didn't want to be like those kids. I had friends who were older, and they're telling me, "Nah bro, I dropped out of school. Fuck that shit, I want to go work and make some money." When I'm hearing that kind of shit, I'm like, "Why am I going to put myself through that, too?"
What do you think your place is in music?
I feel like, as of right now, where the music is is not where I'm at. I don't say or give the same message that a lot of other artists do, when I speak for my music.
In what sense?
In the sense of my content. I don't say I'm fucking a bitch. I don't say that shit. I don't say I'm popping molly and pulling up in the 'rari, or have three shawties.
Why not? You could.
Exactly, I can, but that's not me. I will rap what I do live, when I rap I talk about what I live and what I'm around. The people around me, what I see, shit like that. But, I don't fabricate it. I don't want to rap and give them this bullshit, than anybody could make it. I'd rather give them real music. That's what I'm about, and it's what I've always been about. I'm not going to give out just trash. I'm not saying it's trash, because I listen to a lot of this shit. I used the wrong words, it's not trash, it's like energy music. I don't know how to say it, but the music makes you want to feel good.
It's interesting, because I find that now, there's a lot of hip hop panic. I think there's a lot of, What happened to the Nas and the Jay-Zs, the Tupacs and the Biggies? What happened to the projects, and your baby mama not picking up her phone? Now we're singing about Percocet and molly. It's really interesting to see that shift.
I feel like everything's gotten dumbed down now. I used to love that rap, I loved Biggie and and all that shit. But I don't want to hear that shit no more. I'm tired of hearing of that.
You want something that will perk you up.
Sometimes, you do. We need all kinds of music in life. I listen to R&B when I'm sad, and only when I'm sad.
You only listen to R&B when you're sad?
Only when I'm sad. I listen to 90's R&B. I just stick with it. I go to my "Marvin's Room," I listen to that, and I'm gone. I'm just tearing, I want to cry. But there are times where I'm like, I want to feel good and just turn up and be lit. So, I'll blast Rich the Kid, whoever. Lil Uzi [Vert], whoever.
You say you feel like music has dumbed down, but you talk about it as if it's not a bad thing.
No, because it's not. It's made it so much more creative. There's not just rappers anymore. It's just artists now. If somebody wants to drop bars, they can drop bars. Really, the crowd that you're presenting the art to, does not want to hear that. That's what it is now. We don't want to hear that shit, we don't want to hear bar for bar for bar like that.
That also mirrors the movement towards popping prescription pills. Drinking and weed isn't enough anymore, it's soccer mom pills.
But the thing is it's so normal. I didn't realize how normal it was, because I used to do that shit. But that was like a year ago, and I was asked, "Do you do anything else? Do you smoke weed?" and I was like, "Oh yeah I use lean, molly, it was just normal."
Now you don't fuck with those, though?
A month before Lil Peep died I stopped using Xanax.
I had an experience and that changed my life.
Like a dark trip?
It wasn't like it was a bad trip, it's just that Xans make you not remember. And when you drink, you're basically date-rape drugging yourself. I drink, and I was off the Xans, but I didn't know how much I was poppin'. It was for a long run of time, and it just got out of control. I thought I had it under control, that was the bad thing.
Did you self medicate, or was it for fun?
It was not for fun, but it was almost to stay sane. I was in a headspace where I was fucked up. I never felt that fucked up in my head to the point where I can't control things. I felt like I was in my teenage years again. It just brought back trauma, and it put me in the worst headspace of just abusing drugs. I didn't care, it got to a point to where abusing drugs can let the drugs abuse you, and that's basically what happened. It didn't take me that far to Lil Peep.
Was it the pressure of the release?
No, not even that. It was personal shit. Music was amazing, it was going perfect. No problems, nothing. But my personal life, I was just doing so much at one time, I didn't even know what to do. I just started doing drugs, saying fuck it, fuck everybody, fuck it all, I was running my own world. It was really weird. Thank god I have the people around me.
Was that around you, too? You, and your friends or family?
No, I was alone. I became dependent on it for music.
Just to be creative?
Yeah, I knew when I was off Xans, I said things that I don't care about. I didn't want to disappoint people around me, they put so much into me that they didn't have to, like sacrificing their own life to get this. So, I didn't want to disappoint them. They've invested as much time on me as I invested on them as well. So, I had to say, fuck that.
That's a lot of pressure, too, having a lot of people rely on you like that.
It is, it really is. But I wouldn't be in this position if I couldn't have it, that's what I taught myself. God has me here for a reason, and I'm here not just to better myself but other around me. I always wanted to do this anyways.
You got a gift.
And I'm going to use it to the best of my abilities.
But you're chilling on weed now, right?
I smoke it, I smoke a lot of weed. I've been trying to peel back, I've been having my on and off seasons. One time I'm smoking a lot, and then a week or two I'm smoking like two blunts a day.
Let's talk about Say Less. You just want everyone to be stripped down? Totally authentic and genuine?
Yeah, like why lie? You're lying to protect something. But when you're protecting that something it's going to come out and you no longer have any obligation to protect it.
So when going into creating this album, what spurred this whole direction?
My personal life of lies.
Even me. I went through my own fair share of lying.
But look at us now. We're always trying to project the best versions of ourselves online. It's not lying, per se, but it's definitely fabricating something.
When it comes down to certain things, especially when they matter, don't tell me you're going to do this and do that and beat around the bush, just show me. I've had friends that tell me, "Yeah I'm going to do this," and it takes them months, years, just to do it. And they never come through. It makes no sense, and you look like the idiot.
One of your greatest hits addresses jealousy, you depict human emotion so intuitively.
Because I don't get jealous. I used to get jealous.
Well, girls didn't want me. Now the opposite effect now happens.
You have to talk them down?
I really do, and I have to make sure that everything's okay. People get out of their minds, especially when they really want something. They'll do a lot, and when they want to to turn into love, they go crazy.
Are you in love right now?
I mean, I have a crush.
How are girls reacting to you? I mean you're not only famous, but you make sexy music.
They get shy.
Then how do you date?
I really don't know.
The DMs are poppin, but they're never poppin' for that. I don't know, I like natural connections.
Because you have all this material, though, that addresses this insane, twisty-turny relationship.
If I have like a chapter with you, I can keep you around in my life because I cherish you for that. So we can stay friends because I've had the opposite effect. Or it was like a really bad heartbreak, I've had three.
You've had three heartbreaks at 21? That would make me want to kill myself.
I almost did. I was going to commit suicide, after my second one.
Do you ever talk about this?
No, I just started getting comfortable with this. I told my close friends at the time, but I didn't really come out about it like that. Only a couple of people really knew. But now I'm open about it.
She broke up with you?
No, the thing is that we weren't even dating. It's a crazy story. I was dating her friend, and we broke up, and her friend left and went to the beach or some shit. And me and her, we were talking about the breakup when my ex left. Then we started hanging out, then I caught feelings. She was a girl that I thought would never even look my way. So when I had someone so attractive attracted to me, it was over for me. I don't get those, but it just turned bad. She kept lying to me about wanting to be with me, "I love you" and this and that, but she was going out with other guys. I was helpless at this point, I'm kind of waiting for her at this point. She just continued to lead me on until I gave up.
That's the thing too, like how do you navigate that? Especially when you're, like, 21, you're career is taking off. How do you stay grounded when everybody's trying to take a piece.
You don't let them take any pieces.
But how do you stop? How do you know who's genuine?
I'm good at picking up people.
I don't know. That's a good question. I can just smell the finessing. I've been around it, I can smell it like food. I'm a skinny-fatty, I got a good smell for food. And if I can smell food I can smell the finesse. I'm a good reader. Body language, the way they present themselves, the things that they say and the tones. There's so many finessers. They come too close, it's like they want you to know. The people that are annoying, they know they're being annoying, but they keep on going.
Do you have a favorite track from yourself?
The last one.
It's a deep song.
You're pretty deep, you're a deep dude.
Yeah, I always am deep. But, I produced that song with FrancisGotHeat, and that's the first song I've ever gone and produced, and it's the slowest song on the album. It's more of a love song. The feeling that song gives me, every time I listen to it, and when I perform it, it just takes over me.
How do you feel performing songs like that? I know a lot of artists won't perform their really deep, emotional shit because they don't wan to go to that place.
No, I want to. It's music, you can't be scared of it. I'll cry in front of a crowd, I don't care. They can judge me, I don't care. It's music, it's all feelings. I have to show that feeling to your guys, let you know how I feel.
You don't worry people might think you're soft?
Everybody already thinks I'm soft. Everybody knows who I am already, they know I'm soft and that I'm a lover. I'm a guy who just loves girls, can't even care about the guys because he love girls. That's me, I'm always for the girl. I've got a lover mind that wants to respect women.
So does music that objectifies women disappoint you?
Well, no, because there are those women in the world. There are lots, the ones that act crazy. I've had my fair share, because that shit's real. There are girls that actually do some foul shit, they're crazy. They're always after something. I feel like if you want to behave a certain way, that's how you're going to get treated. That's how it is in the world. It's got to come from the guy and the girl. The one thing I don't like is that girls get disrespected more or looked down more and called a hoe, but men are the worst whores in the world. We're the biggest whores, actually. There are way more guy whores than girls.
It's a stigma.
Exactly, for a guy it's ok but for a girl it's like, "Ew, you're a whore." I respect a girl that just tosses me, I don't see her as a whore I just see her doing her thing. If a girl is doing some serious cheating shit, it might be a different story. Like spiteful stuff just to hurt somebody. Guys do that too, but when girls do that, it's really fucked. Nowadays it happens a lot. It happens too much.
Has that happened to you?
I'm going through that.
It literally just happened. It was like cheating, just fucking my friends. I don't talk to any of those guys no more. It's fucked up. That's why I was on drugs, I was just dealing with the aftermath. I found out a year later through her best friend.
I know that someone talked to you about Harvey Weinstein, do you feel like a reckoning is coming to the music industry in relations to sexual assault?
I don't know, honestly. You know what's so crazy, I was just reading about three ex-football players, one a hall of famer, that were accused of sexual harassment.
I feel like anyone within the industry just gets so detached and entitled because of the fandom.
Facts, and it's that power, but you should never get that feeling. I don't feel like I'd ever get like that, I just live my day to day normally... I'm going to want a normal life, but that's just how I am though. The people that get caught up, they're just looking at the wrong picture. I feel like I'm just going to have fun with it.
This restaurant is still playing More Life. I've never seen such a commitment to Drake than in this city.
He is the god, he's the man here. That's how Toronto looks at him, that's how he made himself.
What has it been like for you watching the city grow?
I'm growing with it. I want it to grow even more.
Are you going to stay, though?
Oh, of course. Well, I mean I'm going to leave, but I'm always going to come back. It's always going to be home, and I don't always want to be gone. Home is home for me. I just love it here.
So, what is it that you want from OVO, Toronto, music? A Grammy? Drake status?
Roy Woods status.
What's Roy Woods status?
You're going to see. The whole world is going to see Roy Woods status. That's what it is.
Stream Say Less by Roy Woods, below.
Photography by Drew Carry