It’s mid-June and the pandemic that’s sweeping the world has accelerated across North America. Kinshasa-born Toronto-based artist Keynes Woods has retreated back to Ottowa. The port of call after migrating from the DRC at the tender age of 8. “That’s why I came back to Ottowa, I’m just gonna take care of myself a little while.” He begins, talking over the phone, as we discuss the highs and lows of a lockdown-existence. “A lot of people are under pressure to do this and that. Take this time to cool it. I do feel that pressure (to be productive), but at the same time I need to remind myself that there’s two sides to the coin. You shouldn’t force yourself to do certain things. Just take it easy, be nice to yourself.” It’s a time of comfort-seeking and familiarity, perhaps contributing to the lack of breakthrough artists this year. Yet, it’s their music, their art, their existence that provide us with a sentiment of solace and hope. Keynes is no exception.
Back in February, Keynes Woods dropped what was his first EP, Kongo Kane, a 5-track self-referential nod to his alter-ego, rapping his way through immersive sonics, flexing his versatility and energy. As impressive as the EP may have seemed, it appears to be the proverbial first dip in the pool. Right when I put it [Kongo Kane] out, I started working on this next tape and I’ve just been tryna’ figure out what direction I’m trying to go in” he explains. “My career path has just been super interesting. I had such a high point at a very early stage in my career…” referring to his 2018 amex Colours performance. “I had a high point at a stage where I hadn’t figured everything out yet. The EP was a culmination of the dopest songs I had with my home producer Rekk [Channing “REKKZONE” Anderson]. That collection was like a year or two of music we had. We put it together and figured out the narrative around it. The commonalities. We built a world around that and put it out.”
Throughout Kongo Kane, semantics of self-discover, realisation and duality unveil themselves. They’re reflective of your suspected ‘starving artist’ yet carry themselves confidently with a sense of antagonism. Keynes both questions and feels himself. He has high and he has lows, but throughout, you can hear the progression. This idea of opposing forces provides the foundation of his new video Tim Burt, which was filmed earlier this year in London. “That was the name of the beat [Tim Burt]. Thematically, we were going for a mood. The song’s supposed to give off the Tim Burton feel. I got in the studio, Rekk was playing some shit, you know how it is man, drinking, smoking… whatever. Tim Burt came out of that. The director, Tim Burton, had more influence on Rekk than me.”
“I’ve been to London before…” reflecting on what had been his biggest production to date. “When I started making music I knew I wanted to have epic videos. I used to try to figure out how to do that myself. Paying to rent a camera, finding the right people to put stuff together, but with this, it was like, ‘ok now you’ve got like a team of people that are really interested in what you’re doing.’ Everyone coming together, the set was just crazy. Having a stylist, makeup, that whole experience. Just making that video was an ‘oh wow’. From running chasing people around to this? Know what I mean. Ok, literally just making that video felt like an accomplishment for me. It turned out amazing too.” The video depicts Keynes playing two different characters, leaning heavily on his ability to perform as not only a rapper, but an actor in his own right. “Honestly, at first, I wasn’t fully sure. They presented me with a completely different treatment than I had in mind. The director wanted me to like act a bit more and show a different side. He wanted it to be very movie like…So I had to take the chance and try my hand at a little bit of acting, so there’s the two characters. There’s the one Keynes, then the other one who’s kinda just like the regular me. It was pretty fun to do and I’m glad we went in that direction. Pushing some of my boundaries and trying new stuff which I always like. It’s very dark, moody, and cinematic. Dope ass video.”
Most notably upon review however, are the consistent traces of aggression throughout Keyens music. I questioned it’s source. This is something I’m actually tryna change now, I hope I don’t lose that in the music, but I just feel like….I honestly constantly feel overlooked. I constantly feel like I have something to prove. Especially when I started this stuff, I never had that much support. Having a constant chip on my shoulder. Which again is a pro and a con. You don’t wanna be that dude where people fuck with you but you still feel some type of way. That aggression comes from having a constant chip on my shoulder and having something to prove. When you feel special, it’s like, ok lemme show you.”
So what’s next? Keynes made it clear from the offset his next project is not one for the shallow listener. We can expect a lot more deeper cuts and a variety of producers. He’s working his way, patiently, as made clear through his parting words. “I just wanna be really good at what I do. Just to have that creative freedom. I look at others who are just able to live, make the type of stuff they want and impact the world in different ways through their work. I look at the people who have given me that and opened my eyes to stuff that I didn’t even know. That’s what I wanna do.”