It’s a uncomfortably scorching sunny start to June as Roy Wood$ is paraded across Kensington High Street rolling out of the Warner Music HQ. The British summer has arrived, as too has the Toronto-OVO native, on his first European tour. Bestowing the tour’s title, ‘Say Less‘, the debut studio album for Wood$, is a sparkling 16-piece ensemble, floating with satisfyingly resolutive melodies, spewing with confidence, versatility, and with a slight sprinkle of that 90s/R&B magic.
“I was literally just saying ‘Say less’ all the time, so to use it as the album title was natural for me”, Wood$ begins to explain, as we take our seats in our pop-up studio prior to a rooftop photo shoot at the label offices, eyes and lenses all pointing at a tranquil Wood$. “ ‘Yo say less fam, say less’. It means like, we don’t need to converse, ‘cus we already understand each other you know? We have a level of understanding, so say less you know.” Though far from his hometown of Brampton, Toronto, Wood$ is far from shy of delivering an overt explanation of the slang used across the pond. “When it comes down to the music, it’s kind of the same thing.”
This being his first time in Europe, and just one London show deep into the tour, Wood$’ excitement and energy emulates on both the album, and what would later be witnessed that night, his performance.
Following the release of three extremely potent EPs; ‘Exis’ in 2015, followed by 2016’s ‘Waking At Dawn’ and ‘Nocturnal’, the album, led with singles ‘Say Less’ and ‘What Are You On?’, saw Wood$ score a US Billboard Top 100, as well as an impressive 26th on Canada’s Billboard album charts. It was in fact, highly anticipated since the release of ‘Exis’, with heavyweight track ‘Drama, featuring The Boy himself, soaring to prominence. However, almost 3 full years later, the end of 2017 was seemingly the perfect time for ‘Say Less’ to come. “I felt like, the growth of my music, and me as a person, I needed to get my album out now…“ Wood$ explains with a hint of impatience on the release. “I didn’t feel like I wanted to give another EP that people maybe would’ve thought was an album… I wanted to give you the album now. It felt like it was time for me to show everybody what Roy really does, you know, instead of just giving a taste of it on an EP, you know?”
Music is never something you should be closed-minded about.
Though sonically, this latest effort from the OVO Sound camp is as versatile as ever, the album’s track-list, from the groovy upbeat MJ-esque ‘Little Bit of Lovin’ to a vocally entrancing ‘Monday To Monday’, holistically encapsulates the trademark Roy Wood$ presence. It’s somewhat experimental, something which Roy is clear to emphasise. “I’m always experimenting with my music. I feel like the more I experiment, the more I create and the more I like… go about it like a scientist. I see it as me working in the lab, you know. I always want to experiment. Music is never something you should be closed-minded about. There’s so much to learn from music.”
“All the producers I work with all the time, yeah I work with all those guys, everybody on that album…” he exclaims, after being quizzed on his ability to remain consistent despite having up to 15 credited producers on the album, including the likes of Murda Beatz, along with a handful of fellow sixers. “There was not really anybody new that I worked with… there are songs on the album that are a few years old. I knew I wanted them for an album. I knew what I wanted for my first album, but I didn’t know exactly how I wanted it to sound, but I knew what songs I wanted you know. I knew what I wanted the album to do. So there’s certain songs I saved and waited for the right time to put on the album.”
‘Undivided’, the closing track of ‘Say Less’, is the undeviating response when challenged with the supposedly impossible ‘favourite track’ question. A track that Wood$ co-produced (although un-noted) himself, with long-time collaborator, FrancisGotHeat. “We were just working one day, and we made the beat together. He was playing keys then we just took the sample to the studio, made the beat, started writing down the lyrics in my head, had a little idea, and was like yeah, that’s it. I helped with the process of not just the writing, but the creation of the beat itself too. It’s the first song I ever co-produced and put out.
“I’ve always had an interest in producing, and I’m doing it a lot right now with my DJ for a mixtape with UTU [Unlock The Underground, his hometown collective] and next album…”
Our conversation swiftly transforms into talk of his content and the overriding essence of vulnerability prevailing through the varying instrumentals of ‘Say Less’. “I feel like me being vulnerable as an artist is what makes me an artist… you know…” he begins to express. “Like, I talk about feelings, pain, relationships, memories, experiences. That’s why I make music, I love to listen to music that makes me feel. Happy or sad. I wanna hear that you know. If I’m feeling sad, I wanna hear a song that makes me really feel that, so that, I feel like somebody could relate. That’s why I love putting myself in a vulnerable state, and get those really sappy tracks out there you know.” Thus, arguably, such emotional receptiveness seeds the coherence of a multifaceted project. It pulls you in different directions, but you end up at the same destination.
Finding himself constantly returning to 90s R&B, Wood$ affirms his devotion to artists from Jagged Edge to Usher, influencing the 22-year-olds musical execution. Not to detract from current ‘new school’ influences too, Wood$ most notably commends Bronx teen-rapper Smooky MarGielaa.
The array of music influences Wood$ has exposed himself to serves as a reflection of the broad cultural impacts he speaks of, coming from the cosmopolitan melting pot of Ontorio’s capital. Starting his musical journey rapping at age 16, it wasn’t until his move from Brampton to downtown Toronto that Wood$ really began to open his art up. “Toronto has influenced my music so much. It’s what I’m around everyday, it’s what I grew up with. The culture around me, the people around me, you know it all makes up me and my city. So when you listen to me, when you look at me, I’m a representation of my city, and that’s for everybody there.”
“There were a lot of artists there that were coming up along side me…” he begins to reminisce on a seemingly not-so distant past. “So like, 88Glam, I was coming up with them. We were in the same clubs, always linking, seeing them everywhere I go, it was just a regular thing. So to see them now, you know, I’m very proud of them man, where they’ve been mad. It’s beautiful for our city man, we need that.”
Later that evening Roy heads back Camden’s’ Electric Ballroom for his second night in London. The diverse energy of his hometown is channelled into a tireless performance. The energy of a trap star with the profundity of a true R&B future icon is on show. His vitality is equalled by the 1,000+ venue, something he excitingly apprises in our chat earlier that day. “It’s so different out here compared to the US man. The feeling the vibe the energy the people, people react to the music differently. It’s way more energy from what I see. Way more energy here, and I don’t know why. They’re singing, louder, dancing, energy, you know!, and I get that in America, like a lot, they go crazy, but it’s like on another level. A level I’ve never seen. I’m just soaking it all up.”
Undoubtedly with a long career ahead of him, Wood$, though now strongly defined in the furnishings of OVO fortress, is most likely to cross the surrounding moat, and infiltrate playlists and charts with upcoming projects. ‘Say Less’ serves as an affirmation of both his imaginative artistry and commercial viability. With a collaborative mixtape with UTU on it’s way, and a sophomore album well in the works, we can’t wait for something new.