When Drake dropped “Marvin’s Room” — the lead single off the rapper’s sophomore album, Take Care — in 2011, a then 15-year-old Roy Woods had it on repeat for weeks on end.
Years later, it would remain his most-played song on iTunes and become a major influence on his songwriting. Little did Woods know, he would go on to sign under Drake’s label, OVO Sound, collaborate with the “Marvin’s Room” crooner himself, and become a member of the renowned OVO family within a few short years.
Roy Woods is somewhat of a hip-hop wunderkind. Not long ago, he was an aspiring rapper from Brampton, Ontario, playing football and attending classes at Turner Fenton Secondary School. Today, he is working with the likes of Drake, The Weeknd, PartyNextDoor and Future.
Music has always played an important role in Woods’ life; the first time he picked up a microphone, he performed “Miami” by Will Smith. The music his parents would play around the house, most prominently Michael Jackson, shaped who he would become as an artist and continues to influence the music he creates today.
In the often distracting world of hip-hop, where music videos and songs boast blinding opulence and unattainable lifestyles, Woods stands out by stripping things back down to the basics. He excels at writing songs that are rooted in his personal narrative, focusing on feelings and past relationships.
He strikes a delicate balance that only a few succeed in doing; he is sweet but not saccharine, relatable but not corny.
Though he is a rapper, Woods has an indisputably exquisite voice. He considers himself a singer above all else; his songs predominantly feature haunting vocals atop a track of intricate beats. There are moments of silence, echoes and orchestral swells, giving his work a signature dreamy quality that so many people have come to love.
Prior to Roy Woods, the Guyanese-Canadian originally operated under the moniker “Pression”. When that name no longer fit his aesthetic, Woods conducted an informal survey in the hallways of Turner Fenton in search for a new name. “Roy Woods” was the winner.
Since then, Woods has gone from regular talent nights at a local YMCA to posting his tracks onto his Soundcloud account to getting a call from Oliver El-Khatib, founder of OVO and Drake’s long-time manager.
“Man, it was actually mind-blowing, you know, even to this day. I was in Grade 7 when I started listening to Drake, I was 12 years old… so from listening to Drake [to Oliver] hitting me up and becoming a part of the family… I’m speechless a lot of the time… because it’s not something I try to spend time thinking about… I just thank God for this opportunity and I continue doing what I have to do,” said Woods.
The allure and mystique surrounding OVO is a global phenomenon. OVO has evolved into more than just “Drake’s brand,” and OVO Sound has become much more than just “Drake’s record label”. Legions of fans have made OVO a part of their identity.
"I love experiencing what those two worlds [have to offer] because there are [people who are so different but also so similar.]"
While Drake has become the global ambassador for Toronto, everyone in the OVO family has become Toronto hip-hop royalty. Since signing with OVO, Woods has catapulted from being a Soundcloud favourite cloaked in relative anonymity to global stardom.
He released his debut EP, Exis, in 2015, followed by 2016’s Waking At Dawn project and the Nocturnal EP, all to immense support and acclaim from fans and industry folk alike.
“It was a weird transition… [I was just a] high school kid from a small town… and now I’m out here [in Toronto] living this lifestyle… [with] lots of parties, lots of girls, lots of cool and creative people doing their own things. Music was my life, music was what I loved to do, but it was a hobby. Turning your hobby into… your career, you know, that’s [pretty dope].” said Woods.
Last summer, Woods landed one of the biggest gigs of his career thus far — opening for Drake and Future on the Summer Sixteen tour. The show featured guest appearances from a slew of hip-hop heavy weights and surpassed Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne tour in 2011 as the highest-grossing hip-hop tour of all time.
“[The Summer Sixteen tour] was lit… man, it was lit. That was a blessing… even when I think back to it now [I’m in disbelief]. Being on the tour I was constantly going: ‘This is sick, let’s do this, it’s game time,’ and then coming off of it I was like: ‘Wow, I just did that!’… the flashbacks that I have are crazy and beautiful all at once,” said Woods.
Still, the Brampton native doesn’t think he has made it big just yet. Although his world has changed drastically, he is more focused on what lies ahead in his life and career.
“The music, hip-hop lifestyle is a dream, you know. I feel like I step into two different worlds… when I’m strictly making music I’m on the grind and focused on creating music, but when I’m experiencing the lifestyle I’m out there [having a good time]. I love experiencing what those two worlds [have to offer] because there are [people who are so different but also so similar]… I’ve been learning a lot and taking in all of my surroundings,” said Woods.
Perhaps it is this humility and perspective that has garnered him such a dedicated base of supporters. Music aside, Woods is an extremely personable and cool guy. He is oddly relatable. He is an avid supporter of Supreme and Stone Island, just like many of his fans. “Mask Off” from Future’s recent release, HNDRXX, is his song of the moment. He has stayed in touch with people from high school, but only “the real ones.”
Currently, he is working on his debut album, Say Less.
Fans will have to hang tight to see what exciting collaborations will be featured on his latest project — and whether “Marvin’s Room” still plays an influential role in the Brampton native’s creative process today.