While Drake has always been generous with his praise of other artists, only a handful actually sign their name on the dotted line to join the coveted OVO Sound roster. After being handpicked by Drake, Oliver El-Khatib and Noah "40" Shebib, Roy Woods knew he had to take control of this co-sign of a lifetime that so young artists can only dream of.
To keep from buckling under the pressure, the 22-year-old singer from Brampton, Canada, made sure he set his own pace. Since being signed in 2015, he released two EPs that wove together his takes on heartbreak, small-town experiences, and elements of his Guyanese culture while headlining his own solo tours to ensure he built up and nurtured his own fanbase before any other major moves.
Woods is currently opening up for Drake and Migos on the nationwide Aubrey & The Three Migos Tour, where he finds himself center stage in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans who -- although they paid to see the 6 God and the Atlanta trap trio -- cling onto every word of Roy’s hits like “Drama” and “Get You Good.”
His journey is rapidly progressing, but Woods has learned to keep a tight grasp on reality and not fold under the expectations placed on him from being signed to one of the biggest artists in the world. His most recent album, Say Less, is a testament to how he achieves this: block out all the noise while letting your actions speak. “There’s no need for the gossip and conversations when you can just say less and do so much more,” he told Billboard back in March.
With this mind-set, his extremely close-knit team, and his OVO labelmates who treat him like a “normal guy still,” Woods is able to keep the strength and poise that propels him to deliver great performances under the colossal spotlight and also make some of the best and most “mature” music he has ever made.
Roy Woods recently sat down with Billboard to discuss what life is like on the road with Drake and Migos, meeting icons like Stevie Wonder and Mike Tyson, and about that one time he truly almost gave everything up, but didn’t.
Wow, you’re really out here on the Aubrey & The Three Migos Tour, man. Has it all sunk in yet?
Tour life is lit and it’s a lot. I usually just be chilling on my dolo, but I’m with the dancers a lot too and they’re fucking hilarious. My favorite song to perform is “Love You.” It honestly did hit me, though. Pretty much the first show. It wasn’t even onstage while I was performing, actually. I was watching the show from the crowd, like I was watching Drake and Migos perform. I was like, “Holy shit. I’m really out here. I’m 22 years old and I’m doing arenas.” It’s surreal.
Oh, I’m 22 too. You know. Us young'ns out here or whatever.
Wow, it’s lit! Laughs] I never knew my life would be like this at this age. Definitely didn’t. I’m going day-by-day. This is just a hobby. That’s all I used to do music for. Do it for fun to keep it fun.
A hobby? So what’s your main thing then?
Shit, I play video games a lot. Laughs] I just started playing FIFA again. I play a lot of nerdy games you probably wouldn’t know. My sister put me onto them.
Speaking of your sister, I know she did the artwork for your most recent album, Say Less. How did it feel to see that come together?
Amazing. It’s amazing. My sister did this, and now the whole world can see it? It made me feel really great as a brother. I just told her to do it, and she was like, "Sure." It was real easy for her. She does this. I gave her songs and ideas of what I wanted for the album. She took all that into her art, came up with a couple ideas. We went with the second idea.
What was it like meeting Stevie Wonder? He’s my No. 1 of all time. What did he say? Was he nice? What did he smell like?
Oh my God. Yo! I did a complete 180 and just *starts furiously fake sprinting*. It was Chicago on the Drake and Migos tour. I had to! The moment was too real. It was crazy. My engineer was like, “This is Roy Woods, Drake’s artist.” He was like, “Keep doing your thing, boy.” Jesus! It was crazy. Laughs] I can’t really tell you what he smells like, but I remember he has really soft hands.
And I met Mike Tyson yesterday. I was going to the bathroom and one of his dudes stopped me like, “Yo, your performance was amazing!” He tapped Mike and was like, “Look!” I was like, “Oh shit!” He was like, “Great performance, I enjoyed it. Keep doing your thing and don’t stop.” We spoke some more and Mike was lit and he’s just so friendly. He’s actually probably my favorite person I’ve met so far out of everyone. I heard he was dancing along to my performance. Like, Mike Tyson told me I can’t stop, so I really can’t stop now.
What’s your favorite thing about being signed to OVO?
That I’m normal still. They make me feel like just a normal guy still. Nobody treats nobody different and everybody gets treated like a human being. I could hit my label on some real shit. Talk to them, ask them for advice about my life. I’m like, “Yo, I’m going through this,” and they’re never going to give me some bullshit advice. They give me the real.
I talk to PARTYNEXTDOOR a lot, mostly about music. I’d be stuck. Last time I ever had writer’s block, I got out of it for good because of him. He was like, “Stop. Don’t stress upon the music. Go live your life. Just go live your life and come back to it. If you keep trying to force something, it’s not going to happen. Let it be natural.” I love talking to Party. He wants me to be the best me. That’s what I want for myself, to be the best Roy Woods, and that’s what he wants from me too.
I swear this is a true story and I even have the receipts. I remember I DM’ed you two years ago when Nocturnal came out because I thought it was amazing and I wanted to interview you, but you didn’t answer and --
Laughs] Oh shit! I can’t even log onto Twitter on my phone anymore.
I only bring it up because I think it’s cool now that we’re sitting here and the interview is happening regardless, and while you’re doing even crazier, bigger things now. Have you had a moment like that yet where something didn’t wind up happening for you, but eventually with perfect timing, things came full-circle?
Yes. Before I went on tour with Drake last time, I was supposed to go on a Europe tour, but I canceled that. It was my tour. I really canceled my own whole Europe tour to go on the road with Drake and Future instead.
I’m happy I did that, though. I just left Europe and came back recently. But just now, there were so many people in Europe just yelling, “I’ve waited three years for you, bro!” They knew every single word. It was so crazy and mind-blowing. That was one thing that I wanted to happen. I wanted to go to Europe and really get to the fans. I realize I’m glad I waited because it was just such a better experience for everybody.
You spoke with Billboard back in March and the interview left off with how you’re going to deliver sounds that we’ve never heard from you. Although you’re on tour, have you had time to be in the studio and figure out what those new sounds are?
I have so much new material that I’m so ready to give out. It’s nothing that anyone has ever heard from me. It’s just more mature. I’d say there’s more energy, more fun. There’s more head-knockers. Then, when I really want to put you in your feels, I’ll really make you want to feel like you want to cry. You’re going to be like, “What the heck is going on in Roy’s life? Wow.” I’ve played it for people and they’ve been like, “Wow, I’ve never heard you like this.”
Were you ever close to truly giving up?
I felt suicidal. This was 2016 during the summertime. We have something called Toronto Island, and between that we have Lake Ontario and boats go to the lakefront and to the island. It’s really similar to how Chicago has their lakeshore. I used to live across the street from there. I remember it was like 5 in the morning, no one’s there, and the sun was coming up. I can’t swim, and I remember I was thinking of the worst things possible. I was like, “What if I just jump in? Fuck it.” I don’t know what brought me there. I just felt that way, and I was feeling that way for a long time. I remember sitting on the corner of that wooden shore just looking at the water.
I was thinking to myself, “Is it worth it? I mean, I’m already here. What else am I going to do?” So much was running through my head. I was there for like 30 whole minutes, just contemplating it. I touched the water and just walked away. Thinking back, I think I felt that I was in too deep into my life already, and that’s what stopped me. I think there’s more to see and more for me to experience.
If someone reading this is feeling like that 2016 Roy right now, what would you say to them?
Life is the only thing we have. Death is the only thing we’re promised. So why give it to yourself so fast?