Roy Woods: Young OVO Star Behind The Beautiful Soul-Noir
Who Is Roy Woods?
Roy Woods (stylized to Roy Wood$), 20, is based in Ontario, California. His real name is Denzel Spencer and he is signed to OVO. Some of his biggest influences are PartyNextDoor, The Weeknd and Drake. Coy by nature, the interviews that he agrees to are few and far between; to our frustration, he rarely shares details about his personal life. It is unknown whether he currently has a girlfriend.
Although his music is certainly similar to that of the artists mentioned above, he has definitely created his own distinctive sound. He playfully explores the dancehall/island vibe, with laid-back, patois-rich vocals and sweeping, mellow synths, yet his music possesses a certain flair that few manage to compete with. While a number of his songs are calm and ambiguous, others express a particular angst that Roy Woods conveys with harsher vocals and heavier beats (e.g. Unleashed, from Exis).
He released his first studio album, Exis, in 2015. The first music video to be put out was Jealousy, which saw two million views in its first year of existence on YouTube. Exis only features six songs, all self-written. He considered Exis "more of an abstract concept than an album, beautiful and dreamy, but a precursor to a more polished future sound".
His most recent releases, Waking At Dawn (2016), Nocturnal (2016) and Say Less (2018), are certainly more elegant and refined than Exis. Roy Woods certainly knows how to deliver; the unwaveringly poignant Jamaican patois beats accompany his vocals splendidly in all 3 albums.
Roy Wood's Sound: Dancehall Meets Synth RnB
Denzel Spencer's music is effortless and light, while being catchy in a way that other artists fail to be. Many of his songs sound very Jamaican, featuring common patois like "gwan" and "come thru".
How Jamaican is Roy Wood's music?
As mentioned above, Spencer is never afraid to incorporate some of his roots into his synth-driven ballads, but his music comes across as mainly Western instead of authentically Jamaican. He definitely enjoys weed and mentions it in many of his songs; the music video for Jealousy is minimalistic and shows Spencer smoking up continuously, along to lyrics like "I stay high, never sober". However, his appreciation of the herb does not seem to extend beyond that of a recreational user. There is no mentioning of Jah or Rastafarian culture, simply some street patois and the mellow island-vibe that we all love.
Roy Woods' Sound: Dancehall Meets RnB
Traditional Jamaican dancehall is characterised by fast rhythm and optimistic, reggae undertones. Dancehall has been seen to appeal to the pop industry, due to its upbeat, summery nature. Artists such as Rihanna and Drake have taken advantage of this - Drake's song One Dance, which dominated the summer of 2016, is a good example of a catchy yet generic dancehall sound.
In my opinion, Spencer's only true dancehall song is Gwan Big Up Urself, the first single he released off Waking At Dawn. The rest of his music is predominantly RnB, and is the perfect amalgamation of sweeping vocabs, light use of vulgarities and sparkly, PartyNextDoor-esque synths.
Spencer's major influences are The Weeknd, Drake and PartyNextDoor. I would say that he is an uncanny mixture of all three, while also being entire different and, in some ways, more quirky. He is not nearly as mysterious and dark as The Weeknd, which could make his music less interesting, yet he does not display Abel's lack of respect for women in his music, instead telling his girl to "gwan big up" herself (congratulate herself). This is a refreshing, endearing thing to see in this niche of music. His music could be seen as less catchy than Drake's, but I dare say that he is more creative and talented. PartyNextDoor has definitely majorly influenced his use of soaring, late-night synths, but Spencer has certainly not imitated him.
Gwan Big Up Urself
Does Roy Woods Smoke Weed?
A lot of people wonder whether or not Roy Woods smokes quite as much weed as his music would suggest. According to his Instagram feed and his live videos, he certainly does enjoy sparking up a blunt (hopefully in California, where it is legal!). He does, however, seem to mainly maintain an anti-drugs stance, saying "I don't wanna pop a pill tonight.." and "I don't party on Saturday no more...", and does not glamorize drugs.
Exis (2015) - Album Summary
Exis is a sweet and short exploration of nocturnal RnB. Its sound is sepia-coloured and delightfully syrupy. While it gives us an insight into Spencer's hedonistic life, based around girls, late nights and drugs, the listener also begins to realise that he is a deeply introspective soul. It is clear that he enjoys a party but that he is not truly nihilistic, instead greatly sentimentalising his existence. This is expressed by his occasional hot, tearful angst and conveyance of misery, especially in Unleashed. Throughout Exis, he comes across as a troubled young man, with lyrics like "should I attempt suicide again?", but it is clear that he is inherently empathetic, fairly respectful towards girls and fiercely loyal to the male friends that he considers brothers.
This song is personally my favourite, and is of extremely high caliber and musical ability. Four minutes long, it starts with spaced-out, ambiguous synth and the sound of Spencer sipping a drink and warming up. This is followed by nearly two minutes of surreal, vulgar vocals, including the lyrics "got a lot of weed, smoke all you want" and "I was on molly before I got to the party.. and when I come down, f*** a comedown, imma turn up". With the latter, he is saying that he will smoke weed to delay the imminent drug comedown. The use of MDMA is extremely pleasurable but causes the regular user's life to become a long chain of powerful stimulant highs that are followed by miserable crashes. Spencer's life is probably full of partying and filling the void, and this idea is supported by the self-deprecating, resonating lyric "I'm a freak, I'm a dog".
2. Go Go Go
This song is simplistic but allows Spencer to show off his undeniably beautiful voice. He sings softly and in a Jamaican accent throughout. He comes across as pained yet simultaneously relieved - he sings "I let my pain go, go, go, go"; it is clear that he is finding emotional relief in sex with his girlfriend. However, this is clearly temporary as he seems relatively unhappy with the relationship. The lyric "I see how you change at night, nothing like your basement lies", indicating that Roy Wood's girl has two different personas, one of which he doesn't know very well. "Pick and choose what you need and what you want" shows that she is possibly manipulative and an effort to be with, but Spencer seems happy enough with her, as the physicality of their relationship temporarily alleviates some of his mental trauma. Remember, filling the void always results in more pain!
This song is depressive and unapologetically angsty. It showcases just how assertive Spencer is, and how he feels a constant sense of injustice that people envy his success, believing that they simply don't deserve it ("some n****s want the s*** I got before I even got it"). He clearly feels a lot of tension when he returns to Ontario to see his close friends, as many other people attempt to befriend him solely based on his newfound fame. Spencer alludes to a suicidal past, with the line "should I attempt suicide again? I still don't see the point in just living in hell" - he has come far but his soul is still dissatisfied with life. The main message of Unleased is that Spencer will remain untamed and true to his background. Even though he has come into success and money, he still sings "me and my niggas are unleashed, terrorize the motherfucking streets" and "we are rough, gotta eat". He wants the listener to know that he takes nothing for granted, but will also never be tamed or conditioned by the music industry.
4. Drama (ft. Drake)
In Drama, Spencer sings "you don't smoke but it's cool while you're friends", "17 I saw you out past 10, house party ting, turn up with your mates", showing that he is romantically interested in the girl, but ultimately respects that she is too young for him. The fact that her parents control her freedom proves this. Instead of acting on the romantic feelings that he has developed for her, he actively expresses dislike at how her friends are leading her astray with weed and late nights. He sings "arguments all day with your rents, just to go out, gotta fight for this shit", followed by "gotta realise you're a high-school girl"- he is humorously mockingly the girl's indignation at her parents' rules, and her desire to fight to go and party. He thinks she should stay at home and do her school work, but a part of him is drawn to her beauty and precocious ways. Drake comes in with smooth vocals, concerning the girl's ex-boyfriend - he croons "girl you never needed him". Together, Drake and Spencer express that this girl is enticing and a work of art, while also immature ("she got a little bit of drama with her friends"). She is only 17, so isn't past petty girl drama yet.
5. Get You Good
By far the catchiest, most upbeat song on Exis, Get You Good is a lust-driven, emotional cry to his new lover. Spencer definitely strays from his usual sound in this song - his voice is more resonating and clearer than usual, almost an ode to Michael Jackson. The theme is sexual; he sings "don't let your panties get too wet" and "I know there's things that he didn't show you". He is putting himself on a pedestal over his girl's past lover, but instead of seeming arrogant, it is clear that he is mainly insecure about her previous relationships.
Roy Woods (Spencer) certainly loves to think that he is the subject of great envy, whether from his current lover, with regards to their relationship, or from the haters that can't stand his success. There is an undertone of disrespect towards his girl in this song, which is not present in any other Exis songs. He petulantly sings "why you catching feelings? Why you so jealous?", suggesting that he desires a casual lover and not the girlfriend that he has ended up with. She's become too clingy and he wants out. He is smoking weed constantly in the Jealousy music video, staying true to the resonating lyric "I stay high, never sober". In Jealousy, we see Spencer in a new, slightly sinister light. He seems less like an artistic, manic genius and more like a classicly hedonistic RnB artist, in love with intoxication and against committing to a girl.
Say Less by Roy Woods: 2017 Album
Say Less is an almost flawless album, with carefully-orchestrated instrumentals and vocals inspiring intense, unique feelings in the listener. It is clear that Roy spent time curating each track, lacing it with a particular "vibe".
Listening to Say Less is akin to a psychedelic experience; his voice is lulling but never dull, and there are emotionally subtle, poignant notes in every song. Some remind me of my childhood, some of painful teenage memories and others of euphoric, carefree times. Roy Woods is truly a mastermind and is, in my humble opinion, far better a songwriter and musician than Drake.
Throughout the album, Roy Woods sticks to his intoxicatingly delightful, mellow Jamaican-patois-infused flow - those who like his sound LOVE it, and he's aware of this. He hasn't sold out to the poppy OVO yet!
He namedrops his home town, Brampton, in "B-Town", which is arguably the best song out of the sixteen bangers. Light, playful and mindbendingly catchy, Roy proves he can produce a radio-worthy song all while putting Brampton on the map.
"The Way You Sex", "Bb" and "Take Time" showcase just how divine his voice his. Husky but not coarse, smooth but not monotone, he seems to "purr", while letting out some of his most raw, honest lyrics.
Exis vs Waking At Dawn
Which album do you prefer?
Do you think Roy Woods is vastly superior to other, similar artists?
© 2016 Lucy