Keynes Woods Wants His Music to be Undeniable
Hip-hop artist Keynes Woods has felt the pressure of being a creative in today’s rapidly moving music industry. “There’s a fear of time,” he tells TIDAL. “I feel like so many people step up when they’re so young, and you look at Trippie Redd or the next man and they’re 19. It kind of scares you,” Woods, now 23, adds.
It’s only natural that the Toronto-based Woods has had his brushes with fear, but these days, he’s learned to curb it. For him, creativity is the cure and, most of all, his driving force. Woods will know, he says, when his sound has truly arrived.
In the meantime, he’s experimenting, letting go of the expectations of age and constraints of time. Instead, he keeps his pulse on his craft, collaborating with local artists on the array of visuals that showcase his vision and shape the always-present mood in his songs — slightly dark, cooly laidback and always contemplative. “Who the fuck is this? Wait, who the fuck am I? Grab your pen and take notes,” he rhymes on this year’s “Threat.”
This year alone, Woods has shown us his notes on “Threat,” “Solitude,” “Water in the City” and his most recent track, “Avarice.” Sure, he’s exploring his style and not rushing the process, but it’s clear his sound and observations are distinctly his own. In this TIDAL Q&A, Woods talks about his journey from Congo to Canada, the bustling scene in Toronto and the aim of his ambition: “I want my music to be undeniable.”
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You’re based in Toronto now. Walk us through your upbringing and some of your musical influences growing up.
I’m originally from Congo. I moved to Canada when I was about eight years old with my older sister, had been living in Ottawa and just moved to Toronto about two years ago.
My taste really changed over the years. When I was really young, I listened to R. Kelly, R&B, corny music. I listened to a lot of Tupac. I really started listening to music when I was older and conscious of who I am. Kanye’s just been there throughout my entire music listening career. Now, I’m starting to widen my spectrum with people like Charlotte Day Wilson and Daniel Caesar.
It seems like there’s such a great music scene out there right now with acts like Charlotte and Daniel. What is it about Toronto that breeds such a cool, specific sound?
I think it’s the diversity. I lived in Ottawa for most of my life in the suburbs. It was mostly white people. Every single class that I would be in, I would be the only black person or one of the only black people. Coming from that to Toronto, you notice how multicultural it is. It’s so open and creative.
What’s your relationship to Congo?
I have a lot of faint memories from when I was younger, but I’ve also been back to visit. My dad still primarily lives there, so every five years or so, I go visit. I moved when I was pretty young, so the only relationship I have there is with my dad. We talk almost every day. It’s always going to be part of my identity and it is a beautiful place despite all the issues in the country. It does hold a special place in my heart.
That must have been a big culture shock moving from there to Canada at eight years old.
It was hellish. I do still remember. I was in grade three. I went to so many different elementary schools. They put me in ESL, and I remember being really angry. It was a lot of change for someone who’s eight years old. It was weird, but I adapted.
At what point did you realize you wanted to start exploring making your own music?
It was an interesting time. I started two years ago and a bit. I was just about to finish college. I was going to college for marketing and was working on an app at the time with a few friends. I was just like, ‘OK, what am I doing? I have to do something.’ I just went back to doing things that I enjoy doing. I started writing, and I was like, ‘I might as well record.’ I shot a music video, and I just continued doing the same thing. It came pretty naturally, but it came from a time of me trying to figure out what I should do.
Your visuals seem to be an important part of your brand as an artist.
I think, especially now, visuals are so [important]. I like finding people who I think have a lot of potential to make something great. I’ll usually listen to the song a few times, jot down some ideas and present them to videographers.
I love working with different people. I don’t think I’d like working with the same person for every project. If I find a videographer or a photographer that I think is talented, I love hitting them up and just being like, ‘Hey, I have this song. Do you think we could do something?’
What are you working on these days?
I guess right now I’m just working on anything I can get my hands on, working with different artists here and there. I’m still trying to craft my sound and find exactly what I like. I want to build something that hasn’t really been created before. I’m making a lot of music now and writing a lot. I want to make a sound that stands out enough but fits in today’s climate.
What have you learned through being such an experimental artist?
I think you should cultivate your sound, make sure your music is where it’s supposed to be before thinking about everything else. That’s the stage I’m at right now. I want my music to be undeniable.
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