Author: Briana Ellison
Ontario rapper Roy Woods released his debut album “Waking at Dawn” on July 1. Woods is signed to mentor Drake’s OVO record label. “Waking at Dawn” is the followup to his 2015 EP “Exis.” “Waking at Dawn” features 10 tracks that fuse R&B and hip-hop.
The opening track is “Sonic Boom,” which begins with a contemplative percussion beat that leads into Roy Woods’ soft and light voice. His flow is smooth and uninterrupted as the beat melds into one that’s hypnotic and pulsing. The short song emphasizes the gorgeous lilts and breaks that punctuate Woods’ voice at the end of a string of words. “Sonic Boom” embodies the album title “Waking at Dawn” in its composure: It’s a slow-paced track that gives the impression of someone just awakening and starting their day, making it the perfect opener.
The second track is “You Love It.” This song opens with a ballad-like piano and slow snapping. Roy Woods’ voice gradually fades in while growing in volume. Though the beat remains slow, Woods’ flow is lightning fast, stopped only by his own split-second echoes. The beat picks up during the chorus, as the piano is joined by a swirling electric beat and a deep bass-percussion hybrid undertone. “You Love It” is aching, raw and reflective, exploring the depths of a relationship that may only be superficial. One of the song’s highlights is the series of background runs by Woods toward the end.
Third up is “Gwan Big up Urself,” which starts immediately with a positive, sunny-sounding beat that’s infused with a mix of traditional Caribbean and African musical instruments. Woods’ voice complements the song’s musical roots perfectly with his laid-back, Caribbean-influenced flow and lyrics.
Next is “How I Feel,” featuring a repetitive opening set of notes that sound similar to old-school video game music, and some opening runs by Woods. As he begins his lyrics, they and the beat are punctuated by a drumstick ditty and a single note from a mystery woodwind instrument. The chorus is a growling, rough take on Woods’ usually airy vocals. “How I Feel” is upbeat and accusatory, emphasizing the sacrifices Woods makes, and his frustration with those who don’t understand that all the choices he makes are made for his music and passion.
Halfway through the album is “Down Girl,” which begins with a low bass beat that slowly grows in volume and evolves into a lighter series of electric notes. The song has a club beat, but is better than most of the club hits currently making their rounds. The beat is consistent, and – in conjunction with Woods’ lyrics and message – sounds slightly as if its searching for something.
The second half of the “Waking at Dawn” begins with “Switch,” another song begging with a heavy bass that reverberates through one’s head. Woods’ voice is back at its best, airy and light during the first verse. He expands on the growling quality we got a preview of on “How I Feel” during the chorus. “Switch” is a reflective track that compares and contrasts Woods’ present with his past, with special emphasis on the people who left his life during this time. Sonically, this song is simple, with only the bass, a few plinking drops and a simple percussion beat. The song is also a lesson in Woods’ identifying his independence from the people who abandoned him.
The seventh song is “Got Me,” featuring a hypnotic tune and stutter-stepping electro beat. This song is extremely self-aware, with Woods’ singing about the co-dependence he and an unnamed significant other have on each other. Woods’ has no shame on describing his trapping and being trapped, as his voice switches between airy and rough as it navigates the lilting and percussion heavy track.
The next song is “Why,” which opens similarly to “Switch.” “Why,” however is obviously slower and darker, with Woods’ voice coming out more languid than it has on previous tracks. The track is a soft and sultry track detailing the underlying tension that exists in a relationship. The beat is simple, and carried by Woods’ runs and light but demanding voice. This track is beautifully eerie, as Woods’ trades “Got Me’s” co-dependent vibe for one in which he’s completely dependent on the other person for a sense of normalcy.
The penultimate track is the quasi-ballad “Menace” featuring a slinking beat that drawls in the background as Woods’ sings lightly about not being the titular noun. “Menace” is another track that features Woods’ self-aware and reflective songwriting skills. This is one of his ultimate strengths, with “Menace” being a track that is amazingly hypnotic, apologetic and reluctant, as Woods attempts to avoid a future he sees quickly approaching. The beauty in this song is the fact that the track is sung as much to Woods himself as to his significant other, as he sings desperately to keep himself from making a damaging mistake.
The final track on “Waking at Dawn” is “She Knows About Me.” It seems like the aftermath of “Menace,” with an opening beat that’s high and mesmerizing, before Woods begins his flow, with lyrics that are jumbled together to reflect the confusing and urgent message of the song. Detailing the separation of Woods and his significant other, “She Knows About Me” is defensive and polite. Woods’ voice is aching and apologetic throughout, switching between his falsetto and his normal tone of voice. Under the simple wandering beat is a desire to change and regrets aimed at the mistakes made. The second half of the song details Woods slightly angry, though at himself or his significant other, it’s unclear. “She Knows About Me” is the perfect track that explores the scope of emotions one experiences when breaking off a relationship and taking the blame, and is also the perfect closer to the glorious “Waking at Dawn.”
Overall, I give “Waking at Dawn” a 10/10. Yes, it’s that good. There wasn’t a song I didn’t like. Though many of the songs are on the shorter end of the spectrum, they’re all the perfect length for their message and intent. Roy Woods has a rare voice, one that can go from one extreme (calm and light) to the other (rough) with ease, and bring these two extremes together in a beautiful mix. His songwriting is realistic and at times brutally emotional, but never fake. For a debut, Roy Woods’ “Waking at Dawn” is strong and perfectly crafted.
TRACKS TO LISTEN TO: Sonic Boom, How I Feel, Switch, Menace