From Congo to Ottawa to Toronto
Meet Keynes Woods

While Toronto has developed a distinct sound of its own, Woods' music is informed by a story all his own. Get to know how this rising artist is set to put Toronto on the map.

Keynes has just gotten home from school. He’s in his third year as a full-time student at York University in Toronto, where he’s studying International Development. On top of that, he still works part-time. From these two facts alone, it seems Woods lives a pretty standard day-to-day life for a twentysomething. But no two days are the same for this budding 23-year-old hip-hop artist.

It is getting more difficult for Woods to manage his full-time status as a student as his music career gains traction. That said, while he makes it known he is not at all passionate about international development or college as a whole, he says, “I feel like I have a promising career or whatever, but it’s not solidified to the point yet where I can forget about everything else.”

Two years ago, Woods was studying marketing in college and developing an app. Unsatisfied, he decided to move from Ottawa, Ontario, where he had lived since he was eight years old after moving from Congo, to Toronto. Put plainly: he was tired of living in Ottawa — a smaller city. “I’ve always thought of myself as a bigger city person. I figured I’d just try something new, and I’ve always liked Toronto.”

When asked what him from two years ago would think of him currently, Woods contemplates before saying, “I think that he’d be proud. I’m doing what I want now. I’m enjoying myself, having fun, and making progress at the same time. So, I don’t think he’d be disappointed.”

Do you think he’d be surprised that you actually took this path?

“Maybe, a little bit. I’ve always wanted to make music, but I used to kind of brush it off to the side. So, I don’t think it’s as surprising as most people think.”

Regardless of his physical location, Woods has always been surrounded by music. He grew up in a musical household. His father loves music and kept instruments around. With his father still living in Congo, Woods does feel a certain — even if subconscious — responsibility to keep his Congolese roots alive in both his music and personal being. “It’s not like I try to represent it,” he explains. “It just comes out. For example, certain samples I’ve used before are from African songs. Just not shying away from being like, ‘Hey, this is where I’m from. This is who I am.’ I know a lot of people in my situation would strictly be like, ‘Hey, I’m from Ottawa, and I live in Toronto,’ and not really acknowledge where they’re actually from.”

“Each stage in my life has been influenced by different types of music,” he continues. Toronto specifically has influenced the direction of Woods’ career. “Toronto definitely has a distinct sound, I think. If you hear a Toronto artist, you know, ‘Oh, this is a Toronto artist.’ Obviously, [my music] has been influenced by other sounds as well, but [Toronto] has its own distinct sound. Without even realizing, I feel like I’ve started to implement it.”

For proof that music is something that has always run in Woods’ blood, watch his video in the COLORS series on YouTube. COLORS, based in Berlin, Germany, curates up-and-coming artists by placing each artist in a coloured room with nothing but a mic. Each artist is presented to the world, and presumably a brand new audience, by being associated with a colour instead of a genre. Woods was placed in an orange room — though if it were up to him it would have been green, his favourite colour — to perform his song, “Threat.” Being featured by COLORS had been a goal of Woods’ because of its organic curation. Artists can’t pay to be featured, and so, Woods told himself, “If I can be featured on there, I fit a certain standard.”

While growing a career strictly through organic platforms like COLORS would be ideal, it is not realistic — especially in the music industry. In “Threat,” Woods raps, “Social media, that kinda made me crazy.” The problem is, Woods knows he needs social media to grow his fan base and, in turn, a sustainable career. He gets animated when social media is brought up. “I’ve deleted Instagram like 100 times just because it’s so annoying. But then I always have to re-download it because obviously, I need it. Even yesterday, for example, I was getting annoyed so I deleted Instagram, and then I was like, ‘Oh wait, I need to answer someone because they’re supposed to be on the guest list.’ Right? So, I have to re-download Instagram. It does drive you crazy. If it weren’t for making music, if there was another way, I honestly would be off of it because personality-wise I don’t like posting. It’s not a game I wanna play, but it’s necessary.”

You have to play catch-up in a game you don’t even want to play in the first place.

“Exactly! But soon enough, there’s gonna be another way. Another platform. It changes all the time. The main thing you gotta focus on is just making good content and just enjoying yourself. If it happens for you, it happens; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

It’s happening for Woods. In addition to making music, Woods is striving to be a filmmaker. His visuals — including self-made merch — accompanying his songs are just as important to him. The music video for his song “Solitude” was made in collaboration with director and cinematographer Liam Higgins and can be viewed as a short film in itself. Outside of his music, Woods is writing two scripts. The day after we spoke, Woods was set to spend all day on set shooting one of those scripts. Even so, you won’t catch him calling himself a filmmaker until he feels he’s “actually good at it.” He wants to be taken seriously for what he is — not for what he wants to one day be or what you might think he is.

In his song “Avarice” Woods says, “True colours don’t peel.” What did he mean when he wrote those words? “The real is what stays,” he elaborates. “You can try to dress yourself up how you want, but at the end of the day, it’s gonna end up being you. That’s what I meant. My true colours? That’s a very hard question to answer because I’d say I’m just me. But then I gotta ask, what is me? Realistically, I don’t really know that yet. I’m still trying to figure out really who I am, but I’m not pretending to be anything else. I just am.”

And not knowing is actually what makes Woods most relatable to current and prospective listeners. At least, that’s what he’s been told. His friend, Charles, told him, “You’re not scared to admit that you just don’t know what’s going on.”

“I feel like a lot of us are at this stage,” Woods says, “and it’s not fair to ourselves if we try to pretend we know what’s going on because most of us don’t. A lot of my subject matter has to do with not knowing. I think that’s the most relatable thing.”

One thing known for sure? Keep an eye out for him.

Words by Megan Armstrong / Photography by Louis Brown

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