Photo: Rooks McCoy, OMA 2019 Best Emerging Artist Winner
Photo Credit: Will McGuirk, Slowcity Magazine
Rooks McCoy, recently crowned Best New Artist at the 2019 Oshawa Music Awards, was born in Scarborough. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Oshawa. He says high school was difficult but hip hop was his way out.
“Grade 10, 11 when I was 15, I didn’t fit in, I hated it but I ran into Cort Johnson (now his manager) and his buddies and they had the vernacular and street slang and I felt I fit in, they became my crew,” says McCoy in an interview over coffees.
“I always loved hip hop, I love all kinds of music except for country. That’s my dad’s fault. I lived in Atlanta Georgia in the 90s and when we moved to Oshawa we listened to country the whole drive, that’s enough to turn anyone off, even a country fan. Maybe hiphop is the polar opposite, maybe it’s a rebel thing, i just really got into it. The first album i bought was ‘36 Chambers’, Wu-Tang, still the greatest rap album made to this day. That’s almost 30 years old.”
Now 32, McCoy’s time in Oshawa has had both a negative and positive influence on his music. He grew up in the city listening to urban music and also the mainstream rock sounds of suburban radio. Both inspired his rhymes but the strong sense of melody in his songs has a more rural source.
“That comes from my country roots,” he says laughing, “When it comes to hiphop many artists will only listen to hip hop and not dabble in other music but growing up listening to so much country it led me down other paths, I love grunge, 90s rock, metal, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, none of those artists sound the same, they all had their own lyrical tone and delivery. When you listen to James Hatfield his vocal presence can’t be matched by anybody, Hendrix, well his improvisation is inexplicable, and Kurt Cobain’s lyrics are incredible and Dave Grohl’s production is just the smoothest so if you can combine all of those and move it into a different genre, well, when people say you do hip hop I do but I don’t at the same time. I don’t want to be boxed in like that.”
Fighting against labels is also part of growing up in a town with a negative stigma.
“Oshawa is perceived as a dirty place. That’s because every other block is a ghetto, then it’s not a ghetto then you are back in the ghetto. Its crazy, it’s the only city I have seen built like this but I do love it and the people in it do love hip hop as well,” he says.
But what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger and growing up with adversity can give you an edge over the competition, who may not have had to struggle so hard.
“If an Oshawa artist goes to Toronto everyone thinks they are going to be thrash. It’s a competitive genre but I have to compete twice as hard to prove that where I am from shouldn’t matter. I am already battling with the skin complexion, I am not producing what’s on the radio so I am fighting three ghosts at the same time,” he says.
Rooks was also battling another ghost, himself. He has overcome depression, anxiety and addiction. He says music is now his addiction and he credits hip hop with giving him the reason and weapon to choose sobriety.
“I know I experimented with things I shouldn’t have experimented with. You know how you feel when you are sober, you know how you feel when you are intoxicated. You know how you feel when you shift from intoxicated to sober. One day I never got that feeling back. I was trapped and then I was diagnosed with derealisation, depersonalization. So basically you feel as if any minute you can snap into a dream and you are watching a tv screen but its your eyes and its very scary and with anxiety on top of that it triggers an attack. I feel using those substances pushed some chemical imbalance in my brain over the edge, which caused all that. But when I became sober and made music all the time, rather than recreational shit, it was easier to get things done and see the positive side of things.” he says.
Keeping it real McCoy takes his lived experiences and puts them into songs. Authenticity is vital to hip hop and McCoy says chasing radio is not his goal. Connecting with fans who relate to what he is saying is. He says he has people leave comments online about how certain tracks gave them hope, inspired them or saved their lives.
“I have a song called ‘Revenge’ which is to raise awareness about depression on and anxiety and suicide. It’s tough for me to present to the crowd because I have dealt with it all,” he says.
His new album, ‘evoL’, is set to be released mid 2019. It follows on his 2016 release, ‘Sonny Boy Wonder’ and is a collection of singles dealing with the darker side of relationship.
“The first line of the chorus on ‘Poison’ is ‘It’s your love is like a poison to me/ I know that it’s lethal to breathe, but it’s your love/ It’s like a drug which has a hold on me/ and I hope you take the pain away when you leave, with your love’ It’s a numbness, I have a song called ‘Numb’. “
Its not the sunniest side of this things but Rooks does find himself in a much brighter place now.
“It’s the yin and yang, good and evil, of love as a force. If good love and bad love crashed into each other, the album would be the theme song. It’s got everything and I know I have never written music as good as I have right now,” he says.
Read the full story and more local music community related news by Will McGuirk at Slowcity Magazine here: www.slowcity.ca