Vancouver, B.C. – Rap would be boring without gangsters. But alternately, it gets nauseating when a rapper’s hustler facade covers up a petty life of privilege. SonReal didn’t grow up rich and he didn’t grow up poor, but grew up in a middle class family and had a good life that he appreciates. Within his wide catalogue of lyrical topics, there isn’t a single deluded hood reference.
The fresh-faced emcee is receiving a lot of attention these days: his sound and lyrical content reflect a conscious decision to expand his genre and make music that he loves. He speaks with an honesty that, like the light that comes on in the club at the end of the night, illuminates unsightly truth. However, unlike the hoochie with streaky make-up that you were about to take home, SonReal has nothing to hide.
His latest album The Stroll is saturated with funk, soul, acoustic guitar and traditional hip-hop beats. This album features Eternia , XXL, Joe Scudda, Rich Kidd and DJ Crown. HipHopCanada met up with SonReal in downtown Vancouver to discuss creativity, the new school and an industry that will never own him.
HipHopCanada: Success is in your face these days. What do you attribute your current momentum to?
SonReal: There’s a few things going on right now in my career. We just shot my first official music video for “Who Am I.” It’s getting crazy traffic and a lot of hype. I got sponsored by a company called MATIX because of it. I also just signed an independent label deal with GOODLIFE, which is an athletic clothing company. It’s all kind of popped off lately.
HipHopCanada: Can you explain more about your label deal with GOODLIFE?
SonReal: Goodlife was originally a ski management/athlete management company. I have a couple friends who are sponsored for skiing and my manager linked up with their manager. We worked out a deal, because they wanted to branch out into music and culture. It’s all official… everything’s under copyright and they have a lawyer on hire. I think the sports industry and the music industry are all tied in together.
HipHopCanada: Your music has been well received in many other countries. How did you build up an international fan-base?
SonReal: Well, my good friend Josh Bibby happens to be a pro skier and has used my music in 2 international ski films. Both DVDs had major distribution. In one of the DVDs they used 3 of my songs, so that was huge. I’ve also worked with various producers and artists around the world, which has helped with my international recognition. We’ve sold a lot of albums online in places like Norway and France. Sometimes we track my hits online daily and we are getting regular hits from people all over the place.
HipHopCanada: You seem to be intentional in your individuality. Do you find that people struggle to fit you into categories or compare you to other pre-existing artists?
SonReal: That’s one of my struggles as a hip-hop artist. If I feel like doing a super conscious song where I don’t even rap… and I just sing, then I’ll just do it. Whereas, a couple years ago it was really hard for me to do that, because there’s so much pressure in hip-hop to be a certain way. My biggest thing right now is doing me, because I’m not like other rappers.
HipHopCanada: In your opinion, what does the new school look like?
SonReal: I think the new school is dope. Artists like Kid Cudi, The Cool Kids, Drake and Wale can come out of middle class homes and be on tracks with people like Jay-Z, who’s from the hood and the street. I think it’s the perfect time for me to be doing what I’m doing. Ten years ago, it wouldn’t fly… it’s actually cool do be creative now. I’m from a middle class family. I didn’t grow-up rich, but I didn’t grow-up poor. Each guy has to stick to his own story.
HipHopCanada: Can you explain the concept behind the song, “You Don’t Own Me.”
SonReal: It’s basically me saying to the industry that I won’t work within the walls in hip-hop. I want to put a twist on things, and that’s what that song is all about. It’s about putting a twist on stereotypes. This music is what I live for and this is how I’m going to do it.
HipHopCanada: When your music breaks barriers, how is that received by audiences?
SonReal: Good. Throughout the whole Stroll album, I’m breaking barriers. Whether I’m doing acoustic hip-hop, singing my own hooks or singing my own verses… There’s always going to be people who don’t like it, cause they’re stuck in their ways, or they just don’t like you in general… but it’s been good. This album and all my songs that break barriers are more reflective of my personality.
HipHopCanada: You seem to have less negativity in your music than the average rapper. Do you find it challenging to have a bigger ratio of positive content?
SonReal: Yeah, cause the world is negative. Me, personally, I’m just happy. I have a great mother. I have two great sisters. I couldn’t ask for more. I’m healthy. I do what I love. I’m not even working right now, cause I’m going on tour. When I wake up in the morning, I’ve got a coffee and I’m in my own home studio just chilling… I make happy music. I work with a lot of production that’s really positive and contains a lot of soul stuff. Those instrumentals project the happiness out of me. But, sometimes I get a darker beat, with some dark piano or something… and then I’ll do darker tracks.
HipHopCanada: What’s happening for you in the near future?
SonReal: I’m working on a mixtape called I Made Hip-Hop Smile. It’s going to be a free online mixtape. I think it’s going to get some crazy buzz. We have a few marketing campaigns, that I think are going to make it pull through. I’ll be shooting more videos and touring. I just know that there’s a spot for me in the industry. I think the industry needs this right now. I honestly feel like within the next 365 days, stuff is going to pop off for me.
HipHopCanada: Do you have any shout-outs?
SonReal: Dane and Nick at Supra Distribution!, Adam at Dunas, Byron Wilson, my man Lindsay Reid, Tass, Fergie Cancade at GoodLife, Tyler at Survie, HipHopCanada! Vancouver! I always like to just keep these short because I ALWAYS forget tons of people. Let’s just say, shout-out to EVERYONE supporting me out here!
Written by Christabel Shaler for HipHopCanada