Finding SonReal [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – If you haven’t heard of SonReal by now, you may be living under a rock. This young man’s constant grind isn’t going unnoticed as his fan base continues to snowball and Vancouver’s reputation for a lackluster hip-hop scene begins to diminish. This dynamic young artist is making waves across Canada and plans on expanding even further. HipHopCanada got a little deeper with SonReal, exploring his personal growth, his music career, and how it’s all encapsulated in Where’s Waldo.
“I’m kinda like a needle in a haystack right now cause I haven’t blown up yet…”
HipHopCanada: You’ve had some pretty dope music videos. Most recently dropped was the video for Where’s Waldo. How was shooting that for you? I heard you got injured…
SonReal: We actually shot it like 6 months ago, but then I dislocated my shoulder during the shoot running with a bunch of people. I just knocked my shoulder out on somebody so that pushed the shoot back like 6 weeks; that kinda screwed things up so that video just came out. And we just shot a video for a new single that’s not on Where’s Waldo called “Scream” and it’s shot by Kevin Wong/Self-Hired Productions. They’ve been doing a lot of videos lately and they have crazy potential.
HipHopCanada: Do you have a favorite video that you’ve put out so far?
SonReal: Yea! I’d say the favorite one so far, and this is not even being biased cause it’s new is “Scream.” It’s by far my favorite. Kevin just grabbed the feel of the song and actually personified it. It’s one of the few videos that I came up with the treatment for; I usually don’t, it’s usually my manager or the director, but this one I came up with the treatment and he made my vision actually come to life! It was a beautiful thing. Honestly I was really stoked.
HipHopCanada: Your music videos have been pretty successful with hits on YouTube. How are you feeling about all the success?
SonReal: Yea they’re doing okay, they could be doing so much better though. We’ve only got one video that’s kinda crackin’ 100,000 views so we’ve got a long way to go but we’re definitely gaining success. Our fan base is definitely snow balling right now with the shows and with the videos. I’m just tryna make the right moves. I’m tryna put out the right stuff and just do me and not pay attention to who’s hating and who’s loving me and make the music I love to make, and make it the best I can and that’s really what’s got me here so far. If I can just keep doing that I think things will go smooth.
HipHopCanada: How significant is the children’s book Where’s Waldo to your mix-tape?
SonReal: Really, Where’s Waldo has nothing to do with that little red-striped guy at all. It’s just a familiarity thing, like I say Where’s Waldo and automatically it relates to something in your mind, brings you back to your childhood. I always use familiarity in my music, whether it’s in my song writing or whatever. It’s just basically saying, “hey look, there’s a million rappers out here, come find the realest of the real right here!” I think we got something special here. I think we’ve got something cool and I think it stands out. But I’m not that big yet. I’m not all over the billboards, and I’m not everywhere yet right now, so come find me. And usually when fans find out about my music for the first time, they’re like “Oh this guy’s actually for real!” And it’s just like yea, you found Waldo. I’m kinda like a needle in a haystack right now cause I haven’t blown up yet.
HipHopCanada: It’s cool that you’re aware of that, so many rappers come out very cocky and entitled from the beginning. How important do you feel humility is for an artist like yourself?
SonReal: Yea you know I pride myself on that! I’m tryna be humble with that shit. I would hope when I do blow up that I can keep that same mentality. I think I will because I’m the kinda dude that no matter how far I take something, I always wanted to be higher and that’s what’s got me here. I’ve never been the type of artist to plateau or have a big peak in my career and then a big decline. I’ve just constantly gone up as long as I’ve been doing this. Yea so no matter how high I get, I always wanna humble myself.
HipHopCanada: Speaking of peaking in your career, do you feel like you’ve grown in your music, even from the light-year mixtape till now?
SonReal: Yea, even from light-year. I would always refrain from swearing, or refrain from speaking on certain things, I was still refraining big time in the stroll, and on my first albums from saying things I wanna say…
HipHopCanada: Why were you holding back like that?
SonReal: It’s just vulnerability man, just putting your-self out there. I didn’t want my mom hearing me say shit that I’m going through or I don’t wanna hear my dad say that I’m not really feeling what he’s about… Privacy I think gets invaded when you start being honest, and in Where’s Waldo I was just like Fuck it, I’m just gonna be honest and if I feel something, I’m just gonna say it! Once I started doing that, my music just got better. I think vulnerability is one of the most amazing things about music. Like look at somebody like Drake, the guy is one of the most vulnerable. He says exactly what’s on his mind and that’s why I respect him. If I were to go put on a mask everyday, if I ever did blow up off that shit, I’d have to wake up every morning, go look in the mirror, and be like fuck I didn’t say some of the things I wanted to say. I’ve got a new song on a new record called “Words I Said” and it’s just all about saying shit I can never take back. So I think that important to just say what’s inside your heart.
HipHopCanada: What has transpired in your life that has enabled you to be more vulnerable in Where’s Waldo?
SonReal: I know this is gonna sound kinda weird but my management. I’m under new management. I’ve been under it for about a year and a half now, it’s with my man Byron Wilson, and ever since he started managing me I’ve just kinda opened up and he’s helped me. Whenever I do a record I’ll bring it down to his room and we’ll talk about how we can make it better. And I broke up with my girlfriend; I had my own apartment with her and shit. I went and slept on my homie’s couch for four months while I was on tour. I quit my job all that kinda shit. I guess sacrifice inspires my vulnerability, sacrifice and just having good people around me. I live with all these people, I live with four people that are involved with my music and I call ‘em my team and that’s what we call GoodLife…
HipHopCanada: One of my favorite joints on the mixtape is “Dr. Dumb it Down.” Do you feel like you’ve had to dumb yourself down to fit in with the norm of what’s hot in current hip-hop?
SonReal: No I haven’t had to yet, I don’t think I ever will. A lot of people compare me to Lupe all the time and I almost thought it would be funny if I just did a song, cuz he’s got the song “Dumb it Down,” that was one of his singles. And I’m just like yo, fuck it, I’m just gonna do my own kinda swag of kinda dumbing something down and speaking some knowledge. It’s just a fun joint, and I really like Tona. I met Tona in the club in Toronto for the first time and he wanted to work so I just sent him that joint and we did it, and we shot a quick video…
HipHopCanada: Is that joint a commentary on how a lot of the lyrical content in current hip-hop is dumb?
SonReal: I’ve actually got a song coming out where I actually rap two full verses of the most ludicrous shit you could ever think of. Its like (raps) “I ain’t got no tattoos, give a bro some tattoos, Ferrari in my video go nicely with my black shoes. Got a bad bitch, yea I say bitch! And all I really do is just make hits, I say hits… I got that hot shit, do a song for 20K then hit the mall and cop shit, I ain’t hold no gun but I mutha fuckin pop shit”. I say the dumbest shit ever and then the chorus comes in (sings) “they tell me it was cool man, they told me it was real, they told me if I did it then I might just get a deal”. So people will think that I’m hating on rappers that like rapping about cars and shit like that. But I’m gonna be honest, I don’t hate on that shit at all. What I’m saying in that song is its so fucking stupid how somebody who doesn’t listen to hip-hop says that hip-hop is about bitches and cars and money and shit like that. You are so naïve if you think that because look where hip-hop went. Hip-hop’s one of the most outspoken, musical art forms out there, one of the most collaborative art forms. We collaborate with Coldplay, we’ve collaborated with all sorts of people and I feel like people really generalize hip-hop.
HipHopCanada: As a rap artist who doesn’t put out content that is primarily based on money, girls, etc, how do you think the public perceives you?
SonReal: I think I’m labeled as very universal. My demographic is fucking huge. That’s one thing that no one can ever pinpoint with me, like we’ve been in meetings with labels and shit like that, and one of the biggest things about my music, one thing that’s gonna take me the farthest is that you can’t pinpoint me. I can sing, I can rap, I can rap double time, I can rap with the hardest/hoodest rappers ever and I’m from a fucking middle class, small town, you know what I mean? I’ll go do a track with Nate Dogg and Bishop Lamont, and at the same time I’ll go do a song where maybe I don’t rap one word the whole song, I’m just singing. You can’t really label us because we’re doing so much different stuff. I don’t just confine myself to track rap, or maybe frat rap, or fucking pop rap or what ever. I’m just kinda doing my own thing and the demo’s really big. No box here!
HipHopCanada: It’s safe to say that you’re not the stereotype rapper. You don’t necessarily fit the status quo being Canadian, being Caucasian, and being middle class from Vernon. Do you feel like this puts you at a disadvantage or hinders you in anyway when it comes to appealing to core hip-hop fans?
SonReal: Okay well first off, not everybody is gonna like every track on my record ever! No matter if I’m speaking to a hardcore hip-hop group or a grassroots hip-hop group that likes A Tribe Called Quest or whatever or those guys that like 50 Cent. Nobody’s gonna ever like all my music but if your talking about the core hip-hop fans that like hardcore rap, they’re still gonna feel some of my stuff cuz I rap hard a lot of the time. It’s not fucking rocket science, I can rap! You know what I mean? I’ve got a track on my new record that so 1990’s hip-hop that’s influenced by Mobb Deep and shit and then I got a track that’s really influenced by people like K’naan, and K-os or Bruno Mars. So not everybody’s gonna love me, not everybody’s gonna hate me, I accept that, I’m cool with it. But I do have something for everyone I think, almost everyone…
HipHopCanada: Let’s talk about track number 9: Haunted. In that track you say, “no matter how high I go, you never seem to notice it. I’m your biggest fan but you ain’t even know my shit.” Could you elaborate on the story behind that a little more?
SonReal: Haunted is all about trying to impress everyone. Even when I write a song, lots of times I think – I wonder what my dad would think of this song. Or then I’ll say, I wonder what Jay-Z would think when he’s hearing my music? I wonder what you would think of my music when you heard it…I found myself at a time in my career trying to impress everyone. I was constantly thinking about what everyone thought of my music.
When I’d make a song I’d picture them listening to it, hearing it. I’d picture their reaction, somebody big that I admire, or not even, and at the end of the day I just kinda realized that none of that shit even fucking matters. Impressing somebody and trying so hard all the time, and then once you impress them its like, was I doing this shit for me or for them? To be honest I wrote that whole song till half way through the last verse without even having a clue of what I was writing about. A little bit of it is about my dad, a little bit’s about my mom, a little bit’s about Jay-Z, Nas, or my favorite rapper Fonte…Its just tryna impress the world and then realizing that, that doesn’t even matter really, you gotta impress yourself.
HipHopCanada: In your joint called “#1 Hater,” it seems like your speaking from the perspective of an extreme hater. I was wondering did that whole scenario actually happen, or was that inspired by a combination of hate that you’ve been dealing with?
SonReal: “#1 Hater” I had this vision of this contorted, overblown, sinister, demonic, fucking hater. He just hated me so much he would do anything to kill me. And that song is kinda insane and I like it. It’s one of my favorite records just cause it’s so twisted and weird and stuff. And a lot of people wouldn’t expect me to do something like that. It’s storytelling, man. It’s just a story I came up with inside my head. I thought it was cool man, I thought it was just kinda different. You notice how the first verse he’s just kinda mellow, he’s like yea I’ll give him a try, check him on YouTube, he sucks. Second verse is like, fucked my girl, she can go fucking kick rocks if she likes this guy, and then he gets crazy and flies out to where I’m at and stuff. Song writing man, I take a lot of pride in song writing.
HipHopCanada: On the mixtape, right after “#1 Hater” comes “#1 Fan.” Those two songs are so black and white in contrast. Regarding the story about Lisa, the girl who was about to commit suicide, but credits you and your music for saving her life… How do feel reading letters from fans like that?
SonReal: I just did a show in Nelson and this girl couldn’t make the show but her mom actually went, and she gave me a letter from her daughter. And we get it quite often. To be honest, songs like “#1 Fan,” where people say that I’ve helped them through some hard times in their life or dudes coming up to me and saying I was gonna quit rapping but you inspired me to keep going and shit like that, that’s why I do this. You could go say hey, why do you wanna be the biggest rapper in the world, and I would say that exact reason. I think my music has a big message, and I think when people really get into it, it does help their life sometimes. It inspires me; it’s my favorite part about my job.
HipHopCanada: You mentioned in a previous interview that singing is something you’ve always loved to do and now you’re more comfortable doing it. Do you see yourself making any albums as a vocalist, singing instead of rapping?
SonReal: I’m always gonna rap. Rapping’s what I started doing, I even sang when I first started rapping, when I couldn’t really sing at all but I always tried. There’ll be songs where I don’t even rap, I just sing the whole song or whatever, but I think the main thing is just incorporating melody. I think every rapper should know how to sing, like a little bit. I mean common man it’ll make your rapping better straight up. Even if you don’t sing on your tracks, if you know how to sing, it’ll probably help you out. Who knows what the future holds but I think I’ll always be that dude that can run hooks, and do hooks for other artists, and really know how to make a catchy hook. I’m just starting to take some more voice lessons but hell no, I’ll always stick into the hip-hop genre.
HipHopCanada: So I see that you’ve got a lot of features on Where’s Waldo, like Rich Kidd, Saukrates, Eternia, and Tona, just to name a few. Was there one person in particular who you felt a strong artistic/working chemistry with?
SonReal: It’s actually between Rich Kidd and Tona on that one. Saukrates too though. I sent Saukrates the “Already There” Remix and he made a verse within fucking ten hours, so that was cool to work with him like that. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Rich Kidd. Just cause I’ve known Rich Kidd for so long. Rich Kidd’s finna blow up. I just really relate to Rich Kidd, he works so damn hard and he inspires me and he always pushes me. I see Rich Kidd grinding and that inspires me to wanna go harder, so I’ll say Rich Kidd, I’ll be working with him the whole way. Promise! (jokes) Unless he gets on some weird shit.
HipHopCanada: When it comes to your collaborative work, you’ve mostly been teaming up with artists from the East Coast. Why is that?
SonReal: Honestly, for me to go do a track with all these Vancouver artists, it’s almost like we’re working against ourselves. I’d rather Matt Brevner go get Rich Kidd on a track than me because that’s gonna get Matt some Toronto love. And I would rather Heatwave go get Bishop Brigante on a track, and let’s not even talk just Toronto and Vancouver, I’d rather them go get Pac Div down in LA on a track or Joe Small down in New York you know what I mean?
HipHopCanada: Do you see yourself collaborating with any West Coast artists in the near future? If so, who do you have in mind?
SonReal: Yea, from out here I like Matt Brevner, JayKin, Tre Nyce I think he’s got a lot of potential. I like Snak, Snak the Ripper’s got a crazy core cult following that I really respect and Heatwave’s doing his thing…
HipHopCanada: How do you feel about the West Coast overall?
SonReal: I’m really just tryna bring it home for my city, I’m trying so hard to be the best I can be on every record I do, every feature I do and every different city I go to. Every time I go to a different city and they ask me what I’m about I say Vancouver. I’m tryna be that dude that when you say Vancouver, you say SonReal. I wanna go down to the states and to the UK and hopefully bring it back to Vancouver and be like yea, this is how we do it in Vancouver! I would like to think that people like Matt or like Snak are saying the same thing as me like Yea I’m gonna be that dude from Vancouver because with that kinda mentality, that’s the only way you can reach those kinda things.
HipHopCanada: We see you’ve been grinding hard these past couple years, do you plan on continuing with this same momentum, and what’s next for your fans to look out for?
SonReal: Our serious buzz started last fall, we’re still new and fresh, but we’ve been grinding our face off to get that new buzz we’ve kind of created. And it’s snowballing and all you can expect from me is to keep on doubling my grind. I’m just gonna keep coming harder and harder. We’re doing this all day, every single day, I’m recording, in the studio, touring, shooting videos bi-weekly right now. And I’m not shooting like SLR rapping in the camera videos, we’re doing contact videos with production, we’re doing videos with extras and all that kinda stuff. Just expect more innovative, different, cool, new shit that’s ill from me. The “Scream” video is coming out real soon directed by SelfHired, it’s gonna be real big and then we got the video for “Blast Off.” And I think we’re doing a video for “She Gone” too pretty soon. You can download both my mixtapes and old albums at www.SonReal.ca and follow me on twitter @therealsonreal and join the facebook fan page!
Interview conducted by Shala Symonds for HipHopCanada
Photos courtesy of Lee Watkins