By Joe Longo
SonReal should not standout. He fits every description of successful rappers before him. With a harsh, fast-paced style and hipster appearance, he could be mistaken for an Eminem or Macklemore knockoff. Moreover, as a native of Vancouver, SonReal's recent breakthrough could easily boil down to Canada's rise as a rap powerhouse. Yet, SonReal avoids these simple generalities. Rather, he stands as a clear outlier to the often over-hyped, stale rap game.
Born Aaron Hoffman, SonReal not only acknowledges his easily generic appearance, but flips-it on its head. Through innovative music videos and a consistent social media presence, he successfully highlights his raw talent and undeniable hard work to transcend past initial impressions. SonReal had little clout getting into the game. But while this star has—finally— —hungry even to prove himself.
Read on as Hooligan Magazine interviews the earnest rapper reflecting on his success, his mother’s influence, and the ever-growing importance of Snapchat.
You have two Juno award nominations and embarked on several nationwide tours in both Canada and the US within the past few years. But, you still haven’t released a full-length debut album. Could you comment on your uncommon route to success?
My success story is one of persistence. Because of me not really getting same [exposure] as a lot of people because my music is kind of different, we’ve got to kind of do everything by ourselves. I really owe a lot my success and everything we’ve achieved off of exactly that. My first bit of real success came out in 2013 when I did a video called “Everywhere We Go.” [Since then], I’ve been blessed to work with talented enough people that we can take this to the next level. It’s been a journey.
Do you think that taking a different route has made you a better artist?
100 perecent. Taking the same route as other artists, you end-up getting pigeonholed with them. You end up fighting for the same spot. With me I don’t occupy anybody else’s space, so they don’t see with what I’m doing and what my team is doing.
Your new single SOHO was released last month and has a slightly new sound from some of your previous work. Is this any insight on what’s going to be on your new album?
It’s not on my new album, SOHO. It’s more of a [single] we just wanted to put out. For me and my crew, we just love bumping that song. It’s just one of our joints in the van or something. We just put on SOHO and turn it up. There’s certain songs we did for the album that didn’t quite make [it] that were some of my favorite bumping songs. Just always wanting to bump. We decided to put it out there in the inter-waves and [we] may have some visuals coming forward too.
Do you think there is a benefit to releasing music just online and not part of your album?
Music is music. SOHO at the shows— people know the words to the song; people want to hear it. It’s not on an album. But, we live in a time now where you can just hop on to Soundcloud or Spotify, become a fan of a song, put in it to your playlist and listen to it everyday.
Could you comment on how the album is progressing? What can we expect to see?
The first single of the album comes out [in April]; It’s called “Can I Get a Witness.” I think it’s just a good introductory to what the album is going to be like. Everything is way bigger. Everything is more well thought-out. I’m working with some of the best producers on this album. I’m working with RedOne— working with Rush and RedONe. Those two guys have done a lot of work on it. Rocky— Rocky produced Kendrick Lamar’s “i.” He’s one of Kendrick's in-house guys. Just so many great producers that have expanded my mind. I'll be able to achieve what I’m calling my best work to date.
You stay very active on social media to connect with your fans. Why do you find this important?
It’s just really good to do; my fans love it. I literally spend an hour or two hours a day if I can. I like spending an hour or two hours a day replying to my fans on Snapchat, replying to my fans on Twitter, and facebook. Because, I was a fan. I remember Method Man taking a photo with me. It’s a lot to the fans. I’m Method Man or whenever I was a fan of to them. It’s nothing for me to do it. A lot of artists they get cocky too quick. So, I try to take the time to comment back to my fans while I can.
You’re specifically popular on Snapchat. Why is the app so beneficial for you?
I just started doing it, and I guess I’m good at it. Snapchat is one of the only places for me on social media where I can completely do the dumbest shit I can think of. But, my fans love it. They don’t want me to do that on Instagram or Facebook— somewhere where it lives forever. But Snapchat is so disposable.. my fans love me for it, and it’s my fastest growing social media. So, watch out DJ Khaled; I’m coming for ya.
Your music videos standout for being highly conceived and in-depth. Why is that important to produce creative videos?
Because we live in a time that anybody with can go buy an single-lens reflex camera for $1,000 and shoot a video that’s going to look nice and clean. There’s so many videos and so many people doing stuff that we don’t necessarily try to do stuff different. [But], by default I like doing different stuff. I like doing stuff that excites me. Seeing so many things— I’ve done so many things that we always try to get to the next level and be something that we appreciate [as] a fan of art.
I always wanted to do a western music video. I thought it was dope for a rap video to be a Western. I came up with the idea on a plane with my manager. We started talking about it and wanted a bar fight at the end.
The video for you song “Woah Nilly” was recently released and again there are comedic elements to the video. Do you intentionally incorporate comedy into your music?
I like adding comedy to the videos, but not as much to the actual music. Some of the quirky lines and whatever. I’ve never want to become a parody rapper. Never want you to listen to my album and be like, “Oh my god, this guy is so funny. It’s such a joke.” My music is actually really serious. But, I just like juxtaposing that with the contrast of doing something that's a little bit funner and something that’s gonna affect people in that way.
Your mom makes an appearance in the video. How was working with her?
My mom kicks ass. She comes to the music video shoots and actually nails her role. I’m gonna get her in more music videos. I’m gonna give her a big role in one of my next music videos. She makes any character she gets.
Did she encourage your artistic pursuits growing up?
My parents divorced when I was 15. I lived with my mom, and she was always really supportive. She was raising a mad teenager. When my parents divorced, I was mad. I was straight up mad. I didn’t know why; I just knew I was mad and need an outlet. So, I was making a lot of mad raps and mad ass things. She always supported me. I would come home wearing a 4XL [shirt], size 40 jeans and a big ass Raiders hat. She is supportive of me. If she can love her confused son like that, she earns the respect to be in any music video I drop.
You recently did an interview with TorontoRappers.com where you complied a list of your favorite underated artists. Do you consider yourself underrated?
Of course. I consider myself underrated for sure. But I also am firm believer everybody deserves to fail. My time is this year. It wasn’t supposed to be last year, because I wasn’t ready. Now, I’m ready. Everybody has different cards. People have been telling me for a long time--people told me in 2015, “Why haven’t you blown up yet? You should be bigger than everybody.” But, I guess not. If I wanted to do that, I would do that. I’m proud to say when it does happen for me, it’s gonna be the right time.
How would you characterize the difference between the Toronto and Vancouver rap scenes?
Vancouver is really laid back. They’re really great, just don’t have fully the infrastructure Toronto does. But, Toronto had everything really fast. Vancouver has got a lot to offer though--a lot of insane music. A lot of artists I think are gonna be really big. We just somebody to break down the door, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
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