Flanked by a squad of quirky characters unafraid to rock bowl cuts and mustaches, spitting bars like nobody’s business, and melting hearts left and right, SonReal would be just as at home in a Wes Anderson or Farrelly Brothers movie as he is behind a mic.
Hip-hop has never seen a maestro quite like the British Columbia-born rapper, singer, and songwriter. That’s why he’s already earned multiple Canadian Juno Award nominations including “Rap Recording of the Year” for “Everywhere We Go” in 2014, racked up millions of Spotify streams and YouTube views, and packed shows all over the continent. However, his story begins in the tiny town of Vernon.
Growing up, he’d watch his father sing and play country songs on an acoustic guitar with rapt attention. By high school, he started frequenting the local skate park, and became infatuated with the lifestyle of music and skateboarding. At the time, his musical tastes spanned everything from Guns N’ Roses to Green Day, but listening to Nas’s Illmatic and Mobb Deep’s The Infamous resonate through the park would change his life.
“As a kid from a small town, I loved hearing stories of these artists from Queensbridge and Brooklyn,” he says. “It was like listening to an exciting movie play out. That made me want to rap.”
Following high school, SonReal spent his days working as a carpenter and his nights writing and recording countless songs at home. Quietly and diligently honing his skills, he released a series of buzzing mixtapes beginning with Where’s Waldo in 2011 and followed by Words I Said and Good News just a year later. Hailing from Canada meant he had to grind twice as hard to be heard globally.
“There weren’t any studios in my town,” he explains. “I couldn’t have a mentor, because no one was rapping. I taught myself making music on an old desktop. Touring is tough because you have to drive longer distances in much worse weather than America. I got made fun of a lot. During the week, I was always getting fired from carpentry jobs, because I’d be up late recording or I’d quit to go on tour. I never gave up though. I decided I had to go big.”
He did just that with the music video for “Everywhere We Go.” Boasting the best talent show sequence since Napoleon Dynamite, it introduced a bevy of memorable mischief makers and spotlighted the many sides of SonReal. The clip would rack up over one million views in less than a month as he received acclaim from MTV Canada, Noisey/Vice, Earmilk, HipHopDX, and many more, setting the stage for a recording deal with independent label Black Box Recordings.
“There’s so much static out there,” he sighs. “It’s so easy to make a music video with an SLR. I had to do something deeper. I’m not good at standing in front of a car rapping or dancing on a roof with a bunch of girls in a club. It’s not me. I strive to be myself and do things I want no matter how much they scare the fuck out of me. All of the characters are big extensions of who I am.”
He continued this visual tradition with “Preach,” which would receive Much Music Video Awards nominations for “Hip Hop Video of the Year” in 2015. Along the way, he toured Canada many times, and embarked on his first U.S. run during 2015. Signing to Capitol Music Group, he ventured down to Los Angeles to record with the likes of super producer RedOne [Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj] and Rahki [Kendrick Lamar, Eminem].
His 2016 single, “Can I Get A Witness,” puts him on the stand (literally) to speak to his biggest audience yet. Produced by RedOne and Rush, the track shimmies between a funky bass line and delicate beat as SonReal deftly presents his lyrical case before an unshakable refrain. Meanwhile, the unforgettable crew from “Everywhere We Go” makes their return on-screen.
“Even though I was working with a pop producer which I was very much not used to, I didn’t sacrifice anything,” he assures. “The song is undeniably me. From the moment we got into the studio, I told Red that. Some people will ride with you all day, and some people won’t. We aren’t following anyone. I’m giving you exactly who I am.”
On his forthcoming major label full-length debut, SonReal officially invites everybody into his world.
“When I started making music, all I ever wanted to do was make people laugh, make people cry, and make people feel something,” he leaves. “That’s what music did for me. That’s why I try to do different things under the same umbrella. If the listener feels emotion when listening to it, I have done my job.”