“You just have to be a go-getter, man. You have to just figure it out and get it done.”
Through hands-on music-making, tireless touring, and providing unique, personable experiences to his fans, Vernon, BC rapper SonReal has seemingly “figured it out.”
SonReal has made his name as a live performer. The Juno and MMVA nominated artist has played at premier venues across North America, including Webster Hall, and he has no plans of slowing down. “Live is really who you are… I take a lot of pride in my live show. I love doing it. I’ll always be a touring artist… You can’t hide anything. It’s also the realest depiction of your songs.”
Touring also gives SonReal unmatched opportunities to connect with his fans. But he goes beyond looking into their eyes and singing them a line; throughout his most recent tour, he has invited fans in each city onto his bus and played them his upcoming EP, The Name. Sometimes though, it’s the smallest experiences that bring fans the greatest joy. “After the show [in Portland] last night, I took a fan out and just bought him a bunch of doughnuts, and they were stoked; they lost their mind.” These are the moments SonReal lives for. “Watching the way they feel even just coming on the bus and getting to listen to my music makes everything go away.”
SonReal makes a point of giving fans the kinds of exclusive experiences he never had growing up. “I want to do what music did for me. Music made me feel good. If I can… actually meet the people that are supporting me, I want to make it special.”
Long before SonReal was SonReal – when he was just Aaron Hoffman from Vernon, BC – the music he connected with most was East Coast rap. “I became obsessed with it ‘cause I loved the stories. I loved the lifestyle. I loved the clothes, the fashion. Just the colour of the music was so hard.” Many people relate to music that reflects their circumstances, but SonReal craved something else: “I didn’t wanna hear songs about a kid from Vernon that was skateboarding and had a good family. I wanted hear a story about somebody that came up in a place that was way different than me, that had to deal with different situations, that had to sell crack on the street and do this or do that or whatever.”
Before I ever was doing rap or listening to rap, I was heavy into punk music. I always wanted to be a lead singer in a punk band. That’s what I wanted to do way before rap…. I just loved it, man. I still love it.
SonReal discovered rap through skateboarding, and unsurprisingly, given skateboarding’s stronger association with punk music, he’s a punk fan, too. What’s more surprising is how big of a fan he is. “Before I ever was doing rap or listening to rap, I was heavy into punk music,” he says, citing NOFX and pop-punk in general amongst his favourites. “I always wanted to be a lead singer in a punk band. That’s what I wanted to do way before rap…. I just loved it, man. I still love it.”
One of his earliest career moves was pursuing audio engineering school. There, he learned to produce, which became essential to his increasingly self-reliant “go-getter” attitude. He continues to expand his skillset by taking voice lessons and practicing guitar. But he learned to be hands-on out of necessity rather than interest. “By no means am I a tech nerd,” he admits. “Where I come from, there’s not even a studio.”
SonReal stays focused on pushing himself by not taking criticism to heart. He’s equally unfazed by the idea of competing with others: “One thing I’ve realized more – and I’ve learned this in the last year especially – is the only person I’m competing with is me… My concern isn’t trying to be better than fuckin’ Joe Schmoe… My biggest concern is trying to be a better version of myself ‘cause I’ve already proven to myself that I can make it farther than I even expected to go already. I want to take it to the next level… I want to try and beat where I went last.”
If SonReal maintains his unwavering work ethic and continues staying humble, connecting with his fans, and developing new skills, there’s no telling how far the skateboarding kid from Vernon will go. Maybe he’ll get to front that punk band some day after all.
For full feature and additional photos visit our digital issue (issue 7) here.
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