justLISTEN! SonReal

Interview by Jenkin Au & Alan Ng
Words by Jenkin Au
Photography by Patrick Leung

SonReal – Lone Ranger

[audio:03_SonReal-_Lone_Ranger.mp3]

[vimeo width=”950″ height=”435″]http://vimeo.com/7836715[/vimeo]

SonReal, a rising artist in our city, is a versatile and hip hop rapper that definitely likes to do things differently. SonReal has two albums out already, “Good Morning” and then “The Stroll” and as he said, none of his songs are really alike. This truly talented individual strives to bring the hip hop game something completely different from the typical hip hop artist. Ironically, at one point in his career, SonReal did not want to be recognized and to be known as a rapper. However, SonReal got out of that snap and now could never be more proud to be one. SonReal sits down with the justalilhype! Crew to talk a little more about his career, his sound, and his background.

The first question that we asked comes directly off his single from “The Stroll”, “Who Am I”.

First and foremost, what’s the state of hip hop?

(Everyone laughs)

We’re messing with you.

OK. I was going to say…

Throughout your single, “Who am I”, you answer basic questions on who you are and little facts about yourself, but at the end, you say, “Save it for the interview” – just exactly who are you?

“Who Am I” pretty much said it all. I am SonReal, the average guy that has just believed in himself to be where I am at. I represent flaws and just being human and all that kind of stuff. At the same time, I am saying that, you as a human, no matter what faults you got, you can be at the top and be the best. I basically represent believing in myself as an average dude because that’s what I was before doing all this hip hop stuff. Things have started to skyrocket a little more since believing in myself but that’s basically who I am.

How does SonReal represent yourself so much that you would use it as your stage name?

I ran by another name that I used for the first five years of rapping. I had that name in the back in my head but SonReal isn’t anything significant, like, “Oh, I’m the son of realness” or this guy or that guy. The name is more so just a feeling and I feel like I’ve been son’d by some of the realest guys that have taught me. It doesn’t have a meaning – it just sounds good saying it and it has a good catch to it. It just describes me. A lot of people who see me on stage they would say, “Oh, he’s ‘so unreal'”, and as you sound it out, it sounds like SonReal.

Describe your music in one word that is not a genre.

That’s a good question. Diverse. You would never hear a song and go, “Oh, that’s a SonReal beat.” I like to hop all over the place so I stay versatile and diverse. Two words.

How do you choose your music and the beats that go with your lyrics?

I work with people mostly from Toronto. The way we go about it is I’ll holler at a producer that I like and respect and he’ll hit me up with a whole zip full of beats – there would be 40 or 50 and I would go through them. A lot of people ask me if I go through the lyrics first of the beat first and it’s definitely the beat – the beat gives me a lot of motion and really, to say, the beat makes me write and I’m open to anything. I won’t say that I’m into that old school ’95 beat or anything like that – I’m open to everything and that’s why I do deal with guitar stuff and faster and slower stuff.

What was your most successful collaboration? Most of your songs are collaborations.

Rich Kid, from Toronto, for sure. He just did a new joint and also Tzarism, a guy out of New York, and he’s the guy that produced “Who Am I”. I couldn’t say exactly which one, but Rich Kid is probably the one.

What compelled you to write something as dark and deep as “Don’t Fall Asleep” on “The Stroll”?

“The Stroll”, I feel like, is a really pop record and it is positive in a lot of ways. I am never a one track type of person and sometimes I’ll wake up and I’m happy as hell. I wake up and I’m drinking my coffee and whatever. Some other times, I’ll reflect on some things that I’ve seen on the street that day and that would compel me to write something about something deeper and darker.

Yeah, definitely. We really like how you pulled a lot of the real life problems that many of us go through.

Definitely. Me growing up, I’ve definitely been through my phases where I want to be hard and I want to be wrong and I was willing to do anything I could do to be rough and tough, even if it meant doing something stupid just to prove something. I’ve been through that stage and at the end of the day, is it worth it, is what that song is all about. It’s saying for girls, there are so many problems that she has to go through and things for them to look different and be skinnier. At the end of the day, it’s telling you, “Don’t fall asleep,” and falling asleep, in that song, is you falling victim to being that hard kid or being that girl that doesn’t eat. I thought it was a cool concept.

Tell us about the progression through “Good Morning” and “The Stroll”

On “Good Morning”, there’s actually more singing on it. I don’t really like to say this that much and I haven’t really told anyone this but you can leak it, on “Good Morning”, I was ashamed to be a rapper. Especially being a white rapper, I just wasn’t feeling the whole game and I was going through a transition period in my career, so “Good Morning” is just like, I’m going to be staying away from being a rapper by singing and hitting up all these beats, while “The Stroll” is just me being me and being more comfortable in my own shoes.

And how do you feel now as a rapper?

Good. We got this mixtape coming out now and I can say, in my mind – and that’s all that matters right now – I think it is way above “The Stroll” and “Good Morning”. I got some new stuff that’s really really innovative and I’m really stoked about what’s going on right now.

We know that you wanted to be a pro skater at some point in your life. What caused that transition from skater to rapper?

Skateboarding got me into hip hop. When I was 12 years old, I used to hang out at skateboard parks and skate day and night. There was an older group of skaters that I used to look up to and they were all talented. They were all on the super dark Wu Tang shit, the stab you up type of stuff, but I just really liked it. I remember they used to bring to parties when I was 12 or 13 and I guess I was just the little kid that they picked up. I remember one time, I was in their pickup truck and they were playing some Lupe shit and that was just tripping. I would say that is the most triggering things and just started recording a few things here and there when I was 15 or 16.

What is your sense of fashion? Is it more skater or is it more rapper?

I used to wear the massive jeans and the big big jerseys because that was what was hot back in the day. Hip hop has gone through some crazy transitions. Now, I wear what’s comfortable – I’m sponsored by Matix and DVS Clothing and I like wearing leather jackets and some jeans. Basically, I like wearing stuff that fits and is comfortable. I don’t like wearing super bulky shoes anymore, either.

Is there a particular item that you like personally? Some people go for the kicks or some people go for the watches…

I like hats with flaps on them, just weird stuff. I got this new one and it has fur with the flaps. I don’t like wearing blue jeans anymore but I got these pair of turquoise ones that are pretty dope.

How would you define the average rapper?

I look at a lot of rappers that are great at rapping. I hear dudes are rapping but I find the biggest flaw with rappers now, and why 99.9% of rappers aren’t breaking out anymore, is because they aren’t marketable. I’ll see a rapper in a video and the dude can rap. He’s got a good voice and everything but he’s just sitting there rapping. You just wonder who is actually going to buy that shit other than a small niche of fans. I really think rappers are lacking marketability more and anyone can be marketable. You just need to find the way that you are marketable. I think hip hop, more than anything, is missing marketability. You look at the people that are getting big and you can study people like Drake and Kid Cudi, those people are marketable as hell. They have something that the world wants.

And how do you top these gents?

I think I just got something different. I think there’s a spot for me up there and no one has seen or heard what I’m about to do here. I feel like I have something to say that’s a little more substantial than these guys. I’m motivated as hell – I’m not working right now so I’m just working hard on it.

Your song, “Who Am I”, talks a little about your favourite artists. Who is your number one favourite artist?

I’d say Lupe Fiasco. Everyone says that it’s so hard to find their favourite rapper but I actually do not have a hard time saying Lupe is my favourite because he is crazy and absolutely unreal. I’ve been onto J.Cole lately and he is insane. I like Lupe and J.Cole and I hate to say it, but Drake too – a lot of people are hating on me for liking Drake. It’s funny because he’s got so much HYPE behind him, it’s almost bad to like him. Whatever, I remember seeing him two years ago and he was in the same predicament as me, working in Toronto in all the people I’m working with and shit, but he has paws of energy and that’s why he’s where he is.

We know that you’re known for being a unique sound and also known for always reinventing your sound. What’s next on the evolution track?

Good question. Basically, everything on “The Stroll”, as far as diversity, just amplify that by 10. We got nine songs done for this new thing we’re working on and I’ve got things that are really slow, singing, almost like M.I.A. kind of vocals, and things that are double time. I got some weird long long songs and weird song arrangements. Everything that is original about me right now, just times that by three or four.

What were some of your influences as a kid?

Michael Jackson, obviously. I really used to listen to him a lot. The first hip hop album that I bought was “Illmatic” by Nas. After that I was hooked on Nas, then Method Man and just got really fascinated with hip hop at an early age. I’d definitely say Nas was my biggest. I went through a crazy east coast phase for about three years from probably 15 – 18, just listening to Mobb Deep, Nas, and just dudes from the east coast and I tried to emulate their sound.

One of your songs, you mention about what if you couldn’t get anything you wanted. In that song, you also mention that you almost wanted to give up and quit. What was that time of your life? And did it influence you to make that song?

Definitely. That song is all about the law of attractions and just believing in yourself and using your energy to build anything you ever wanted. 2007 was my great depression year with hip hop and I just quit doing it. I was done with it and I had it and everything was going wrong. I was in a slum for pretty much all of 2007 and I pretty much had an epiphany and I just said that this was something that I was born to do. Here I am.

What caused that in 2007?

Just the state of my music where I was going, where I wanted to go, it was all clashing. I wanted to be doing diverse hip hop but essentially, I wasn’t very good and I wasn’t doing anything good. I was trying but I knew it wasn’t any good and there was too much pressure. Now, when I write, there’s no pressure. It’s crazy because I don’t listen to him much, but Lil Wayne taught me because he said, “When I write, I’m just talking and it’s just me, so when I write, it’s not a problem and I don’t need to try. I am all I am.” I just thought, “Damn, that’s real talk.” Now, when I write, I try not to erase my lines too much and I just keep flowing.

What is the thing that you really want at the end state of your career in hip hop?

That, there is no telling. I can’t tell you where I’m going to be but I know I’m going to be successful in music. I know that I’m going to be touring the world and working with some of my favourite artists and I know that much. But to say that I know that I will be in the limelight and on the stage with Jay and all that, I don’t know that. I just know that I am meant to do this and I’ve never hit a plateau in this. It’s just gone up, except for ’07, and everyone that knows me says every track is just getting better. I can’t tell you where it’s going to go but it’s going somewhere.

Have you ever met someone that didn’t like your music?

Yeah. I’ve heard people talk about it on the internet. There was this one hater and he was hating so hard. He was like, “SonReal is just a suburban hip hop queer” or something like that and then this other guy was saying I was dope and shit. The same guy that said I was a suburban hip hop queer then said, “Yeah, he’s like top 50. Probably number 50.” Are you serious? That’s a compliment. I can name 50 rappers off the top of my head. It was a huge compliment. I hear things through my friends but I don’t give a shit and it just doesn’t matter to me.

What is HYPE?

Are you talking about your site?

No way. Just, what is HYPE?

HYPE is the energy that you put forth. HYPE is what you put to the table and your table can be mini me or it can be the Round Table. HYPE is what you put forth to the world.