SonReal is a comedian. Known for both his genre-bending tracks and his laugh-out-loud videos, the B.C.–born rapper shot to fame five years ago with his Napoleon Dynamite-inspired “Everywhere We Go”: a miniflick that saw the artist sport a ridiculous bowl haircut, oversized braces, and an all-too-realistic chin of acne. Not one to rest on his laurels, the performer developed his parody style with the faux-western “Whoa Nilly” and Making a Murderer spoof “Can I Get a Witness”—a trio of tracks that racked up tens of millions of views on YouTube.
The rapper could have dined out on creating tongue-in-cheek vids for the course of his career. Instead, he took a risk.
“At first, I had no success,” the rapper, born Aaron Hoffman, tells the Straight on the line from a tour stop in Vernon. “I was doing small shows in Vancouver and working construction with my manager. And then we put out ‘Everywhere We Go’ and it got one million views faster than anything I’d ever done before. Before I knew it, T.I. is flying me to Atlanta, artists are flying me to New York—I’m just going all over the place.…I did all of those funny, weird videos. But I found that I was in a place where I was trying to deliver that same success.”
For his second solo album, The Aaron LP, Hoffman was ready to try something new. Moving his quips and one-liners to the background, the performer wanted to write music that delved into his personal life and held nothing back. Broaching topics like the importance of respecting the women who raised him and the significance of chasing authenticity, Hoffman embraced a direction that he’d always wanted to pursue, but didn’t have the confidence.
“It’s difficult to be honest,” he says. “Most of the time people veer away from it, because it’s easier to write a song about turning up, because it doesn’t have the same kind of pressure. I wrote a song about my wife called ‘1000 Highways’. How can you explain our love in the most honest way possible, when it has to be the best song ever, if you know what I mean? When you’re really trying to be honest there’s a certain standard that goes with that.”
Hoffman’s songwriting doesn’t crack under that burden. Approaching his new candidness with a poised maturity, the artist swaps drum machines for acoustic guitar riffs and leans heavily on vocals to complement his rap, unlocking a new register. It’s a bold move for the rapper, but one that is already resonating with fans.
“This body of work was meant to be a really honest, therapeutic process, and in return I’ve done more streams than I’ve ever done in the history of my music, ever,” he says. “I just toured all over America, and I’ve never in my life been on an American tour without…four or five soft shows in that run. You’ll go do somewhere like Kansas City or Columbus, Ohio, and it won’t be as popping as a Chicago or Minneapolis. There wasn’t one dud show on this run. People have been singing every word. It’s a very cool feeling.
“You’d think I should have just done that three years ago, or whenever I wasn’t making the most honest music in the world, but you kind of have to get to that place,” he continues. “You grow as a person, and you go through life, and you start to have things happen in your life that you want to talk about. You stop caring as much and start to be more honest with yourself.”
SonReal plays the Commodore Ballroom on Thursday and Friday (July 11 and 12).
Kate Wilson is the Technology Editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSays