SonReal does it for the fans
SonReal’s latest release, For the Town, has nothing to do with Vancouver. In fact, the EP has nothing to do with towns at all.
“I’ve been asked that question 50 times and I don’t ever know what to say,” says the Vancouver-spawned MC, born Aaron Hoffman, reached on his cell before a show in Chicago. “It’s a project that I did for the people that I do this with—that’s my fans, that’s my team. It’s kind of for the people, I guess.”
The EP came after SonReal’s crew floated the idea of releasing some music prior to his upcoming album. Initially, the rapper was hesitant to pick songs that were meant for the forthcoming full-length (“Whoa Nilly”, “Shits Epic Pt. II”, and “Preach”), but For the Town seems to have served him well.
“I just said, ‘You know what, screw it, I’ll scrap some of the songs from the album, because I want to give the people the best piece of work that I can give them.’ Now, these are the songs that people are absolutely losing their shit to at shows.”
For the Town is a departure from SonReal’s previous eight releases, delivering seven hard-hitting tracks that match the production calibre of some of modern hip-hop’s most notable MCs. With more refined beats and rhymes recited at breakneck speed, he’s miles beyond the softer music of his 2014 release, One Long Day, and has developed a style that he says is more in touch with who SonReal really is. The EP is ripe with instrumental subtleties that have become synonymous with contemporary hip-hop. Piano-infused melodies on “Home” and “Try” speak to influences like Chance the Rapper and J.Cole, while crowd-pleasers like “Preach” and “Shits Epic Pt. II” play up heavy bass lines that are sure to get audiences moving. Add witty rhymes and verse delivery reminiscent of early Mac Miller, and it’s obvious that SonReal is comfortable rhyming over more elaborate music.
If For the Town has proven a hit with SonReal’s fans, much of that can be attributed to the MC’s online followings on YouTube and Vevo. Clips and short films produced for the new tracks obliterate the idea of what a typical hip-hop video is supposed to look like, with no strippers, cocaine, or dollar bills to be seen.
The video for “Preach”, for instance, features SonReal reciting the song in 65 locations across North America: in front of the White House, underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and at Mount Rushmore, among other notable spots. Views have surpassed one million, and YouTube’s famously relentless commenters have been (surprisingly) receptive.
Many viewers were led to SonReal’s channel through Vevo’s advertisements for “Preach”. Comments like “First Vevo ad I’ve ever listened to and liked” and “This isn’t rap music, this is art” tell of how far the rapper has come from being “number one at losing”, a line from the song in question.
“I think it’s way better than anything I’ve ever done. I really learned that I want to start singing more, doing things that are more musical, and using more live instruments,” says SonReal, who recorded most of the album himself in a studio in a heritage home here in Vancouver.
For now, the rapper is living in L.A., where he’s working with “some of the best producers in the game”.
Moving away from the place that brought him up has given him a way to more accurately gauge his success outside of Canada. SonReal is in the midst of his second headlining tour in the States, and he says that the payoff for flying the coop has been “fucking crazy”.
“Headlining these shows out here really does show you where you’re at,” he says. “Nowadays in Canada, we can pack rooms, no problem, but it came with a lot of work. It’s actually starting to happen down here. Our shows aren’t huge or anything, but the crowd’s always filled with legit, die-hard cult fans that know all the lyrics. I drop the mike and they go to pick it up.”
He’s faced backlash in the past for his status as a middle-class, tattooless skateboarder, but SonReal knows that not everyone is going to like him, and he’s okay with it.
“If you were telling the world about everything you were feeling, there would be a lot of people who hate you too, and it’s just the way it is,” he says. “I wouldn’t want everybody to like me—some of the best artists in the world are the most hated, and the most loved.”
“We’ve got a vision that I fully believe in, that we have what it takes to do it bigger than anyone’s ever done it from Vancouver. I’m just trying to make it happen down here so I can bring it back there.”
SonReal plays the Stawamus Stage at the Squamish Valley Music Festival on Saturday (August 8).