Sonreal has Vancouver in his heart

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      SonReal’s 2015 release, For the Town, might have had nothing to do with Vancouver—but his debut album, One Long Dream, has the city etched into every song.

      That might come as little surprise to those familiar with his story. Taking up MCing at 15, the performer—born Aaron Hoffman in Vernon—moved to Vancouver after high school. Working his way up from small-time open mikes at the ANZA Club and Café Deux Soleils, the fledgling artist booked his first show at Gastown’s Lamplighter. Monday-night gigs were Hoffman’s bread and butter until he landed his first headline concert at Fortune Sound Club. Now—despite boasting a major-record-label deal, a platinum-selling single, and an impressive social-media following—the local boy is still more excited to talk about Vancouver than his achievements.

      “This city literally birthed me,” he tells the Straight on the line from a Commercial Drive taqueria. “It’s where it all started. I split my time now between here and Los Angeles, but I have this city in me. I rep Vancouver and Canada everywhere I go.”

      Given the subject matter of his long-awaited first full-length record, Hoffman’s enthusiasm for discussing his roots is fitting. The second in a two-part project, One Long Dream builds on the rapper’s 2014 mix tape—the similarly named One Long Day—to spotlight details from his past.

      “We’ve gone through so much to get to where we are,” he says. “I remember being stuffed in the back of a van with eight people, doing shows in front of a crowd of 15 in America, eating McDonald’s and staying in dingy hotels where there were drug dealers selling crack outside our door. I remember those moments, and I look back now and think, ‘That was so epic.’ We had so many laughs. Now we’re in a bus, and we’ve got more money, and we’ve got a crew, and sold-out crowds, and we don’t have to eat McDonald’s anymore, and it’s all really fun too—but which did I enjoy more? I couldn’t tell you. It’s all part of the journey. You have to fall in love with the whole trip.”

      Like Hoffman’s success, his sound has undergone a steady transformation across the two records. Trading the soft, piano-infused melodies and smooth beats of the feature-filled One Long Day for the up-tempo, hook-laden earworms of One Long Dream, the performer has embraced a more pop-oriented sound that loses none of its bite. Full of personality and swagger, One Long Dream sees Hoffman at his finest, hooting and hollering over punchy and dynamic beats while ably transitioning to the album’s more sentimental tracks, putting his velvety vocal tones to good use on songs like “All I Got”.

      “I definitely always wanted my debut album to be more victorious, have bigger sonics, and generally sound more epic,” he says. “You always want to be massive when you drop your first album. I wanted 10 million followers on Instagram before I got to this point. But everyone has a different path, and I know my music is in the right place to speak for itself. I’ve got the best fans in the world, and I’m bigger than I’ve ever been right now. I’ve just been live on Sway in the Morning doing the 5 Fingers of Death. I’m ready for this. I’m ready for this album. I’m ready for everything.”

      SonReal, "Can I Get a Witness"

      SonReal’s debut album, One Long Dream, is out now.

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays