Can SonReal be Canada's next great talent? While it sounds like a lofty goal due to the amount of talented acts coming out of established cultural hotspots like Montreal and Toronto, it's safe to say that the Vernon-turned-Vancouver based artist has the energy, wit, and talent to bring the spotlight over to the West Coast. With the release of his latest endeavour, For the Town, the Blackbox Recordings signee has come through with his most cohesive project to date. While we're treated to a couple of familiar cuts, Town has enough music to successfully stand on two legs. Tracks like "Home and "Shit's Epic II" have him breaking the mould of stereotypical rap flows while reaching new heights. Other cuts like "Try" and "Woah Nilly," the EP's closers, reveal Son's strengths with the pen as well as his unique style that is equally introspective and self deprecating. Before he heads through Canada on yet another set of shows, we thought we'd sit down with him and catch up.
EARMILK: What's good SonReal? The last time we spoke you were knee deep with the Grieves tour and now you just finished Fashawn on his Ecology tour. What did you learn from these guys?
SonReal: Touring is everything us right now, especially being a newer artist. It's always crazy finding out there are fans of my music even in places like Columbus and Albuquerque. It's been a great experience going all across America for the last year with these other artists and I always learn something new with each act. With Grieves, his stage show is so tight. He's somebody that puts everything out there and takes pride in delivering that experience to the fans―that's what I learned from him. Fashawn is crazy too. He taught me about focusing on the raps and perfecting the art of being an emcee. He was bringing me on during his the last songs of his set, something that a lot of people wouldn't do.
EM: Do you have any crazy highlights from this past tour with Fashawn?
SR: Meeting new people is and always will be a great experience, but I found out that we both skateboard. We'd bring our boards to the venue beforehand and have a game of SKATE ( the skateboarding equivalent of HORSE: one player does a trick and the opponent has to match it. If not, they get a letter; the first one to get all five letters looses.) I'd say the craziest thing that happened took place during a show in Eugene, Oregon. I was performing "Preach" and during the first part of the verse ("Ain't too good at this trap shit/ but I can do a backflip") a fan just got on stage for that line. He then tried doing a back flip, but this guy was no gymnast or anything. The guy landed on his head, but then got up and walked away like it was nothing. It wasn't so crazy that he tried it and failed; what's really crazy is that he timed the flip with when I dropped the line during the performance. *laughs*
EM: You just finished fifty dates in the States and now you've got another twenty seven more starting next month. Tell us about the whole tour dynamic.
SR: It really depends on what we've got going on. I just did a show last year in Vancouver with this eight-piece band and we to consider the arrangement of it all. There were projection screens and all that extra stuff too, but when we do our shows in the States we focus on being high energy and interacting with the fans. The performance is something I take pride in and most of the tracks from For the Town translate well for that type of experience.
EM: And I feel there's some poetic justice happening with you coming back to British Columbia and closing the tour at Squamish Music Festival.
SR: Yeah man, I'm excited for Squamish and can't wait to go there. That's my home and a lot of fans will be there, so it's something I'm gonna put a lot into to give them a crazy experience. We just got moved to the Drake day so we're stoked for that.
EM: Can't wait to see you kill it. More in the direction of the EP, what's the central theme of it?
SR: For the Town is not necessarily doing it for my hometown, even though that's where I take some inspiration from. It's bigger than that. For the Town is basically for the team and anyone who's been believing me. Anyone who knows me knows that I've been at this for a long time and my team and we've been working hard to get where we're at. I'm trying to do my best to bring something new and innovate to the fans. Everyone from my manager, to my video people, to my fans have all invested time and effort into my work and this is the labour of those combined efforts. It's a special project and I put a lot of my story on this one.
EM: What's the evolution from your previous mixtape, One Long Day, and For the Town?
SR: For the Town has more energy, but I think we've all got better at our crafts this time around. The mixing is better and the writing is stronger; it's like we've evolved musically. If you look at the track record of my previous projects, you can tell each one is considerably better than the last. I think this one's the best effort to date and it just goes to show the power of consistent effort and how it can build upon each release.
EM: On the title track, you mention that you "grew up with Mobb Deep and on "Shit's Epic II" you said you're a "product of the 90's." What else you listening to in those days?
SR: When I first got into rap, it was the East Coast guys that got me hooked. Nas, Method Man, The Beatnuts, and Mobb Deep were stuck on rotation; every now and then I'd throw some Outkast in the equation. My style stems from that Golden Era influence and I want people to know I'm not some new jack. I've spent time learning and studying the history of the genre and pursing the art in the fullest sense, so I wanna give thanks to the forefathers while innovating it when I can.
EM: I read that skateboarding was how you became aware of all these acts. I've always found skate videos to be the original tastemakers and were instrumental in sharing good music.
SR: That's how I first came across Common. I would watch these skate videos as a kid and became obsessed with everything from the fashion to the moves and music. My own style came from skaters I looked up to who would wear the camo pants and all that other cool gear that later came up in the hip hop world. Skateboarding is more than a sport…it's a lifestyle. I attribute my "I don't give a shit" mentality that comes up in my visuals from that culture, because skaters have always been outcasts. Getting kicked out of spots and being told there's no skating here almost relates with what we've got happening with the music, from an image and branding perspective. We're not following the trends and we won't take no for an answer.
EM: Do you have any memorable skate videos that we need to watch?
SR: I've got tons. One of my favourite videos has to be Fufill The Dream, the Shorty's video, which I watched again the other day. Girl's Yeah Right is also amazing. I even like the older ones like Mouse.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c-Xo_bAWlU
EM: I remember that Milton bit on Mouse and that Royal Flush joint getting stuck in my head.
SR: Yeah, Milton was the truth. The rap from the skate culture was what exposed me to it all and helped me identify with it. I got so into the rap stuff it became my main focus. I wasn't good enough to go pro with skateboarding, so I figured I might as well give rap a shot. *laughs*
EM: Going back to the EP―I noticed that there weren't any features. Did you make a deliberate choice to go solo dolo?
SR: Yes and no. I wanted to make a concise body of work and, with only seven songs because it's an EP, I didn't have much room to play with. Features are definitely something that I want to pursue in the future, but I also feel that I can stand on my own. I don't need someone on the hook if I've got a good one and I like how it sounds with the verses; I also like to do my own thing sometimes and have fun with it. I'm not opposed to collaborations, but I wanted this EP to be a personal reflection of what I do.
EM: Tell us more about the producers on this EP and how you worked with them.
SR: I've been rocking with most of these days for what seems like ages. We've got Arthur McArthur who produced "Woah Nelly;" we've got Alex Lusitg who produced "Try," which is one of the next singles. Rich Kidd produced "Shit's Epic II" and I've been working with him since I started rapping. He taught me so much about how I need to push myself in the studio and treat this as a full time effort. I've also got my man Tyler Johnson and he did the intro called "Home." All of these guys were so invested when we were in the studio and I'm proud of what we did together.
EM: Once you finish these tour dates, what are you gonna do for the rest of 2015?
SR: More touring plus some more videos. My goal is to be creative and to make hip hop videos that are innovative and enjoyable for the fans . We're gonna keep coming out with more later this year and a ton of performances and singles that'll build up to the next album.
EM: Are you listening to any people right now that we should be checking out?
SR: I'm bumping that new J. Cole album these days. For me, it's one of the best albums to come out in the last five years because the final product sounds so natural and cohesive. I also dig the new Kendrick Lamar album and a few cuts from Big Sean's most recent album. There's this newer guy out of Toronto named Jazz Cartier that I mess with and it's really dope. There's also these guys out of Montreal called The Posterz that are also nice.
EM: What's your favourite kind of milk?
SR: I'm an almond milk guy, dude. I usually drink 1% but I don't mess with chocolate. I'm not an anti-dairy guy, but I just really like almond milk.
EM: As someone who's spent a fair amount of time on each coasts, are you on Team Milk in a Bag or Team Milk in a Carton?
SR: Carton all day; those bags freak me out. It's insane.
EM: Is there anything you'd like to add before we close up?
SR: Yeah, make sure you get tickets to one of my shows coming up and check out the new EP at iamsonreal.com, iTunes, or Spotify. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter and let me know what's up.
For the Town
- Blackbox Recordings
- April 23rd, 2015