From the moment SonReal (aka Aaron Hoffman) posted his first video on YouTube in 2010, it was clear that the Vancouver hip-hop artist had every intention of being in the game for the long haul. His profile steadily increased with each subsequent video and mix tape he released, culminating in the hilarious Napoleon Dynamite-inspired video for the single “Everywhere We Go” quickly racking up over a million YouTube views, and leading to the track earning a 2014 JUNO nomination for Rap Recording of the Year.
“Everywhere We Go” is included on SonReal’s latest release, the For The Town EP (Black Box Recordings/Universal Music Canada), which also features the single “Preach,” honoured last year with an MMVA nomination for Hip Hop Video of the Year.
Through his prolific and consistently high quality output, it seems SonReal has now earned a place in the conversation about Canada’s most successful and influential rappers. He’s already established his reputation in Toronto through his standout 2012 collaboration with Rich Kidd, The Closers, and he’s now set to team up with Halifax rapper Classified for an extensive Canadian tour kicking off Feb. 10 in St. Catharines, Ontario.
SonReal took some time on the eve of the tour to reflect on how he’s managed to accomplish everything he’s done to this point.
How does For The Town stand apart from your past work?
It’s just more thought out. A lot of these songs we worked on for four to six months, just tweaking production. We wanted to bring my fans something musical, concise, and, more than anything, create a mood and message to go along with it.
What has been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
We have a big cult following. People gravitate towards my music by simply buying into me. I would say the biggest challenge in the last year has been just trying to turn that strong cult following into something worldwide. I feel like we’re not far off now, and I’ve challenged myself beyond anything I’ve ever done in the studio, trying to achieve that level of notoriety. On the last tour we did when For The Town came out, we noticed exponential growth and it was real. People were singing every word; they weren’t just there to party. They were committed fans and I am very grateful to have that. And I love connecting with my fans however I can. Lately, I’ve been using Snapchat a lot. It’s fun, although I also love Instagram and Twitter.
How would you describe putting together your team and your relationship with all of them?
I am very loyal and have a very loyal team. My manager and I met when I was about 14. We became friends and he asked me very early on if he could help out. Years later we are still rolling together doing this music thing. Black Box came to me before anyone and said they believed in me. These are things I don’t take lightly. My whole team is made up of people I have known for years. My manager, label, DJ, video directors, merch guy, producers, engineers, booking agent, all these people are my friends who I’ve established a relationship with far beyond just music.
Also, the support we’ve received from the industry in general has been insanely beneficial. FACTOR helped us for years while we were struggling. I would have none of these music videos without MuchFACT. They have all changed my life. When I win my first Grammy I am shouting out MuchFACT.
What song in your catalogue means the most to you and why?
I would probably say my song “Try” [from For The Town]. I’ve always strived to be a unique writer and address topics in a way that let the listener fall into my world without being too literal or telling them exactly what they should be feeling. That’s why I think “Try” is so powerful. I’ve had fans hit me saying that song changed their life and to me that is the greatest compliment a record can get.
What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned on how to survive as an indie artist, and what advice would you give?
Keep going, never stop, never stop challenging yourself. There has been so many times where I wanted to hang it up or felt this shit is impossible. When I first started, I dreamed of things I achieved later on that made me naturally create new dreams that were ahead of the current achievement. That’s how a lot of successful people think. I don’t ever want to be comfortable or content. I want to always push to the next level no matter what. Small wins lead to bigger ones. That would be my advice to any new artist struggling with getting their music heard.