[Interview] SonReal talks “Words I Said,” comparisons to Drake, and his mom’s rapping skills

Interview by: Martin Bauman

Be on the lookout for SonReal this year. With the recent release of his highly-anticipated Words I Said mixtape, and the upcoming release of his full-length album Good News, the Vancouver artist is making a strong case as to why 2012 could very well be his year. As he tells us, “I feel like I’ve got the skills to be at the top, I feel like I’ve got the mind-state.” The Come Up Show caught up with SonReal the day after Words I Said dropped to talk about his mixtape, his recent comparisons to Canada’s major hip-hop export, and his mom’s rapping skills, among other things. Check out the interview below.

TCUS: So, your mixtape Words I Said dropped yesterday, what kind of a response have you been getting already?

SonReal: It’s been good, man. Way better than Where’s Waldo, and all my previous stuff. I think it’s kinda had a little bit of a snowball effect in the last year, six months. It’s definitely snowballing with us. You know, a lot of people when you first come out… when you’re the new guy, a lot of people are kind of on the fence about you and whatnot, and they don’t really know exactly what to think about you, and whether they understand your direction or what you have to offer as an artist, and I think that a lot of people are starting to understand that about me. And I think a lot of people are just starting to believe in me for that regard, and the downloads are definitely showing it, so yeah man. It’s doing better than any project that I’ve ever put out.

TCUS: This is a quote from Mr. Peter Parker, of Shadyville, Core DJs, the Shade 45 DJ. He says, “SonReal is a serious threat to a lot of rappers’ self esteem. He has the potential to be to Vancouver what Drake is to Toronto, watch for him in 2012.” How does it feel to be compared to Drake like that?

SonReal: I mean, yeah, it’s humbling as s***. I’m from Canada, obviously, and Drake’s somebody that did something that’s never been done around here, you know what I mean? So to be compared to someone like him, [who’s] to be honest, pretty much a legend already… to be compared to him, that’s great. I get lots of comparisons to him anyway, I guess with my content, or I don’t really know… I don’t even really listen to a whole lot of Drake, or try and jock him or anything, I definitely pay attention to everything he does, but I’d like to think I have my own style. But yeah, it feels good to be compared to somebody as great as Drake is. So yeah, it’s huge.

TCUS: In addition to being a rapper and a singer, you’re also an audio engineer. How do you think that impacts you when you’re writing and recording music?

SonReal: Man, it’s huge, because when I get in the studio with other artists, in different studios and whatnot, I not only know what I’m doing, but I can also manipulate the song to get it to where we want. And I think any engineer will tell you that an engineer’s ear is a little bit different than an artist’s ear. So I guess I kinda got both, the best of both worlds.

TCUS: In your last interview with The Come Up Show, you mentioned that Where’s Waldo was the first record that you were really proud of, and you said that it was going to be your worst record from hereon up. You also mentioned in a tweet of yours recently that Words I Said did more downloads than Where’s Waldo in the first day by 2PM. What do you think separates you now, having completed Words I Said, from a year ago, dropping Where’s Waldo?

SonReal: I mean, I’ve just grown, man. I do this full-time, it’s something that I treat really seriously, and I try and find my flaws, and try to work on them and be better. So I think I’ve just grown a lot. I’ve grown a lot as an artist, I’ve listened to more music, I’ve gotten better at singing, I took more singing lessons, that really helped me with writing songs and being able to write catchy choruses. And yeah, I think just overall, I’m more determined now than I’ve ever been. I’m more motivated, and I’m just working harder every single day, so it shows in the music, and it shows in the fan base, it shows in all areas when you’re bringing it like that.

TCUS: This is another one of your tweets, you said, “Up doing soundcheck in Whistler, I can see how people come here when they’re nineteen and wake up when they’re thirty-three with a drinking problem.” What is it about Whistler that makes it so special?

SonReal: [Laughs] Yeeaahh! Well… I dunno if you’ve ever been to Whistler, have you ever been to Whistler?

TCUS: No, I’m not that lucky.

SonReal: Okay, well it’s a place that’s about a two and a half hour drive from Vancouver, and it’s a big ski resort. And a lot of people come there from all over the world, there’s very little locals even there, to be honest. But basically, Whistler is a spot that’s just party, party party, party, party, sleep, party, party… like, you know what I mean? That’s all you pretty much do there. So we go up there and do shows lots, we get a lot of fans up there, and we probably go up there like five, six times a year even, and just do shows. It’s a good spot for us to connect with people, but like, every single time we go there… the last time I went up there, I got a black eye. I’ve still got a black eye, because I was in the club, and it was after one of my shows, and a dude just… it gets so crazy in there, he didn’t mean to or anything, but his arm went up and he elbowed me in the face. And yeah, I don’t get black eyes in Vancouver, you get black eyes in Whistler. I mean, people just drink like crazy up there, and the party just never really ends, so… it’s one of those kinds of places.

TCUS: That’s crazy.

SonReal: Yeah, man.

TCUS: In your song “Alone”, you talk about “the days that the only f***in’ beat that I could get my hands on was Biggie Smalls’ “Dead Wrong”/ On my CD, at an open mic, just another white rapper no-one knowin’, right?” What’s the story behind that?

SonReal: Yeah, yeah. When I first came to Vancouver, I came here to go to audio engineering school. And basically, nobody was feeling my s***… well, nobody even knew who I was, but even the people that knew who I was, I mean… my struggle and my story is very much so somebody that was just kind of [an] underdog. I didn’t have any cosigns, I wasn’t even really good at rap, I’m one of those dudes that was never just crazy and amazing, I had to work my f***ing ass off to get good at this stuff. So basically, yeah, I came to Vancouver, I was going to open mics, but I didn’t have any beats at the time. Nobody would even make me a beat, ’cause I didn’t really have a buzz or anything. So I would just use famous beats like Biggie Smalls’ “Dead Wrong”, and I’d rap over that. Just basically, the struggle of coming up as a white rapper when there [weren’t] even a whole lot of white rappers around. So that was just kind of my story, man. Being a rapper from a small town, that isn’t your stereotypical looking or sounding dude. That’s all.

TCUS: From that same song, you’ve got a line that says, “In a group of people, but I feel so alone.” Can you talk a little bit about what you’re feeling here?

SonReal: Basically, the song “Alone” is about me feeling so alone in the middle class of rap, ’cause I haven’t made it yet. I’m not bumping heads with Kanye or anything like that, but I’m definitely not underground or anything. People know who I am, but I’m feeling so lonely in the middle area, because I feel like I should be at the top. I feel like I’ve got the skills to be at the top, I feel like I’ve got the mind-state, so basically what I’m saying is there’s people all around me, there’s artists all around me that are in my zone, but I still feel alone. I feel like I can’t relate to them as much as I can related to maybe somebody that was a little bit higher up. That’s kind of what I’m saying.

TCUS: You’ve got a song called “Joseph Kony” on your album. Cover The Night was supposed to happen this past week, but it didn’t really seem to maintain that same initial interest. Did you see any Kony posters in Vancouver at all?

SonReal: I didn’t see one, to be honest.

TCUS: Yeah, I only saw one myself.

SonReal: And that “Joseph Kony” song, I mean, I was just trying to raise awareness for a good cause. That song has nothing to do with Joseph Kony, obviously. I think the whole thing with Joseph Kony and the whole movement that guy had behind it was basically just raising awareness. That’s basically what I tried to do. I might have called a different track on my album “Joseph Kony” that didn’t say Joseph Kony in it, just to raise awareness, but I just happened to use that track.

TCUS: Your song “My Life” opens with a nod to two songs: Ahmad’s “Back In The Day”, and B.I.G.’s “Juicy”, but with a Canadian twist. What was the inspiration there?

SonReal: I just wanted to pay my respects to some older s*** I used to listen to as a kid, and sometimes when I’m writing a song, like, that s*** just came to me. I obviously added my own twist, and had my own lyrics on their stuff, but I mean, it was just a song about reminiscing back to my childhood, and the things I was about when I was a kid. So it’s basically just paying homage, man.

TCUS: In your song “Scream”, you repeat the same phrase, “embrace a hater with a genuinely open ear.” Can you elaborate on this? What were you feeling when you wrote this?

SonReal: I just think, this year is my first year of getting like, real hate. Real people, really not embracing what I’m doing, and people saying I don’t deserve this, and I even have a fake twitter… some guy made up a fake twitter that he tweets at people and tells them “f*** you,” and stuff, pretending he’s me. And basically, I’m just saying, yo, I got into this… you expose yourself to a hundred people, and there’s gonna be five people that don’t like you. You expose yourself to ten million people, [and] that number’s gonna be way up, you know what I mean? I’m basically saying that I’m embracing any hater with an open ear, and it’s cool… I mean, hate does as much as love does for promo, and I feel grateful enough that I have enough fans that I do have haters. So yeah, it’s cool.

TCUS: You dedicated your song “I Know I Never Say This” to your mom, how has your mom supported your music career?

SonReal: Oh man, she’s done everything, dude. I mean, there comes a point when I was younger, I would tell her “I wanna do this music,” blah, blah, blah, “I think I can do this, I think I can make it.” And your mom just kinda says, “you know, honey, you’re right,” and she supports you, and then time goes on, and you still haven’t made your mark, and she starts to say, “oh son,” you know, “maybe we should get a backup plan.” And I dunno, she just stuck behind me, and now that this is my job, and I do this full-time, she’s just my biggest fan, man. She checks out all my videos, she even follows me on twitter and tells me all these crazy things I shouldn’t be doing, when I say s*** on twitter. Yeah, she’s just all about it, so she’s the main reason why I do this, I had to do the song for her.

TCUS: Now, Phonte’s mom just appeared in his latest music video, and she spat Evidence’s verse. Does your mom have what it takes to spit a verse in a video? Does she know your lyrics?

SonReal: You know what? I think she could, man, to be honest. My mom’s got some swag, I could see my mom doing it. And yeah, I saw that video, [it] was really cool, man. That video was rad. But yeah, I think my mom could do it, she already knows some of my songs from front to back, so I could see her doing it.

TCUS: It seems like every time I see pictures or videos of you, you’re wearing a snapback hat. When did that start?

SonReal: I’ve been wearing one since I was maybe nine, or something like that. I used to wear a fitted, like back in ’07-08… I mean, I don’t always wear a snap, most of the time I don’t even wear a hat, or sometimes I’ll wear a toque, but I dunno, I just kinda started rockin’ em. It’s just fresh, it brings me back to when I was a little kid, you know what I mean? You used to rock the snapbacks with your favourite team on them.

TCUS: What’s your most prized snapback?

SonReal: I don’t know, man. I’ve got a few I really like, I’m just looking at them right now. I’ve got this Pistons one, I really like this Pistons one. It’s all leather, and suede, and I dunno, it’s just fresh. My favourite one’s probably the Pistons, I don’t really give a f*** about the team, like the team is never really that big of a deal to me, I’m not a crazy, crazy sports fan, I don’t watch basketball. It’s more so the style of the hat that I like.

TCUS: This is a tweet of yours: “Put out Words I Said a few hours ago, already back in the booth recording for Good News.” So far, we’ve heard “Extra Extra”, which is dope by the way, what can you tell us about the rest of Good News?

SonReal: Thank you! Man, it’s just my best work. That’s pretty much all I can say. I’ve been working on it for awhile now, and I basically wanted to take a bit more time to make sure that it’s the project [that] I really, really, really dreamed and really wanted it to be. So, in the last six weeks, I basically worked on the mixtape super hard, to try and make sure I had enough stuff to keep my fans occupied, and to keep them stoked out. Yeah, I just went hard, and did this Words I Said mixtape for the meantime, and Good News is the Big Kahuna, man. We’ve got some big features on there, and the production’s all original, it’s all way bigger production, we’re gonna have big videos for it and everything. So, Good News will be the biggest thing I’ve done when it comes out.

TCUS: Is there a release date yet?

SonReal: Yeah, we’ve got one, but we can’t really talk about it just yet, just because things change and whatnot. But we’ve got one, and it’s fairly soon. It’s actually really soon.

TCUS: That’s all from me, is there anything else that you wanted to tell the people out there?

SonReal: Yeah, I just wanted to say thanks everyone for supporting me… everyone that’s supported me from the jump, or any new fans that are just getting onto me now, I appreciate it, and I’m just gonna keep going no matter what, this is what it is, and yeah. I really appreciate the support. So go download Words I Said, it’s free on my facebook fan page.

TCUS: Thank you very much, best of luck in the future, and I look forward to hearing Good News.

SonReal: Yeah, yeah definitely, man. For sure. Thank you, I appreciate it.