It isn’t very often that weird humor and hip-hop mix. The Beasties Boys and The Fat Boys were two of the first to embrace comedy hip-hop in the 1980s, a conceit that was picked up by Eminem in the '90s, and current acts like Childish Gambino, Macklemore, Odd Future and Lil Dicky within the last decade.
But one of the most recent artists to throw his silly hat into the ring is Canada’s SonReal. Releasing his “Everywhere We Go” music video just over a year ago, the Juno-nominated rapper seems to pay homage to the uncomfortable awkwardness and absurd nerdy stylings of “Napoleon Dynamite.” Accumulating nearly 1.5 million views on YouTube -- “One million views in Canada is more like 100 million in the States” -- comedy feels like a natural fit for SonReal. But with mixtapes hailing back to 2006, this goofy tone is actually a first.
"I think we created a whole new side to my personality with that video,” SonReal told The Huffington Post. "A lot of people didn’t even really think I was funny before that. A lot of my stuff was a little more serious, maybe some people would categorize it as emo.”
The video for “Believe,” off his most recent free album, “One Long Day,” was purposefully released after “Everywhere We Go” to remind both new and old fans of his more serious side. (SonReal was aware that an art piece wouldn’t go viral.) While the majority of the album floats in this space of self-examination and outreach, SonReal’s latest video for his new track, “Preach,” brings on another wacky, stoic production, shot in 57 different locations throughout the United States.
Born as Aaron Hoffman and raised in Vernon, British Columbia, a small town with a population of 60,000, SonReal grew up expecting to follow in the footsteps of the town's working populace.
"A lot of the people where I’m from go up north and work on rigs," he said. "It’s these small town dreams, which is to have a family and try to be rich. That’s what successful is there. There are no rappers around my way, so I really had to break the mold. When I first started, people around me didn’t take me seriously -- and so they shouldn’t have, I was horrible at it. But it was definitely harder for me, I think, than somebody growing up in a big city because there was no one within 500 miles of me that had done what I was trying to do.”
Introduced to hip-hop through skateboarding, he fell in love with albums like Nas' “Illmatic,” Method Man's “Judgement Day” and Mobb Deep's “The Infamous.” On his first mixtape, “Trapped In The Streets,” SonReal emulated these artists, rapping about selling drugs and killing people. While he understands he was just trying to find his place in hip-hop, SonReal is thankful that little beyond the music was documented. “I’m so happy I didn’t have a YouTube account at the time because I would have so many videos that are so bad,” he said.
“It takes time to find out what you want to say and who you want to be,” SonReal continued. "At the end of the day is just comes back to ‘do you.’ I have always said I want to be around for a long time, so we’ve taken our time with things and made sure they’re perfect. One thing about me is that I’ve never been really amazing right off the jump. I’m not someone who just comes out with a smash album right at the start. I’m consistently working to get better at my music. ‘One Long Day’ is my best work today, but my new stuff is already turning out to be way more energetic. I’m excited about it.”
As SonReal continues to rise -- and headlines his first tours throughout the United States -- the comparisons to Macklemore feel unfortunately inevitable. In addition to both men being white rappers, they share a goofy-sincere sensibility. But for those willing to really listen, SonReal's work exudes its own unique talent. In fact, it's what many of his fans know already: SonReal has his own flow, his own style, his own message. And he's pretty damn good at it.
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