Scarborough musician and UW Honours Arts and Business student Vinuson “Vinnin” Sunthareson was a normal kid just like everyone else in high school. Unlike other students his age, however, Sunthareson had already been featured on the NBA 2K21 soundtrack and been the subject of a publication on Toronto.com before he had even received his diploma. “People just started looking at me differently and started talking about me.”
The increased attention he received beginning in high school soon became a double-edged sword. He struggled with suddenly receiving “more hate and more love” as a result of his musical success.
“I wasn’t exposed to that [before] when I was just growing up,” Sunathareson said. It was also alienating because certain peers wanted to befriend him solely because they believed he could offer them opportunities or clout. “Some people just wanted to benefit off me.”
It’s perhaps easy to forget that before all this, he was just another kid who played the trumpet and sang in the school choir. He performed at talent shows and liked receiving honest feedback from the audience, positive or not, because feedback helped him to fine-tune his craft. He grew up listening to Malayalam music and hip-hop artists like Eminem and Tupac Shakur on the weekends.
Music later became an outlet for tumultuous events from his personal life. “Before I was making music, I was going through a very dark experience in my town.” He struggled with “how people used to treat me in high school… I used to get bullied in Grade 7 and 8. I kind of used music to cope with it.”
His new single, “Save My Soul,” details some of these inner demons from high school, singing lines like “Losin’ my soul, I was broke, can’t let ‘em know” over an upbeat rhythm. More melodic rappers like Lil Tjay, Boogie wit a Hoodie, The Kid LAROI, and Lil Tecca influence this newer work. His lyrics have also shifted to be more authentic. “Way back in Grade 9 when I used to make music, I’d say things that I really don’t do.” He added that, “You want people to genuinely like you for you being you.”
Over a year later in university, Vinnin believes that at Waterloo, he is forging more authentic connections with others and doesn’t like introducing himself as an artist. “I’m getting treated like every single other person which is nice,” he said. Even while some may recognize him, everyone will mostly “keep it cool.”
When asked about why he decided to continue studying at Waterloo, he explained that he doesn’t want to commit to music full-time and felt drawn to the co-op program. “My parents are brown,” he said, explaining how his family instilled in him the value of getting an education. “I can still work and have a normal life while also funding my music on the side.”
He is interested in the business side of the ARBUS program and wants to prepare for a regular nine-to-five job someday. “Social services interest me too, getting to talk to people,” he said.
Beyond school and making music, he also makes time to stay in touch with his spiritual side. “I’m into self-improvement books like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, and it just talks about laws of attraction.” He is also interested in manifestation. He writes what he is grateful about everyday, as well as his goals, in addition to reading quotes and positive affirmations.
While Vinnin may be allowing himself the time and space to figure out what he wants to do and engage with his spiritual side, he’s far from being done with music. His song “See You Later,” produced by Yanchan, reached #16 on Vevo under the R&B/Teen Hip Hop category. Last year, he had an impressive 175.6K Spotify streams with listeners from 131 different countries.
He has his routine down. Weekdays, it’s class, homework, and day-to-day life on campus. “Saturday, Sunday, I will go from [Waterloo] to Downtown Toronto or Brampton or to Mississauga to record at a studio,” he said. He collaborates with friends and fellow creatives from around the world who send him beats that he later transforms. “I write to a beat, then I come back to it, and revise like three to four times.” It takes roughly four hours to make a song, but sometimes, it’s a lengthier process.
“It’s a feeling, whenever you’re going through something, you kinda let it out, you can’t force it,” he said.
He plans to grow more involved in the local Waterloo music scene. He’s met some undercover DJs in Uptown Waterloo and sees value in being in a city in which the main demographic are young people: his main listeners. “A lot of doors opened for me coming to this school.”
When asked what advice he would give aspiring artists. “At first when you’re starting out something… you’re gonna look like you’re lost,” he said. “But if you work every single day on something, you’re for sure gonna go somewhere.”