For RealestK, vulnerability is a virtue. Combining a feathery tenor and unashamed emotional transparency, the 19-year-old Toronto native produces introspective R&B full of tenderness and longing, exploring themes of love and loss with a naked sensitivity. And just as he wears his heart on his sleeve, he’s inked his ambitions on his skin. His forearm inks a single phrase: “Dreams 2 Reality,” which is what he would eventually name his debut mixtape. Released in 2022, Dreams 2 Reality deep-dives into the psyche of a young man finding his way while navigating fame. With his forthcoming follow-up Real World, it captures the reality check of RealestK’s new world: the cracking facade of celebrity, the life not posted on social media.

Real World‘s title came to him one night on tour after an unexpected audience response during his set caused him to rethink his career. “It was a humbling experience,” he says. “One thing I don’t really agree with is how fast young entertainers have to grow up. It helps in the real world, but it also causes a lot of pain, self-doubt, and insecurities. I journaled a lot so I wrote about what happened, what I felt. The last line I wrote was, ‘I guess this is just the real world.’ and that’s when it hit me.”

While the mixtape’s lead single “Stranger,” was made in the wake of a bad breakup, many of the tracks often show a short and chaotic life-cycle of a love affair. The lovelorn theme continues on “CYBM,” which finds the artist fantasizing about the what-ifs of a relationship gone right. “That’s what I’m trying to represent with this mixtape,” he says. “That being an artist is also being human.”

The son of Lebanese immigrants to Ontario, he grew up watching his father moonlight as an Arabic singer. “Although I didn’t understand much, I felt it,” he says. Songs by 50 Cent, Eminem, Tupac, Nas, and Michael Jackson played constantly in the house, thanks to his older brother. But RealestK was instantly enamored of two newcomers who also happened to rep Toronto: Drake and The Weeknd. Watching them win big at awards shows lit a fire within him.

In high school, the pandemic gave him the opportunity to further his craft. From his makeshift studio, he took advantage of lockdown’s always-home, always-online audience by uploading covers — and eventually his own music — to TikTok. His song “SWM,” released in July 2021, captivated fans with its melancholic yet gentle style. Its sequel, “WFM,” climbed even higher, going viral and immediately amassing millions of streams. Over the next year, as “WFM” earned RIAA-certified Gold status, RealestK built upon his momentum. Along the way, he signed with Columbia Records and earned cosigns from Drake, The Weeknd, and NAV.

RealestK’s debut, Dreams 2 Reality, includes many of his captivating hits in addition to songs like the conflicted “I Think I Do” and the suave “Bruce Wayne.” More than a product of self-growth, Real World exhibits RealestK becoming more intimately involved in the recording process. He recorded with only his engineer in a dark room between the hours of 1 and 6 a.m. “My intuition was at its sharpest then,” RealestK says. “Because when you’re alone, you get the most real.”

As RealestK prepares Real World for release, he’s doubled down on his goal to heal himself and others — through music and beyond. “I want people to know this project took a lot of self-growth to make,” he says. “I want to be the best person, not only for myself, but for every little girl or boy out there that didn’t have anybody to look up to and now can be inspired by me.”

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