Ink Tone Swep Creative Director Dani Gallego Images Pablo Martinez Additional Images Luis Marquez Additional Images VOMBA Location Miami Beach, Florida
It’s over a year ago now, but I wanted to ask about Puerto Rico’s continued recovery from Hurricane Maria. Was anyone in your immediate circle affected?
Puerto Rico is doing well. At first, I saw the island improving more gradually and now conditions are improving much more rapidly with all of the building. Things are going pretty well for the most part. There are still places that haven’t recovered completely, but the people stay strong in Puerto Rico, and we always help each other. That is the one thing that makes us stay strong through anything. Our togetherness and our strength as a people, not just as individuals alone, but as an entire island. We’ve overcome many challenges this way, by being strong together as one.
As one of Reggaeton’s biggest stars over the last 10 years, I want to get your take on Latin Trap. How has the emergence of that subgenre impacted contemporary Latin music as a whole? And how does it differ from Reggaeton?
Everything comes from the urban movement. I feel like Trap is part of the overall Reggaeton movement. It’s a little different, maybe now more street or underground than Reggaeton you could say but still part of the culture. It’s the new wave and I think it helps Reggaeton a lot, because the younger fans or people who didn’t listen to Reggaeton at first but like Trap are introduced to us. Like, people listen to Bad Bunny, he’s one of the bigger Trap artists out now, and when they do they hear everyone he has featured on his songs.
Growing up in Puerto Rico and also here in the states on the East Coast, what advantages did that cultural duality afford you?
That gave me all the flavor. Understanding both places and both kinds of music made me learn both styles, Hip Hop and Reggaeton, English and Spanish, the states and the island (Puerto Rico). My mom was raised out here in the states, I grew up in Puerto Rico. And my brother was a little more Americanized, so he always had me listening to so much good music like Tupac, Biggie, Mase, Boyz II Men, a lot of the big 90’s hip-hop and R&B stars. And my Mom was raised out here in the states, I grew up mainly in Puerto Rico, so she knew the ways people talked and popular sayings, things like that. Being able to blend the two worlds, along with the songwriting, is what I am known for.
You haven’t dropped an album since your 2016 project “The Promise” (La Promesa), but you do have the smash hit with Plan B out called “If You” (Si Tu). How did that joint come together? The vid is at almost 20 million views.
Plan B is a cool duo in Reggaeton, someone I always wanted to work with. I sent them the track with my vocals already done. They recorded their parts and sent it back. I heard it altogether and instantly knew it was a big record, a hit song. I got with my engineer here in Miami and mixed it down. Then we got together and shot the video, put the song out. It was already big with the fans by the same week. Like an instant smash hit.
You are also in the process of recording your third album, right?
Right now I’m working really, really hard. Like just writing and recording non stop. That’s how I like to work. I’m just cooking up (Laughs!). Trying to finish my album, and I’m involved in every aspect from production to songwriting to recording to mixing, even with the treatment for the video, the filming and editing. Everything! It’s like a 360 degree process for me. It’s my sound and look, my album, so I know it’s important that I am hands on with every single aspect.
You have also written hit songs for superstars like Maluma, J. Balvin, Daddy Yankee, and Becky G. As an artist, what different gear do you tap into when creating for others as opposed to making hits for yourself?
When I’m writing for someone else I try to flow like they flow, find out the tones they like and feel comfortable with and not take them away from that. Like, when I wrote for Anitta and Don Omar, I captured their melodies and put my spin on it, gave it my flavor. I just flew in last night to work on J. Balvin’s new album. I’m also working with Diplo, and on Sean Paul’s next album, too.
There are several prominent Reggaeton artists. You seem to be the one who works with everyone. Why is collaboration important to you?
Collaborating is the best of both worlds, I feel. I like how DJ Khaled does it, brings four dope artists who are all different onto a song. That helps the culture, probably extends each of their audiences. And it’s more rare that we can get everyone in the studio together at the same time, but we always can for the video. I think it takes us back, too, because as kids we all grew up playing games and making music together, then we grow up and get away from that. You know, everybody is doing his own thing. Collaborating takes us back to working together so it’s those fun times again.
Two albums, two EP’s, numerous hit singles. What is next for you beyond music?
Right now I’m really focussing on my music. I feel like I have two jobs, being an artist and being a writer. I’m working hard to excel at both, and even though music is something you never truly master because you are always learning and new sounds are always being created, I still want to master the craft, or at least keep working toward that.
How do you decompress, escape the confines of your celebrity? Where do you go, what do you do to separate yourself from the insanity of fame?
Playing ball (Laughs!). I’m always down to get with my boys and hit the courts. And I have an auto parts business in San Juan. Building new businesses is an example of a big thing for me right now, I just don’t have a lot of time to like really, really lock in on it because I’m always making music. I still want to build other businesses, though, so my best friend from Puerto Rico, he was the main seller at this big auto parts dealer. So I’m telling him ‘We should start something and own it ourselves. You can do that over here. You are selling millions over there, sell millions over here instead’. So I invested and we opened up for business recently. I’m not always around for the day-to-day, but we sit down and talk business whenever I’m on the island.
Hip Hop started in New York City in the 70’s, primarily as an art form and business opportunity for young Black and Spanish men and women to escape poverty in the ghetto. Reggaeton started in the 90’s under similar circumstances in Puerto Rico. Most prominently Daddy Yankee, and then many others who began in barrio poverty rose to riches and global fame; became stars. Hip Hop has come with its challenges for Blacks in America, however: Murders, prison sentences, corruption, governmental interference. Have there been any negative effects of Reggaeton on Latin culture?
Yea, that happens a lot in Reggaeton as well. There’s an artist named Kendo (Kaponi) who is locked up now for two years. Then there’s Tempo that did 11 years. They said he had like 100 keys of heroine, but now he’s out and doing good. He’s back in the music game. It’s like Hip Hop, like you said it comes from the streets. Reggaeton artists come from a struggle as well, from the streets and having to fight for every single thing you get, including respect. Then you start doing music, your career takes off and your business partners will expect that you immediately leave the streets alone. You know, but it’s hard when that is all you know… At some point we all must learn to cut the BS out and just keep going with what you have right now. And that might mean how you used to eat, who you used to know, how you used to get money, and just stick to the big opportunity at hand – and that’s music.