A New Wave of Sounds
in Puerto Rico
A few weeks ago, one of the biggest musical acts in the world, Bad Bunny, took the stage to accept his Grammy award for Best Música Urbana Album, which he won for his hit album Un Verano Sin Ti. Towards the end of his acceptance speech, Benito A. Martínez Ocasio from the small Puerto Rican town of Vega Baja, who got his start uploading self-recorded songs to SoundCloud, took a moment to send a message to a particular group:
A musical duo used to be ubiquitous in reggaetón and its offshoot genres, sometimes coming together organically when two artists crossed paths in their careers and recognized they had chemistry and other times because of sheer stubborn willpower when labels or producers wanted to catch lightning in a bottle. For indie dynamos Enyel C and Gyanma, their 2023 debut as Dúo Deleite falls firmly under the former, and the arc that led them here began in their earliest days.
“I’ve known Gyanma since high school — he was a senior, and I was in 7th grade. I remember seeing him play in bands with all the older kids,” shares Enyel C
The two crossed paths again years later when Enyel went to see Gyanma perform live, now as a solo act, and offered to play backup bass. Not long after, Enyel began his own path as a solo artist, and Gyanma was there supporting him.
Together, the pair has an irresistible charm; their first official song together, “Oro Centro,” is a fan-favorite show-stopper that brings out the best in both: Gyanma’s particular rap offensive which carries a touch of suave R&B coquettishness, alongside Enyel’s skittish wordplay and knack for playful choruses. “Every time we were in a studio, we’d end up making a song unplanned because we got along so well,” says Enyel. “We took a step back and decided that, instead of releasing the songs as separate features, we can rework this into its own fun project.” Gyanma, a Berklee alumn who also produces music for himself and others out of his recording studio in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, has a grasp on what makes Dúo Deleite successful. “Enyel and I, beyond the personal chemistry and friendship, also have a musical shorthand that compliments each other. I think that comes through in the songs and our live shows as well,” he says, while stressing they will also continue their solo career ventures.
By: Juan J. Arroyo
Photography: Gabriel A. Saldaña
Additional Photography: Joel Moya
Production: Krizia Belen
I want to dedicate this award to Puerto Rico, the capital of reggaetón. I want to dedicate it to the legends — and, not only the legends, but also new artists who keep this movement alive and keep refreshing it. To all the new talent, let’s keep taking this genre to new levels.
There's no denying the global recognition of the musical power coming out of Puerto Rico. From the worldwide success of Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" and Don Omar's "Bandoleros," to Benito's superstardom that has seen 3 Grammy & 9 Latin Grammy wins, la isla del encanto has more than earned its reputation of creating some of the greatest artists in the Latine music space both in and out of el movimiento — looking also to pop and salsa legends.
Nothing is ever guaranteed in the music industry, and despite the past breakout success of once-newfangled artists like Arcángel, De La Ghetto, Residente, and Ñengo Flow, new acts have a perilous half-life that rests on the whims of a notoriously fickle fanbase. Most don’t go beyond a “grand opening, grand closing” debut, and more — without the backing of deep pockets — grow through a slow burn process, while favored others hit the ground running and blow up from the jump. But what’s coming out of Puerto Rico is a phenomenon in its own right: from Luar La L, YOVNGCHIMI and Villano Antillano to Jovaan, Eladio Carrión, and Young Miko, it’s no secret that Puerto Rico’s established artists look to the fresh crop for inspiration and as a source of potential hits; Brytiago went viral in October when he surprised newcomer Moize by jumping on his song “Good Morning” while the latter was still a relative unknown. It’s these novice artists that are innovating and creating new subgenres, fusions, and sounds that trickle up more than the other way around.
And steeped in the spirit of resistance that has been the bedrock of Borikén for generations, there’s nothing that will stop these new waves coming out Puerto Rico’s equally revolutionary music scene. Back in 2014, Remezcla traveled down to Puerto Rico to document the simmering hip-hop scene there for the documentary short “Trilligan’s Island,” exclusively talking to then-budding stars Myke Towers, Álvaro Díaz, Caleb Calloway, and Latine trap pioneers Füete Billēte and Jazz Bandana. Even after all the tumultuous events the island has been through since then, the music is as popular as ever and continuously expanding. As local rapper Robertito Chong told Remezcla last year, “I think people started to appreciate more what we have, and that’s resulted in more variety in the music.” On that note, Remezcla returned to Puerto Rico to spotlight five emerging acts that are carving out a unique space in the industry, one that pays homage to their roots while forging ahead into new and exciting territories.
The quotes have been translated, edited, and condensed for clarity.
Enyel and I, beyond the personal chemistry and friendship, also have a musical shorthand that compliments each other. I think that comes through in the songs and in our live shows as well,” he says.
As they put the finishing touches on their upcoming 8-track album, the two gush about what they intend to communicate to listeners and new fans. “Good vibes and having a good time,” says Gyanma. “Some really good songs didn’t make the cut for this volume because they were a bit more about heartbreak and being down, but we’ll save those [for later].” Adds Enyel, “[The name Dúo Deleite] describes really well what happens when we bring our music together: ‘delight.’ That’s what our music is; from the sound to the fun we have, that’s our jam.”
The rags-to-riches story that made up the backbone of many an artist's narrative during the '90s and '00s heyday of the genre — a constant point of relatability with its primary audience — was cynically co-opted by some labels once the music began to cross over in more consequential ways. The economic tribulations Puerto Rico has gone through have, unfortunately, made these circumstances still all too real for many young people. For them, music continues to be a legitimate lifeline.
Keysokeys, real name Keyshla Somar, is a prime example of an artist who lives what she raps and one that, by doing so, turned many heads in 2022. Somar is a single mother who, after a brief initial attempt recording in 2016, decided to take a few years to find her voice as an artist and raise her child. In 2020, she got back into the game, debuting at a live performance show in Old San Juan's La Perla neighborhood. "The feedback I got was so positive. It pushed me to start putting out music that very same year," she says.
Last summer, she dropped "C O N E" and immediately piqued the interest of listeners who gravitated towards her ratatat flow and striking look. A few months later, she was shocked to find herself on Bad Bunny's all-female Latinx Heritage Month playlist for TIDAL. "I found out when someone sent me a link to the list over DM, congratulating me," she recalls. "I had no idea! I looked up the playlist and saw my name and truly just about cried from the emotion." An even bigger hit came next, as she teamed up with Fiamma for "Pikete," which has already racked up nearly 1.8 million listens on Spotify. Up next is her debut EP, Inmortal, of which she says, "I chose that name because I've lived through so many things in life that sometimes when I look back on them and see that I'm still standing, still giving it my all, the title feels appropriate." She touts the inclusion on the album of a remix of her latest single, "Bandida," which will be a collab with two female artists she's admired for a long time.
"The feedback I got was so positive, it pushed me to start putting out music that very same year," she says.
Remaining consistent is the biggest lesson I’m taking from 2022.
She's more laser-focused than ever on her music, telling Remezcla, "Remaining consistent is the biggest lesson I'm taking from 2022. Last year, I started to see results, and I realized that if I'd applied the same consistency in 2020, things might've happened sooner, [...], so my north star going into 2023 is consistency."
Moffa has always been upfront about what his music will always be geared towards: love, happiness, and overall positive vibes. But don't confuse him for a pushover; in his very young career, the Isabela native has recorded with fellow young guns Alejo, Lyanno, and Jotaerre, and luminaries such as PJ Sin Suela and Karol G. Last year saw him getting flown out via private jet to Colombia, where he found himself in the same studio as one of the most prominent contemporary female genre icons. It's a far cry from the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music, where he got his start in joining the chorus, capturing people's attention with his voice - a talent he's still living out today.
For Moffa, real name José Feliciano (yes, he knows), stepping into reggaetón was a no-brainer decision because, as he puts it, "Reggaetón is something that's already inside every boricua artist, like a chip that you can't eject." He was tantalized by the challenge of marrying his style to the beats he grew up with.
His upbeat demeanor has helped him gain many fans, and 2023 promises to be his most significant phase yet, incorporating numerous life lessons towards this new year. "Life takes many twists and turns, and I learned not to get too in my head and overthink. God's plan is perfect, and everything happens when it's supposed to," he says. "There'll be a thousand obstacles, but if you keep your head on straight, know the right moves to make, and keep that hustler's instinct, you can get very far."
Amidst rumors of an EP, he paints a more broad view of what he has coming up on the horizon. "This year, I'm coming to demonstrate who I am as an artist — my identity beyond just 'a kid who makes music'," he says. "I'm coming with special projects that I hope fans will embrace and connect with, and that way, get a deeper sense of who Moffa is." Judging from his reception so far, he'll have no trouble rising in the ranks.
There’ll be a thousand obstacles, but if you keep your head on straight, know the right moves to make, and keep that hustler’s instinct, you can get very far.
“Reggaetón is something that's already inside every boricua artist, like a chip that you can't eject.”
Observers might say RaiNao could not have had a better 2022 if she'd written it herself, but she arguably did. Everything from releasing her debut EP, Ahora A.K.A. Nao, to sharing the stage with Bad Bunny himself to sing one of her songs in front of thousands of concert-goers was the result of an admirable work ethic that has only cemented her reputation as one of the top new talents from the archipelago. Her sound, lyricism, and voice have hardly any contemporary equals and have garnered her a devoted fan base who feel seen in her songs, which tend to be melancholic but never despondent, an important distinction in their hearts and minds. She's clear-eyed about her growing audience and reach but nevertheless is committed to a lucid respect for both. "There's no difference between a huge crowd or a small crowd because those are still people who admire you, are fans of your music and invested the time to come and see you perform," she says.
She kicked off 2023 by teaming up with fellow boricua rising star paopao for the instant hit "dale Play" and hints at more sonic fraternization to come later in the year, coyly describing a future release as "[A] more extensive project where I collaborated with people I admire." She stays tight-lipped about who those might be, but she recently found time for Brray, as she costars in "Tú y Yo," a single off his upcoming album that marries her electro-soul sound with his roguish and blue raps. She's also eyeing some more shows "outside of Puerto Rico" this year, which will undoubtedly help spread her glowing reputation.
“So if it’s a thousand people or 20 people, I always give my all for them.”
RaiNao currently finds herself on the cusp of household recognition, yet still enigmatic enough to intrigue and surprise listeners who attempt to categorize her style. She has managed to strike a delicate balance between familiarity and innovation, keeping her audience engaged and eagerly anticipating her next move. Much of that is by explicit design, as she's a devotee of the promotional tease and mystery box, but it's also a big part of her appeal. In an industry where theatricality sometimes eclipses talent, it's refreshing to see someone who excels at both with ease. Add to that her natural stage charisma and social media savvy, and it's the best endorsement for assured success that money can't buy. Being able to say the most popular artist in the world had your music "on repeat all summer" doesn't hurt, either.
There’s no difference between a huge crowd or a small crowd, because those are still people who admire you, are fans of your music, and invested the time to come and see you perform.
What led nouveau rapper Yung Boi to a potentially career-defining year in 2023 can be attributed to happenstance and a humbling moment of enlightenment. He began as one of the many rookies who can look back at outlets like Freestyle Mania or, in his case, SoundCloud, as where his then-nascent trajectory began. Before that, though, the trap hot shot didn’t have rapping on his mind. “I mostly dabbled in EDM as a producer — dubstep, bass house, deep house, that’s what I loved. Then I started DJ’ing too to make more money on the side,” he says. As part of his job, he bought a sound card bundled with a microphone and headphones, two items he had set aside unused for over a year. One day he ran across them again and decided to record himself.
Fast-forward a few years later, and Yung Boi can boast tracks alongside more established trappers like Gotay “El Autentiko” and Joyce Santana, and a debut EP, chico joven vol. 1, distributed by Rimas-backed independent label SONAR. But it’s a realization he came to last year that put his 2023 resolutions in clearer focus. “Last year, I learned a lot, and the biggest thing was that I had to do everything myself. It sounds odd, but life put me in a lot of situations where I found myself asking, ‘How am I going to do this if I don’t have X? How am I going to do that if I don’t have Y?’” Reaching back to his beginnings when he was a self-propelled producer, he pushed himself to recapture that mindset heading into the new year. “I gotta trust more in myself, which also helps better transmit my personality and vision into my work. [...] I dove back into producing and making beats, and my creativity flourished.”
“My first song was called “McDonald’s” and I uploaded it anonymously to SoundCloud and showed it to my friends without telling them it was me, and they liked it. They shared it forward and more people said they liked it too.” Recognizing his newfound talent, he leaned into it.
The result will be his most productive run yet — he closed the year with “2X1 FREESTYLE”, which harkens to his early stylings (“They told me / do some frees like the old days” he raps to open the track) and counts not one, not two, but three projects incoming over the next few months: a surprise EP titled 3:33 that drops soon, a second called PLUGGTVLK, and then after that chico joven vol. 2. With a renewed vigor and hunger for success, Yung Boi is poised to take his name further than ever before.
I gotta trust more in myself, and that also helps to better transmit my personality and vision into my work. [...] I dove back into producing and making beats, and my creativity flourished.
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Mural by Carlitos Skills