Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for Billboard
Becky G & More Latin Urban Artists Come Together To Talk Being Latinx, The "Urbano" Genre & Collab Success
Urbano music, or Latin urban, may have pop superstars like Drake and Justin Bieber singing whole versus in Spanish now, but in a panel featuring some of the biggest names in the genre, trailblazer Yandel of GRAMMY-nominated Puerto Rican duo Wisin Y Yandel, explained that he has spent the last 14 years of his career advocating for urbano music to get the respect it deserves.
"One of the hardest things for me was getting the genre accepted on the radio [and] on television. We have been here since the start when they didn't accept our music," he said on an intimate stage setting at the Neuhouse in Hollywood on the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month, Oct. 15, when asked about the challenges he's faced. "Unfortunately because of the content or whatever, for many reasons, but later we began to better the music, getting the songwriting down and that's when we started to see a change, but it was hard."
Yandel was joined by rapper/singers Wisin, Ozuna, and Farruko as well as singer Becky G to discuss identity, the global growth of Latin music and other topics relating to what it is to be an artist in the age of social media.
In the time since the massive commercial success around Luis Fonsi's 2017 mega-hit "Despacito," artists in the reggaeton, trap and other pop-infused urban music genres are getting more global attention, thanks to YouTube and other online streaming platforms.
That wasn't always the case, Yandel reminded the crowd, but "we're here now."
When asked about the hardships she's faced as an artist before her rise in popularity, Becky G, who began rapping and singing in English at age 14 and is releasing her debut album under the Latin pop and urbano genres, said transitioning into Spanish-language music was a scary move for her. "Are they going to embrace me as one of their own?" she remembers asking herself. At the time she felt like she had to better her Spanish. Now the singer has had success singing alongside other urbano singers like Natti Natasha, who she featured in her hit "Sin Pijama."
Farruko, meanwhile, said the challenging part is staying relevant. Having fans continue to consume music in an age in which artists release music constantly online is key. "I think Farruko's point is really interesting," Wisin said when asked about the constant pressure to release music. "This is a content business. People no longer look for big names, they go after a good song." He noted that having an ear for good music that speaks to the culture now is vital to be successful.
On How Social Media Determines Success
The panel artists agreed that social media has been great for their careers, allowing them to bring their music to the masses without having to physically be there, but as social media has grown to become a public sphere of opinions and critiques, balance is key. As an artist who was discovered creating covers of Kanye West and Jay-Z online, Becky G said social media definitely changed her life, but now it has also become an invasive aspect of it. "It's a blessing and a curse," she said. While she can connect to fans everywhere, she expressed that as a woman in the industry, some people take to social media to criticize her body and what she wears. "People feel entitled to speak on certain things."
Wisin later added that social media can be a tool that can help an artist become better. "The people that critique, some of the people that are the wisest about music are behind their phones," the "Escapate Conmigo" singer said. "Maybe a friend of yours won't tell you the truth because you are friends, but audinces [will]."
On Collaborating And Remixing
Several of the artists on the panel have been a part of successful remixes. Fellow panelist Ozuna said he felt like the remix is an opportunity to help advance artists' careers in addition to those of rising acts.
"I think we are the genre that collaborates the most, the genre that comes together the most," the "Taki Taki" singer said. "We may have our differences, but when it comes to helping each other out, we always do."
Wisin added that collaborating is organically a part of the urbano genre. "Since the beginning, the genre began to sell itself as a project featuring several artists," he said, noting albums like Mas Flow- Los Benjamin by producers Tainy and Luny Tunes, which features various artists like Wisin y Yandel, Daddy Yankee, Zion and more.
"The genre is huge now, but if we decided going forward to no longer collaborate and start to feed our egos, I'm sure that despite the best music we would make, the genre wouldn't have the impact it has now," he said. "Collabing has allowed artists outside the genre that didn't keep up with it respect it now. Huge artists like Enrique [Iglesas,] Jennifer [Lopez, Ricky [Martin,] [Luis] Fonsi, big artists from other genres decided to bet on our music, that's the urbano genre's credibility."
Becky G also noted the amazing experiences she has had collabing with women in the genre, even if people told her they were her competition. One of her biggest hits has been alongside fellow singer Natti Natasha in "Sin Pijama."
Despite other people's hesitation, she went with it because "I was thinking in a moment that was greater," she said. "There's a lot of hits, but a moment in history that had never been done before was the women working together without men, just reggeaton."
On The "Urbano" Genre
While collaborating has helped bring eyes and ears to the genre, Farruko said award shows looking to celebrate the genre should not use it as an umbrella term to celebrate it in one category. "The genre has grown so much that we need to have several sub categories," he said, adding that having only one category has made urban artists them feel segregated. "There's trap, reggaeton, reggae-pop, reggae-tropical, there are different fusions within the genre and we can't put them all on one grill."
Wisin added that more urbano producers should get more recognition as a whole. "No one knows who they are and they have collaborated with big names."
The panel, organized by Valance Media, was hosted by Billboard's Leila Cobo during the week leading up to the Latin American Music Awards.