Latin Trap Pioneer Messiah Gets The Last Laugh At SXSW: “Labels Didn’t Believe In It”
Dominican rapper and vocalist Messiah El Artista went from studying the likes of 50 Cent to being cosigned by him; from listening to trap music to leading its Spanish-language movement; from rocking Sean John to fronting it as the brand's newest face.
Messiah is by definition already a story of success, and he's only getting started. Even after selling out New York City's Stage 48, releasing his 12-track opus Made in Europe and touring across The Pond while remaining entirely independent, Messiah has yet to record what we know to be a proper radio single.
Ahead of his South by Southwest debut in Austin, Texas, the Washington Heights representer gave VIBE Viva the inside scoop on all things Latin trap, crossing over, Drake comparisons and his greatest accomplishments yet, which now include being nominated for a Daytime Emmy. Not too shabby for a chico from around the way.
VIBE Viva: Your first time at SXSW, what do you want to give the people?
Messiah: I want to give them that New York essence. I want to bring that out here. Texas is not like New York, it’s not super lit. And I want to bring that essence here. My stage presence—have these people rocking out to my Spanish trap.
You helped pave way for Spanish trap. How do you feel about others taking credit?
I just feel that you should give credit where it's due. You should know it doesn't make you less of an artist. It doesn't take away from your artistry, from who you are as a man just for saying, "You know what? I give it to this dude because he paved the way." And they do it. A lot of artists do it. But I see a lot of artists that it's like everyone wants that credit to say, "Oh, I paved the way." You got to know that if you didn't do that, then that's the credit you shouldn't be taking. So honestly right now, I'm just very political about it. I respect everyone, but at this point—all the media outlets know what's up, so I don't have to keep bragging about it. I don't need a marching band every time I walk through the room. I was definitely not the first one to do it, but I know for a fact that I was one of the first ones to really consolidate it.
Which is to say to make it a part of the mainstream?
Yeah, because you just go back to 2013… before that, there was not a big trap movement. When I came out with my first trap mixtape and people were like, "There's a genre, it's a movement here," you see a lot of these labels—before labels used to laugh about Latin trap. They didn't believe in it. Now everyone is like, "Oh you do Latin trap? You lit." Why? Because that's what's lit now.
Are labels wooing you with deals, and do you plan on signing with anyone?
Right now, I just want to get everything together. I just got out of management. I'm just rebuilding my team right now. As far as record labels, I've been reached out by record labels since I started, so that's the least of my worries. I've been doing so good independently that I want to keep it that way until we find the perfect partnership, because when I do partner up with a record label and give them some of my percentages, it has to be with the right person. We've been trying to do the crossover, you know? I want to do something on the Anglo side. I want to [work with] a record label that's also Spanish.
What does crossover success look like to you?
You know, a lot of these artists can't speak English that [well]. My English is not the best English. It's not perfect, but I can damn near hold a great conversation with anybody, so that's an upper hand that I have on a lot of artists here. So, as far as the crossover—perfect example: Spiff [TV] explained to me that whenever you're in the studio with a Latin rap artist doing a feature with an English hip-hop artist, it's really hard because you need somebody to come in and say what the song is saying. Me, I can explain the song for you. I would rather hear it from the artist because I do music all the time with different artists.
So, let's say I'm doing a song with a French artist, and he just happens to also know English. Now he can tell me, "What I'm saying in French is this.” I can be in the room with Meek Mill and be like, "The song is talking about, 'We in the club. We with girls,'" so he's hearing it from me and so we vibing together. So, I think when it comes to the crossover, I'm already doing the crossover. I have so many English stations that play my music. I have so many people that don't know Spanish that come up to me and be like, "Yo, I don't know what the hell you're saying, but I love your vibe. I love your flow." So, I already think I'm doing the crossover without even trying, so then when we do come with this record, this Spanglish, Pitbull-esque track—it's going to be lit.
Would you want Drake to come on a record and spit in Spanish?
He could be speaking French on the record. [Laughs] With Drake, I don't care what it is. Just having Drake on the record to me would be very monumental.
I understand that you’ve been dubbed the “Latin Drake.”
I take that as a compliment—the "Spanish Drake," the "Latin Drake," even though I was doing this before I even knew of Drake, you know? In New York, when I started doing music, I was big on 50 Cent, the G-Unit mixtapes. That's like what really inspired me to do hip-hop, but when I started hearing about Drake doing the singing and the rapping, which is what I do—I kind get it. It's definitely not an insult to me being compared to somebody as big and as dope as Drake.
Is Drake in your top five?
I think Drake is definitely one of my favorite rappers. He consolidated himself as like one of the best rappers. That's something dope. Me, I did the same thing. You can say that I didn't just change the Latin hip-hop with the Latin trap. You can say that I've kind of changed the urban game, period, because now everyone is just doing trap. So, a lot of people who were urban merengueros, urban bachateros, a lot of dudes are now literally saying, "Yo, we're just doing trap" and having a lot to do with that is definitely an honor.
When you leave Texas, what’s next? What’s up your sleeve?
We already got our single. We're just waiting for it to get mixed and mastered, so just moving forward with the single, finally. We have a lot of promo coming. The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Miami, LA. So I'm just excited for what's to come out of that. I'm working on a lot of people's stuff, too.
It's been a long time of me being an independent artist and doing everything underground, so now working my first radio record is definitely something to look out for because I have so many DJ friends that tell me, "Yo, Messiah. I think you've gotten as big as an underground artist can get. You sold out Stage 48. All the clubs you do are lit. You bring out something on the Internet and it's lit. Your last project Made in Europe debuted at No. 1 on iTunes." And with all of that being said, I still have not worked a radio record. I still have not said, "This is my single.” No Billboard charts.
Any recent testaments to your success?
Actually, I've been nominated for an Emmy—a Daytime Emmy for this radio commercial I wrote and recorded for X96.3 FM Univision Radio, in 2016. And Even if I don't win, I'm always going to be an Emmy nominee.