Anuel AA & Karol G In Concert - New York, NY
Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

After A Breakthrough Year, What's Next For Música Urbana?

Anuel AA, Natti Natasha, and Ozuna brought some of the biggest hits in music in 2018. But which latinx artists will continue the genre's reign in this year?

By the listening standards of the streaming age, hip-hop has measurably usurped pop in recent years. However, when you factor in música urbana, the broad genre catch-all that includes reggaeton and the still relatively burgeoning sound known as Latin trap, that only strengthens the quantifiable evidence in its favor.

According to a report by music technology company BuzzAngle, consumption of music broadly categorized as Latin surpassed country music stateside in 2018, suggesting at minimum a designation of updated tastes if not a demographic shift. Over those 12 months, the undeniability of Latinx hitmakers like Anuel AA, Natti Natasha, and Ozuna manifested across the Billboard charts, not least of which being the all-genre Hot 100. By year-end, DJ Snake’s “Taki Taki” and Bad Bunny’s Drake collaboration “MIA” were major chart contenders, both fueled by airplay and digital performance.

The phenomenon extends well beyond the U.S. market. Eight of last year’s top 10 most viewed music videos on YouTube were for Spanish-language singles, with the global top slot going to Nio García and Casper Mágico’s “Te Boté (Remix),” handily beating out third place entry Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” with Cardi B. And speaking of the immensely popular Bronx rapper, her Spanglish smash “I Like It” with Bad Bunny and J Balvin may very well be the most ubiquitous single since Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito.” That latter track, once considered by some skeptics as a fluke or otherwise a fleeting trend, remains one of biggest songs in America, by Billboard’s multi-metric standards, as well as worldwide.

For Jerry Pullés, Apple Music’s programmer behind key playlists like La Fórmula and Trap Kingz, the rise of música urbana has been a long time coming. “I’ve been working in Latin urban music since the initial reggaeton boom back in 2005,” he says. “I live it.” That experience keeps him well plugged into the genre’s present and, given his remit, an integral part of its future. “I look for songs that I like and think other people will like. I also spend a lot of time talking to artists and producers to get a sense of which songs or artists they are excited about.”

As the public profiles of certain reggaetoneros and traperos alike soared in 2018, Pullés had a front row seat to the data proving that success. In the case of Bad Bunny’s “MIA,” having Drake not merely feature but feature in Spanish amounted to more than just clout for El Conejo Malo. “We saw it set records on Apple Music and surge in popularity as the largest first week U.S. debut for a Spanish-language song with over 16 million streams after we premiered it on our ¡Dale Play! playlist,” he says. “It shows fans that it’s cool to listen to music in Spanish even if you don’t understand every word.”

With terrestrial radio still largely rooted in limiting formats, playlisting has arguably surpassed its role in modern-day tastemaking. Actively updated by in-the-know curators, platform-specific groupings at Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and elsewhere stack the latest singles alongside proven hits. Given the volume and subscriptions, the built-in and targeted audiences are of obvious appeal to record label representatives like Nima Etminan, vice president at EMPIRE. “Playlisting inclusion is important for everyone, regardless of genre or language,” he says. “It is still crucial for artists to grow a nucleus and expand it, using tools such as playlists or social media accounts.” Still, he insists in his experience that sustainable success isn’t defined solely by getting a song onto one or even a few.

Operating both as a record label as well as a distribution and marketing partner for smaller imprints and independent artists, EMPIRE competes alongside the majors across genre categories, and música urbana is no exception. “EMPIRE Latino was launched years before the mainstream explosion of Latin trap/reggaeton in the U.S.,” Etminan says, citing successes with Tego Calderon and Luis Enrique going as far back as 2012. “The mainstream explosion of the genres has definitely helped bring more eyes to the market and it's beneficial for everyone involved.”

Coastcity, a Puerto Rican duo known in part for their work with Beyonce on her contribution to J Balvin’s “Mi Gente” remix, found their eponymous full-length debut with EMPIRE Latino nominated for a 2019 Grammy, in the Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album category. Citing their bilingual Luis Fonsi-assisted “Pa’ La Calle,” currently on Apple Music’s De Antro playlist, Etminan expects more from the pair throughout the year. “They're a very exciting group with lots of eyes on them so definitely look out for them,” he says, while also shouting out labelmates Yung Beef, a rapper from Spain, and pop R&B singer Cierra Ramirez, familiar to fans of the TV show The Fosters.

Presently appearing prominently in a number of the Apple Music playlists programmed by Pullés is Farruko, whose presence in música urbana spans over a decade. Despite his role as lead artist on the “Krippy Kush” remix with Bad Bunny and Nicki Minaj (which proved the first Latin trap song to cross over to the Hot 100), he’s since largely pivoted away from that sound on the bulk of his subsequent solo singles. Instead, cuts like “Coolant” and his latest one-off “Nadie” share more in common with dancehall reggae and the poppier side of reggaeton.

While Bad Bunny’s month-old X100PRE album wasn’t strictly a trap outing, Farruko’s current approach reminds less of his “Krippy Kush” cohort and more like scene veteran Daddy Yankee, who followed 2017’s colossal “Despacito” with the reggae hit “Dura.” Both artists appear together on “Inolvidable,” a defiantly accessible single that also employs vocals by Akon and Sean Paul. Though the year remains wide open for the standing Sony Music Latin signee to drop a major hit, the most likely contender of his current crop appears to be “Calma,” a remix of a single of the same name by Latin Grammy-winning singer Pedro Capó. In recent weeks, their joint track has made steady if considerable gains on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs, inching closer and closer to its oft-elusive top ten.

Also hotly tipped for a memorable 2019, Colombian singer Karol G entered the new year with a highly anticipated single on deck. The second collaboration with her real-life partner Anuel AA after last fall’s hit “Culpables,” her dembow-driven “Secreto” builds on the momentum of their prior track. Their apparent romance — as displayed throughout the song’s rather candid music video, coupled with the trapero’s string of Hot 100 appearances alongside bachata king Romeo Santos and controversial rapper 6ix9ine — only seems to have fortified her already recognizable presence as a música urbana power player.

While Karol’s sole Hot 100 showing to date has been on a remix of El Chombo’s viral novelty single “Dame Tu Cosita,” she has ten Hot Latin Songs singles as a lead or featured artist to her credit, four of which cracked the chart’s top 10. Just the other week, “Culpables” became the latest from her to do so, and early signs from the just-released “Secreto” suggest that it too will contend. Both songs presently feature on La Fórmula, and Pullés cites developing female stars and fresh faces as paramount to the overall genre’s success in the coming year. “If the Latin urban genre doesn’t develop new stars every couple of years, listeners will get bored,” he says. “We did a great job over the last few years with Ozuna, Bad Bunny and now Anuel but I’m already thinking about who the next three or four are.”

Two of the acts on Pullés’ radar for 2019 are Rauw Alejandro and Lunay. He cites the latter singer/rapper’s “A Solas,” a breezy reggaeton pop hybrid, as indicative of things to come out of the scene this year. As for Alejandro, his recent offerings like “Que Bien Te Ves” and “Road Trip” recall the broad R&B and tropical house of Chris Brown and Justin Bieber bolstered by a Latin trap foundation. Together, Alejandro and Lunay guested on Ozuna’s “Luz Apaga,” their bright tones complementing that of the established Latin pop superstar.

Putting favorites aside, the sheer volume of songs dropping week after week keeps música urbana in a constant state of activity. With fans streaming videos by the millions each day and new high-quality clips emerging at a rapid pace, supply and demand appear harmonious. As more and more Americans turn on to the voices of Bad Bunny and Ozuna, whetting their appetites for the contemporary sounds of Latin America, the chances for comparatively less heralded acts to make major chart moves in the U.S. seems extremely likely. And with J Balvin, Tomasa del Real, and more Spanish-language artists playing this year’s Coachella, there’s no telling just how big música urbana could get.

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Katie Spoleti

How Dinah Jane Shed Her Pop Coating And Bloomed Into An R&B Butterfly

With just 21 years around the sun, Dinah Jane has accomplished more than most. Her star initially rose alongside her pop sisters Fifth Harmony in her teens but in between chart-topping hits like "Work From Home" or "Worth It" was a longing for something more.

The "more" arrived this spring in the form of her debut collection, Dinah Jane 1, three tracks that play to her power vocals and confident nature. Leading single "Heard It Before" gives listeners the feels of the aughts with the help of producer extraordinaire, J. R. Rotem. Jane's accompanying tracks like "Pass Me By" and "Fix it" are just as alluring given her honey coated vocals. Instead of jumping from genre to genre, the songs are in the vein of Jane's R&B language, a move that transpired after a reflection into her musical identity.

The journey included experimentation with her first solo effort, "Bottled Up" with Ty Dolla $ign and Marc E. Bassey. The song was a bop by nature due to its similarity to her work in Fifth Harmony, which left Jane determined to find her sound.

"Being a solo artist now made it hard to define who I was because I was singing so many different styles before," Jane tells VIBE. "I had to take time for me to really cope and understand what it is that I really want to come out as my true identity. When I dropped my first record "Bottled Up" it was more me transitioning from Fifth Harmony to myself, I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be."

After a session with a producer in Atlanta, Jane arrived at the realization that the artists in her phone (Monica, Mariah Carey), was a sign for her to dig up her soulful roots. It's hard to deny Jane's vocals helped to build her former group and now, her own career.

"The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest," Jane said. "I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. I was always afraid to portray them as something that people didn't know about and so my thing is like, 'Oh, I don't want them to think of my family like this or my friend who's not my friend right now.' I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic, real and raw I have to be honest not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good."

With a new attitude and direction, Jane is ready to fly above her worries. Check out our chat with the singer-songwriter below.

***

VIBE: When you were putting your three-pack together, what was going through your head? Was there a particular sound or moment you wanted to catch?

Dinah Jane: It was more like a certain direction. I felt like there was a part of me that had not been exposed yet as far as style. I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be. I started listening back to records where I was like, 'Wow, this is something that I wish was mine.' Some of Monica's records, Faith Evans or Mariah Carey, by the way, she followed me on Instagram [Laughs].

Congratulations!

She followed me on Instagram so I kind of got that verification that I should definitely do R&B. Those are artists that I've always been inspired by. I remember I went back to when I did my first audition on X Factor, and I said, "Who is that I want to sing and showcase my talent?" It was Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy."

I felt like if this is a perfect time for me to throw in a bowl of my favorite artists that I've always looked up to and mesh it into who I am now. When I did "Fix It," I felt like it was so organic for me to go that direction and lean towards, so, when that happened the song became what it is now. I love the message behind it, I didn't realize it would empower so many people.

"Fix It" is actually my favorite out of the three. You just referenced your identity. Do you know what that is now? Or is that sonically or personally?

I think more so sonically, that's where I was lost the most because I had to put myself in a drawer for seven years. Now that I'm here, being a solo artist like I said, I was lost. Sonically I had to redefine who Dinah Jane was this whole time. I remember being in a session in Atlanta and this guy at the time asked me, "Who do you have on your phone? Let's look through it."

He's going through my phone and it's all R&B, not even that much pop, just singers from back then. And he's just like, "I was not expecting this, I thought you'd be the hype girl listening to all trap music." I have that personality trust me, but musically this is me. That clicked in my head that I was heading somewhere else and I needed to jump back to my old ways.

I love that. "Heard It All Before" has gotten so much love from your fans. I know you're not supposed to look at the comments but one that stood out was "I love this sound, leave pop alone." Do you ever feel trapped in one genre since you started within the pop bubble? 

It's funny that you say that. I feel like people or fans they kind of want to box you into who they think you are. I was telling someone, my fans they sometimes think they know me better than I know myself and it's kind of scary. There are times where I'm like, "No I don't have to be one way." It's crazy cause when I go to the studio I feel like I can be so versatile. I can do R&B easy but there are sometimes where I want to do those pop records, "Always Be My Baby" is that pop record to me and some people are good with it, some aren't but I think it just comes with your fanbase.

For me, they know my potential, honestly, they saw me on X Factor or even my YouTube days when I was 11 or 12 years old. They're like, "No Dinah, this is you, this is you, I want you to keep doing more of these." Eventually, I'll want to do some other things as well. But as of right now, it's truly R&B.

When it comes to creating you're always challenging yourself. What were some of the challenges that you've been facing this year while making music?

The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest. I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. It's always been my challenge and I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic and real and raw I have to be honest to myself as well, not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good. My Mom always told me, "You've got to be real with yourself."

For sure. All three of these songs are super straightforward. What was it about keeping that energy while you were making these songs?

I was just trying to balance it. Like I said it was the most challenging part balancing that and I feel like with "Heard It All Before," it was the most fun, relatable song to write because my best friend was going through something. I was like "What?! He said what?!" We were literally having a full on group chat about it. When I did the music video, I wanted it to be about the situation that I was in with my girl. We were like, "You know what we've heard that all before." I just want to make this bundle relatable, sexy but then also swaggy and just not try so hard. So, when we put these three songs together, it felt so organic and true to who I was.

Even in the video, you exude so much confidence. What does confidence mean to you?

I think it's self-love. When you truly love yourself, you can see it in your face. You can see it in the glow and the energy you're giving to people. I wasn't always this confident, I would definitely say I was never this confident but, thanks to my mom, she always expressed that to me.

She said, "Dinah, I know you don't feel that beautiful today but you need to pick on the little things that matter. What's your favorite feature? Your lips. What's your favorite outfit you got going on? Pay attention to your best qualities other than that one negative thing you're picking on."

The confidence was never there but when you have people that are around you always encouraging you to love yourself and realizing your truth and worth, that's when the confidence kicks in. It's not something that's overnight, it takes time. It took years for me to realize that. Like I said, you have to surround yourself by honest, real people who can definitely make you see what you're not seeing.

Facts. Have you become that vessel for your friends as well? Like passing all of that on. Your mom passed it to you, you pass it to your friends, are you that person?

Yeah, it's like a telephone game. I have a younger sister who's 17 and she's always been insecure about her weight or her breakouts and I'm like, "You're a teenager, you're supposed to go through that phase. If I went through that you've got to go through it too."

In a way, I have to guide her through the stages. I was just talking to her last night and she's telling me about her friends and how she feels like she doesn't fit in, or certain cousins where she feels like she has to be a certain way. I was like, "Don't be a certain way, the way you carry yourself will vibrate and you will be so much more vibrant, it'll grasp more onto you. Just be your true self, you don't have to be anything else. I know who you are and you know who you are."

I feel like kind of being that older sister I feel like her mom sometimes. So I always feel this responsibility that she always feels 100.

What are some other plans you have for yourself, with your music for the year?

This is the first bundle. People wanted it to be named an EP but I was like, "Nah. It cannot be an EP because an EP is at least five to seven songs top."

This bundle is like a mini-project, it's the anticipation for the actual album. So, I want you to keep getting the feel of who I am, keep giving you these sneak peeks and then boom, hit you with the album. That's in the works, we'll see what happens. That's what we say now but sometimes things change, so don't get too excited.

Have you've been working with anybody? Any featured artists or any producers who are really understanding of who you are as an artist?

As far as features, I have one and then I'm working on another one.

So you can't say who they are?

I can't say. As far as producers and writers, J.R. Rotem is literally my dog. We walked into the studio and all of his plaques are all over the wall, plastered everywhere and we were like, "We get it, you're a legend. You're going to make me a legend," is what I felt in that room. I feel this great connection with him where we can be friends but also have that chemistry musically where he can connect with me instantly.

I love how we did  "Fix It," he brought out all of the live instruments and he made it feel like you were actually on stage, he made it feel bigger than what it was. So, I give him so many props for that because I've never felt that way in a session where I felt like I was onstage and it was just me by myself, no one else, well of course with a whole a** band, but I just felt the topic and the song, the musicality behind it is what meshed so well because of him. He is my dog for sure and my therapist because if it weren't for him this song would have not been made.

Stream Dinah Jane 1 below.

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Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy Carter attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

An Ode To Jay-Z, The Ultimate Rap Dad

Rap, throughout its history, has always referenced parenthood in some form. Most often, it was to extol single mothers for their goodness while deadbeat fathers were berated and called out for going ghost. In recent years, as the social media landscape has blown open the avenues of communication, famous rap dads, in particular, have become increasingly transparent about their lives as family men. Where years ago there seemed to be endless bars mourning the demise of the father, artists are now using their platform to balance the scales. They’re showing themselves to be present and intentional.

Few albums make me think more about the concept of parenthood, and legacy, than Jay-Z’s 13th studio album, 4:44. It’s a stark and blistering work of memoir, heavy on confession and self-examination. When 4:44 finally dropped, I, like many others, was filled with wonder. How was it that Jay had managed to so fluidly deconstruct everything I’d been wrestling with for the last few years? Though the specifics of our experiences differed greatly, the central ideas dissected on 4:44, especially those concerning fatherhood and family life, had been swimming around my brain for some time.

***

Hip-hop saved my life. And it was fatherhood that set it on fire. This bears explaining.

What hip-hop has done for me, is what it has done for millions of fatherless and heart-wounded kids—it provided, at the very least, the shading of a better life. If it wasn’t for hip-hop, and the value I ascribed to it, it would be impossible to know just how far I’d have settled into the more lamentable aspects of my environment. Forasmuch of a goon as I was growing up, something always kept me from becoming too emotionally invested in harsh crime. I dabbled in mischief like an amateur chef knowing he would only go so far. I saw in hip-hop, in the art of it, something worth pursuing with tenacity; something like a healthy distraction. So I committed to finding my lane.

Though there were brief stints dedicated to developing my modest graffiti skills and footwork, it was the words that flowed and came without struggle. The school cyphers sharpened my wits and compelled me to feed my vocabulary daily. Only my wordplay could save me from getting ripped to shreds in a lunchroom battle. I read books and scoured the dictionary for ammunition, I listened to stand-up comics who fearlessly engaged the crowd and proved quick on the draw. It seemed fruitless to know a billion words if I couldn’t convert them into brutal attacks. I had to break the competition down and render them defenseless, stammering for a rebuttal. There could be no confusion as to my superiority. So instead of joining the stickup kids or depositing all of my energy into intramural sports, I put my soul and mind into the task of taking down all manner of wack MCs. That’s why I say that hip-hop saved me.

But fatherhood was its own saving grace. It showed me that the world did not revolve, nor would it ever revolve, around my passions. Fatherhood put an extra battery behind my back as a creative, sure. But it’s more about being a consistent presence at home than chasing any dream.

***

As an artist and writer, I cannot so much as think about fatherhood without considering some of the material that deals with feelings comparable to those I felt after I became a father. Songs that contextualize very specific emotions over the drums.

In his 2012 track “Glory,” Jay-Z, someone who had long been vocal about his strained relationship with his father, reflects on the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy, his first child with wife Beyoncé. Produced by the Neptunes, “Glory” was released on January 9, just two days after Blue was born. From start to finish, it carries a sort of gleeful melancholy that resonates on multiple levels. While it is, in essence, a comment on the exuberant joy attached with welcoming a child, “Glory” is also a note on death and mourning.

Before Blue came along and flipped the script, Beyoncé had suffered a miscarriage. The pain the couple experienced left them fearful of not being able to conceive. The dual purpose of “Glory” is made clear from the outset, and with blazing transparency. “False alarms and false starts,” offers Jay, laying the groundwork for what immediately follows: “All made better by the sound of your heart.” The second half of the couplet establishes what was, as we come to learn, the most pivotal moment in the rap mogul’s life up until then. The moment where all is made right, where the sting of loss is eclipsed by the possibility of new birth. Jay continues in this mode, shining light on the redeeming gift that is Blue and, also, how the child is a composite of her mother and father, yet more still.

The opening bars of the following verse are equally striking as Jay, addressing Blue, touches on the death of his father from liver failure. Jay is signaling here, leading us somewhere but with the intent to shift gears. Instead of dwelling on his father’s shortcomings like one might expect him to, Jay breaks left, resolving that deep down his father was a good man. What begins as an indictment of a cheat who walked out on his obligations, ends with a declaration of forgiveness and generosity. But Jay soon directs the focus back to his blessing and how hard it is not to spoil her rotten as she is the child of his destiny. It becomes apparent that this is a man at his most self-actualized. A few more welcome digressions and “Glory” closes the same way that it begins, with the final line of the hook: “My greatest creation was you.” This points to something that I, too, came to know as fact. That no matter what I do, and regardless of what I might attain—power, wealth, the esteem of my peers—nothing is quite comparable to the happiness and the terror that comes with siring a child. “Glory” succeeds as it casts aside any traces of bluster and bravado, making room for Jay to unearth lessons that were hard-won yet central to his maturation. And what is the purpose of making art if not to bust open your soul and watch it spill over? Shout out to the rap dads raising babies and doing the work to shift the narrative.

Juan Vidal is a writer, critic, and author of Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation.

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Mike Coppola

The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

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