If Messiah El Artista is any indication of where rap culture is headed, it's clear the future is making way for hip-hop en español.
Since launching his music career circa 2010, Messiah’s voice has echoed on Latin American airwaves and in barrios around the world. The overarching theme of his lyrics is pride and swagger; there is a musical cadence even in his everyday speech. Yet, Messiah's braggadocio doesn't at all ignore complexity and context. His delivery is unrelenting and his rhymes often sound like they're steadfastly bouncing off a concrete wall. More importantly, his songs are a sign of the times, proof that hip-hop really blew up and grew up. In other words, the 25-year-old is a rare breed of rapper, helping pave the way for future bicultural MCs and their mass appeal.
After going solo and independent, Messiah’s unique approach to trap music in Spanish caught the attention of Latino artists dripping seniority, such as Daddy Yankee and Nicky Jam. Messiah would soon garner himself a more conventional push in the form of a collaborative mixtape, with Power 105’s DJ Flipstar titled It Was Time (Ya Era Tiempo). Meanwhile, Messiah grew increasingly popular in his native country of the Dominican Republic, without having to actually "live, breathe and make music" on the island–a source of pride for the guy who lives to set himself apart from the competition.
Today, the Uptown representer is on the cusp of intercontinental stardom. After being dubbed the first-ever Latino rapper from New York to sell out Stage 48, play Madison Square Garden three consecutive times in a year and step foot inside the Swedish music streaming giant Spotify, Messiah is ready to up the ante.
VIBE Viva: What does it feel like being the first New York Latino rapper ever to sell out Stage 48?
Messiah: It feels great. I mean I come from a line of musicians, you know? My father was a singer-songwriter and my uncles, aunts, and primos all did their own music thing.
Yes. Music literally runs in my family. My little brother got scholarships to play baseball and he sings better than me. [Laughs] It’s real. This is all in the family. So, I feel like any kid when his dream is finally realized. This is something I’ve had in my heart for a long time and now I’m living my dream. I visualized everything that I’m doing right now, from performing on stage to traveling around the world.
Everyone who knows me, knows that I started with promoting my mixtape, promoting my CDs. So, going from sharing my music hand-to-hand, to selling out every single club imaginable Uptown, to actually selling out Stage 48—that, for me, is undoubtedly a dream come true.
So, you grew up a little differently in comparison to a lot of other Latinos, considering your creative impulses were actually supported?
Yeah. [Music] was always in the air. People in [the Dominican Republic] always ask me why, if I have such a great voice, didn’t I go the bachata or merengue route. I always tell them that the good thing about me is that I come from both cultures; I grew up listening to my father singing José José, Sandro, Rafael and then I would go to school and on my way there, Biggie, Jay Z and all this hip-hop would be blasting from the train. That’s why I had the best of both worlds. And what I did was mix and master the two.
Who were your biggest hip-hop influences?
By far, Jay Z. When it comes to Latino influences—because I was also heavy into reggaeton—it was Zion y Lennox, Daddy Yankee and Nicki Jam.
Was taking on trap music a conscious decision?
It’s really been ongoing. I used to be in a duo called Tali Messiah. We had a song that was number one in Paraguay and number one in Bolivia. We even got to be number 24 in the Latin Billboard Charts. This had to be like four years ago that I was in a duo. Back then, we created the same kind of music that I do now, hip-hop and reggaeton. But hip-hop evolved and today it’s also trap music. Since I’m a Spanish [speaking] artist from New York that does hip-hop, I’m not going to produce the same boom-boom-boom sound that I was doing all those years ago. I evolved too, and now I’m doing what you’d call Spanish Trap. Was it conscious? Maybe, maybe not. But it was natural. And I’m the best one doing it.
Have you gone back to DR, recently? Is your music being played on the island?
I’m like the top five urban artist in the country.
What does that feel like?
Again, a dream come true. I used to visit DR just like any other Dominican every summer, after studying all year stateside. So, for me to be making history over there—I’m the first Spanish artist period, to pop out of New York and become popular in DR—is almost surreal. That’s unheard of. The average Dominican artist has to live, breathe and make music on the island and then take it to America in order to pop. Me, I did it coming straight out of New York. My music transcended from [New York] to [the Dominican Republic]. Any time I’m interviewed over there, they make a big deal out of it. I just did a little press tour over there and everybody was like ‘wow, you did it, how?’ But I don’t have a formula. I just put in the work. The only method was to make the music I love to make.
Whatever you put your mind to, if you keep at it, you can make it happen. I made history in DR. There, I’m the number one international artist, the "urban Anthony Santos" of DR. I haven’t had a show, yet, that hasn't sold out.
Is there anything you really, really want to do in the Dominican Republic that would further set you apart from the pack?
I want to do an "Unplugged" show in the Hard Rock of Santo Domingo. I’ve already ran through all their major clubs. I mentioned Daddy Yankee and Nicky Jam–I already know what it feels like to work with the guy I used to look up to. I already have a song with Zion and Lennox, too. Those were my favorite guys, my idols. I remember coming from school, when the girls would ask me to sing something and I would sing their songs. So, to be in the studio with the guys whose music inspired you most, is crazy.
Considering the Latino influence, where do you think hip-hop is headed?
People have to understand that hip-hop is one of the biggest genres in the world. Hip-hop is everywhere, you know what I’m saying? So, if you think of Latin America, it’s 21-22 countries, there’s a lot of motherf***as who you can feed Spanish hip-hop to. And Spanish hip-hop isn’t new. There just hasn’t been an artist like me. For example, and this isn’t to make myself out to be bigger than what I am, but before me, there were very few New York women who you knew that were genuinely into hip-hop in Spanish. Or no? And you can keep this on the record, because this is what I’m constantly being told. Tell me. You, being the hip-hop fan that you are, and from New York—what woman from the city you know that loves hip-hop has told you she loves this kind of spanish hip-hop? That’s not by me?
Point taken. [Laughs]
So, if I could take that kind of energy and put it into music for people who are just like me, who dress like me, who think like me, who come from the same place as me–I know people who don't even speak Spanish who love my music! They don’t know what the f**k I’m talking about, but they love my delivery, my swag, my cadence. That’s some real s**t. And I’m gonna make the most of that.
Make the most of…
Look, Daddy Yankee did it too. He pretty much started the Spanish hip-hop movement. Some people couldn’t make it in the movement, though. Some artists sold out. Some people did dembow instead, thinking no one was into Spanish hip-hop. But I stuck to this all the way, and now look. I became the first Spanish-speaking artist ever to sell out Stage 48. I’m opening the doors for someone else, for someone that comes after me.
When you go back to the 'hood, what’s everyone's reaction?
They call me the Justin Bieber of Uptown. [Laughs] Someone the other day compared [me] to MGK, because of his cult following. Cleveland was his hometown, and his cult came from there.
I think that what you’re doing is pretty major. You’re speaking for U.S.-born Latinos in a lot of ways. You know, the kids who grew up listening to merengue and boom-bap, cumbia and even trap.
Exactly. Like someone told me, a n***a from DR can’t come to New York and try to do Spanish trap. Do you know what a trap is? I do… Not saying that Dominicans in DR don’t go through their own struggles. Because that’s another monster. What I’m saying is, ours is different. A guy from DR doing hip-hop in DR is speaking a different tale. I’m not going to be talking about what he’s talking about.
What’s your dream project?
My dream project would be to work with Jay Z. And I’m not going to say it’s far-fetched, because you never know.
I mean I already had the opportunity to converse with Jay Z. A lot of artists don’t get that kind of opportunity.
You had a conversation with Jay Z?
A one-on-one with Jay Z.
What was that conversation like?
Incredible. I’ve met so many people, so many of my idols—Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam—that meant everything to me. But like, I did the song called "Robinson Cano," one of my biggest hits, and I did the video, which [Cano] funded himself. A year later, the song is still top five in DR. With the Jay Z situation, after I did that song, Cano went crazy over it and one day he invited me to Roc Nation and he had his people give me a tour of the place like I had just got signed to Roc Nation. [Laughs] He was like ‘Yo, this is the little dude that did the song’ and Jay was like ‘Oh, so you the one that did the song for Robinson Cano?’ and I’m like ‘Yea, I’m the one…” And Jay Z is not a man of many words. But he spoke like he had already heard of me and was like ‘If you f**k with Robinson Cano and you saying DJ Camilo is playing your song on Hot 97, than I guess I’m going to be hearing more of you, you know what I’m saying? You never know what happens, right?’ And he just dapped me and kept it moving. But I can say I literally had a 15 minute exchange with Jay Z at Roc Nation, with Robinson Cano, who just signed to the Roc for $240 million. I wasn’t just any little ol’ kid from the streets who they decided to pick up a conversation with, you know what I mean?
What are you aiming for in 2016?
To drop my formal debut.
Are you signed?
Nah, I’m independent.
Do you want to be signed?
Not right now. A record label needs me more than I need them. 50 [Cent] told me that, too. I had a meeting with him about that.
How'd that happen?
My road manager was 50 Cent’s security for five years. He made it happen. And 50 Cent, from his own mouth, said that he hasn’t signed me because he’s not signing artists right now and because his main focus is on Effen Vodka. But he basically said it would’ve been up to me to sign to G-Unit.
I have mad deals on the table, with a lot of American record labels—Interscope, Republic Records, Universal Latin. I haven’t signed because I haven’t needed to, thank God. I don’t want to sign with a company and later down the road, be screwed. So, when I drop the album, I am going to get a distribution deal. But as far as a record deal, I want to keep going independent and later on, create what’s called a bidding war, which really means I have a say in what I get to control.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
I just want to be remembered. Not every artist is remembered. I want to leave the music behind, I want my music to be endless. I’m useless to anything outside of the music.