Nearly a decade ago, Rafael “De La Ghetto” Castillo was struggling to survive in his native Puerto Rico, sleeping on mattresses on the floor with little to no money even for food. All the reggaetoñero had was a knack for hustle and dreams of impacting the music industry on an international scale. Ten years later, De La Ghetto’s dreams and aspirations have become a reality, thanks in part to his new deal with Warner Music Latina.
“I’m just psyched and really happy,” said Castillo. “I’ve been in the game for 10 years, and I’ve been independent since ’06-’07 when I first started. I was just using MySpace and YouTube. Now that I’m with a big label, I’m ready to take over.”
The half Dominican, half Puerto Rican rapper born in New York City, yet raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico didn’t know much Spanish as a kid. Instead of watching Spanish-language television, Castillo became heavily influenced by hip-hop, classic Latin, and various forms of American music from LL Cool J, to Hector Lavoe, to Nirvana.
Eventually, Castillo’s Spanish became strong enough to become one of only a few Latino artists who can make Spanish-language songs and genre-bending Spanglish records inspired by trap, R&B, dancehall and EDM. Thanks to the Internet, kids as young as 15 can jam out to De La Ghetto the way they do to top-tier rappers like Aubrey Graham.
“I was ‘draking’ it before Drake,” he boasted. “When I first came out I was doing the rapping and singing, and people were still like ‘yo you can’t do that.’ Then I was like ‘What do you mean? I can do whatever I want. This is art. That’s what art is all about.’”
De La Geezy first gained prominence alongside Arcángel with “Pégate” and the remix of Tito El Bambino’s “Siente El Boom” in 2005. After penning a deal with Zion’s label Baby Records, Castillo made appearances on compilation albums like Más Flow: Los Benjamins. De La Ghetto went on to launch his solo career in 2006. Two years later, Castillo dropped his first solo LP Masacre Musical with Warner Bros, and his career hasn’t been the same since.
Fast forward to 2016, and De La Ghetto is the new face of Warner Music Latina. He joins the ranks of other Latin acts, like Yandel and Romeo Santos of Roc Nation, who are elevating Latin music to a brand new level. His next album, Mi Movimiento, is set to sound more eclectic than any other project in his catalog. Along with label mates Nicky Jam and Zion y Lennox, De La Ghetto is expected to draw thousands of fans to major stages across the world this summer, and he couldn’t be more excited.
De La Ghetto’s dreams – apparently rooted in his earlier struggles – have fully maturated into the lavish reality he lives today. VIBE VIVA got to chop it up with the man of the hour about his new record deal with Warner Music Latina, upcoming album and international tour. We even discussed how things have panned out with former partner-in-music Arcángel, and how he responded to the tragic shooting in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
A photo posted by De La Ghetto “De La Geezy” (@delaghettoreal) on
VIBE VIVA: Congratulations on your new deal with Warner Music Latina. Now that you’re signed, what’s next?
De La Ghetto: Well, I just dropped my new single called “Acercate.” It’s like an R&B-ish reggaeton track and it’s nice. We just dropped it on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora. I’m also working on my album. It’s called Mi Movimiento or My Movement. I’ve been working on this project for two or three years. I was going to put it out as an independent artist on the Internet, but I decided to hold on to it and just make it better. It has about 15-17 brand new tracks. I put in a little bit of everything from reggaeton, R&B, and trap
How do you feel about reggaetoñeros like yourself and Yandel having a bigger presence among some of the most prestigious record labels in the world?
First of all, I feel like we’re being more respected. When people don’t really know much about the Latin culture, they’ll be like “oh he’s Spanish so we’ll probably hear some Salsa or merengue or some bachata.” But now it’s different. Reggaeton is more urban. Reggaeton combines more hip-hop and more R&B and even EDM.
But it feels good because I remember when I first started in ’05, reggaeton was booming. Then around ’08-’09, it just fell off. But now the labels want it more because of the Spotify and streaming services. Also Romeo was just signed as CEO of Roc Nation Latin, so I just think it’s our year. Latinos are winning. Reggaeton is winning. It’s not just in music, in sports and movies. I’m just glad to be a part of it. With Yandel on Roc Nation, he’s just opening more doors for us. It’s not just only Pitbull anymore.
You have Latin remixes to chart topping songs from Fetty Wap and DJ Snake. Will there be any American rappers or singers on your next project?
The album is done, but we opened it up just for that. I’m working with Spiff, who works with French Montana and Rick Ross. So we’re trying get a feature if possible but right now, I got Nicky Jam, J Balvin, and Zion y Lennox on the album. I just did a track with Diplo for the upcoming Fast & Furious soundtrack.
We did a crazy moombahton record. I’m just trying to expand my music worldwide. If you know me, you know I don’t just do reggaeton. I’m trying to do something different like a little more Spanish, trap, hip-hop, and R&B. That’s what I’m really known for. I also got a track with Conscience called “Bad Gyal.” He’s a dancehall artist from Jamaica. It’s a crazy record in Spanglish produced by Rush’n who does all Vybz Kartel and Sean Paul’s records. So I’m really happy with this project.
Who are the artists that influence you today?
When I was a kid, my older brother used to listen to a lot of old hip-hop like LL [Cool J], Rakim, and Peter Gunz. But I would listen to both genres—like hip-hop and heavy metal. From ages 6-12, I was into Nirvana but I also used to love some Wu [-Tang Clan], Biggie, Pac, and Hov. Then, because of my mother, some old classical salsa like Frankie Ruiz and Hector Lavoe. She also loved Martin Gaye, Al Green, Earth, Wind & Fire. Then my brother put me on to DJ Tiesto and EDM. I used to listen to a little bit of everything. Growing up [on] the island of Puerto Rico, I also listened to Bob Marley, dancehall, Super Cat, Sizzla, Cableton, you name it. But mostly, American ‘80s and ‘90s music.
You have a new tour coming up with Nicky Jam. What makes this tour different from your past shows?
It’s going to be different because they will be in big ass venues throughout the U.S. with Nicky Jam, Zion y Lennox and me. You can say it’ll be a mix of the past, the present, and the future. The past would be Nicky Jam because he’s been in the game since ’97-’98 and Zion y Lennox came out in the early 2000’s or so. But the funny thing is, we all have songs together so we’ll be performing tracks together live, but we’ll also be doing full, individual sets.
It’s going to be crazy man. I think it’s going to be like when the Ruff Ryders toured with DMX and Hov and the whole LOX. So that’s how I feel like it’s going to be, kind of like the Dr. Dre “Up In Smoke” tour also, but for Latinos.
How are you and Arcángel nowadays? I know you guys came up together in the past.
We’re doing real good man. I don’t see him a lot but when I see him, we just like to reminisce and talk about La Perla days. La Perla is a small neighborhood in San Juan. We used to sleep on mattresses on the floor, you know what I’m saying? No money, nothing. Not even to eat. We used to dream and talk about us making it in the music business. Now we’re older, wiser, and got kids and families, you know? He’s doing his thing. I’m doing my thing. But yea, the fans want us to come back with an album and a tour. And we want to give them that.
A photo posted by De La Ghetto “De La Geezy” (@delaghettoreal) on
I noticed you extended your condolences and support for the victims of the Orlando shooting. How did you feel about it when you first heard the news and how has it affected you since?
It first affected me after I heard about the girl from “The Voice” who got murdered. I was a little upset. But me, especially when I perform, I like to reach out and touch my fans and be face-to-face. My security guard be like ‘Yo you can’t be letting people touch you like that because you never know what could happen.’ And seeing that, it made me think ‘oh shit.’ I got to look out for myself a little bit more. You don’t know who’s who out there. It’s crazy. Then all of a sudden the Orlando shooting happened.
I grew up in San Juan and I used to work in the restaurant area, so I knew a lot of gay people in the gay community. I got friends that I’ve known all my life that are gay, and they’re the most humble and coolest people in the world. They’re just free, they do what they want to do. Me seeing that, it’s sad even in America. That’s crazy. I don’t even know what to say except my condolences to the families. I’ve got family in Orlando. Luckily no one in my family was there. I’ve got cousins who are homosexual, you feel me? Glad they weren’t there that night it happened. But I got friends that got friends who were. How could somebody do that? What do they gain from doing that?