By Tony Centeno
Nearly 20 years after Aventura first broke bachata music into the mainstream, using nontraditional forms like hip-hop and R&B, founding member and head honcho Romeo Santos is again establishing #newrules—this time, as CEO of the recently launched Roc Nation Latin.
Since Santos assumed his role at the new vertical of Jay Z’s esteemed record label, the Dominican idol has signed on another four up-and-coming artists – after Mozart La Para, who was the first recruit – in genres across tropical, banda, hip-hop and R&B.
Before the ink set on their contracts back in October 2016, Angel “Mr. Paradise” Batista, Victoria “La Mala” Ortiz, JayRo Rosado and Karen Rodriguez impressed their new boss with their respective voices, each dripping mass appeal. Now, they’re ready to flex their unique attributes to further build on the imprint’s foundation. In fact, according to Roc Nation Latin President Johnny Marines, “We’re off to a good start.”
Below, get better acquainted with the new additions to the Roc Nation familia, who will hopefully help pave the way for the next generation of genre-bending, multicultural and bilingual recording artists. —Marjua Estevez
Victoria “La Mala” Ortiz
Origin: Mexico City, Mexico
Family Heritage: Mexican
Genre: Regional Mexican with an urban twist
Hit Song: “Vete Mucho”
Favorite Meal: Tacos, rice and beans with avocado
Only a handful of women can say they’ve made an impact on the regional Mexican music scene, and Victoria “La Mala” Ortiz has earned her right to scream it loud and proud. Her family tree is peppered with musicians, including her own mother who sings. She grew up in her parents’ home of Mexico City listening to the sounds of Vincente Fernandez, the late Selena Quintanilla, and other beloved Mexican artists. Thanks to her younger, more hip aunts from across the border in Los Angeles, Ortiz was also influenced by the best in West Coast hip-hop, like her muse Tupac Shakur.
“In a way I’m a mix of those two, 2Pac and Selena,” La Mala said over the phone. “Because I’m a Mexican girl who grew up surrounded by heavy Mexican culture and all of their traditions in Mexico, but I’m also an urban child. I think both artists to this day inspire me because not only were they great, but they had a message that empowers and uplifts the people.”
After dropping a cover to “Ahora Soy Mala” by Olga Tañon, her fans dubbed her “La Mala” once the song went viral. The 28-year-old quickly evolved from a cover singer to a professional artist by embracing her persona of the gorgeous, alpha woman who packs a punch with her assertive lyrics in songs like “El Corridor Del Amor” and “Ni Como Amigos.”
Victoria’s ear for the cultural melodies of her homeland, and the ones beyond it, is what will make her a mainstay in the music industry. Her ability to fuse her urban influence with traditional banda adds true sonic diversity to the label, and she’s already starting to make considerable waves. Last year, Ortiz made history as the first woman in regional Mexican music to release a video exclusively through TIDAL. “Vete Mucho” is in real life about a previous relationship that went sour, which is something all many of us can relate to. “It’s very important to me to come out with music and songs that are empowering, especially for women,” she said. “This is a song based on a true story a bad relationship I was in. One day I said that I need to just let go of it and be the strong woman that I am.”
La Mala is currently putting in overtime at the studio, cooking up her official debut LP. Although working with Romeo Santos and Jay Z would be a dream come true, La Mala truly wishes to expand her brand and also work with prominent women in pop music. “I love Rihanna and Shakira so I would love to make something with other females and be very empowering.”
Angel “Mr. Paradise” Batista
Origin: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Family Heritage: Dominican
Genre: Flamenco urbano
Hit Song: “Forastero”
Favorite Meal: Eggs, beans and rice.
Peaceful and tranquil vibes are hard to find in an era where artists are all about drowning their sorrows in sex and drugs over booming bass and 808s. Angel Batista, aka Mr. Paradise, would rather vent his frustrations on a beach in his native Dominican Republic. Since writing his first song at 14, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter has taken his laid back approach to his craft and truly capitalized on it.
“After writing my first song “Escape to Paradise,” I was thinking of all moments where I thought everything was like paradise,” Batista told us. “Based on that concept, the whole ‘Mr. Paradise’ thing began to take form. That’s how it all started—just singing about moments that seem perfect and reflecting upon it.”
Shortly after he was born, Batista moved to Spain where he learned to speak Spanish and then migrated to the U.S. in the fifth grade. As a Dominican immigrant with a thick Spaniard accent, Batista felt the social pressure to learn English in school, but didn’t have the greatest experience doing so. Both Americans and fellow Dominicans bullied him. He was frustrated he couldn’t acclimate as fast as his peers. However, he persisted enough to overcome the tough language barrier: “Coming to America was hard for me. The change was very rough. I was in a bilingual school, and just going there was a change for me. It might sound weird but I think this country made me a little tougher from all the social pressures.”
Batista was smart enough to graduate from high school and move on to college, while keeping his budding music career alive. Growing up, he was strongly influenced by the likes of Wyclef Jean and Alejandro Sanz. Women like Mala Rodriguez and Latino greats like Calle 13 also made a major impact on his lyricism and overall style. When he dropped his first single, “Forastero,” Batista took his inspirations into consideration as he poured his nomadic soul into the record.
“In my subconscious, I’ve always wanted to express myself in a way where I can tell people what it feels like to travel from one place to another,” Batista said about his first release under Roc Nation Latin. “Some people think its an integration type of song but for me it’s a universal type of song. It’s really universal and I wanted to make it as such to actually explain to the world what being a foreigner really is and that we’re all foreigners.”
Mr. Paradise is one of the most inspirational aspects of the newly established label imprint. His recent track, “De La 1 Hasta La 90,” which we premiered, proves the overall strength of his versatility as he raps in Spanish outside of the paradise he holds dear to his heart. As the youngest artist on the roster, Batista is hopeful about inspiring a new generation and Latinos from around the world with culture and music. Batista keeps in mind all of those who turn to his music for guidance as he prepares to drop his next single, which will reach the masses very soon. “I feel really happy that I’m able to influence people. When I write a song, I ask myself how I can make it influential. It’s very powerful. It’s one of the things that I think is most important when it comes to writing. The reason why I do it is to influence people. That’s the major reason why I do it.”
Origin: Miami, Florida
Family Heritage: Peru, Dominican Republic
Genre: Latin pop, R&B, hip-hop
Hit Song: “Hotline Bling” (Cover)
Favorite Meal: Turkey and Moro de Guandules
Karen Rodriguez is an angelic byproduct of a handful of powerful Latinas who have influenced generations of women around the world. Born in Miami and raised in Washington Heights, New York, the half Peruvian, half Dominican songstress grew up with the sounds of talented reinas from various backgrounds, including Celia Cruz, Rocio Durcal, Gloria Estefan, Selena and Jenni Rivera, among many others. Recently, Karen “The Siren” honored the lives of the women who influenced her with her seven-minute dedication titled “Reinas.”
“All of them shaped the artist and the singer I am today,” Rodriguez said sitting in the living room of her New York City apartment. “Selena embodied everything about being a Latin American woman in this industry. She was so powerful.”
Her other role model Jennifer Lopez, who served as her judge while she competing in Season 10 of FOX’s American Idol, was more than astonished when Rodriguez became the first contestant to sing in Spanish on the show. Marc Anthony was also blown away by her irresistible vocal skills, and eventually helped Rodriguez land her biggest writing opportunity of her career after she was eliminated. Rodriguez teamed up with Romeo Santos to write several songs for his Formula Vol. 2 album, including his Tego Calderon-assisted “Trust,” and “Gone Forever.” She also got credit for touching up the most memorable record off the album, “Odio.”
“Just being in the studio with Romeo, taking his advice and writing with one of my idols was such an amazing experience,” Rodriguez added. “Plus having writing credits on a song with Drake made me cry as soon as I saw it.”
Karen brings a refreshing and versatile pop appeal to Roc Nation Latin. She’s able to flex her soulful vocals as she translates hip-hop, R&B and pop songs into completely new melodies, while easily weaving English and Spanish together in perfect harmony. Rodriguez proves she’s very much in tune with the new generation of Latinos who can love their parents’ favorite salsero and American music all the same. She reinforces her versatility by consistently dropping cover songs from celebrated artists like Adele, Bruno Mars, Beyoncé and Justin Bieber,
Rodriguez pays homage to her influencers by singing their songs in ways they never could, like in her Spanglish version of Whitney Houston’s classic “I Will Always Love You” she dropped earlier this month to commemorate the icon’s life. She’s able to transform club records like Drake’s chart-topping “One Dance” into less a club riddim and more a Spanish ballad. Rodriguez’s medley of covers have kept her fans wanting more, but now she’s ready to show the world her own songs. “All those songs I’ve had for years written just sitting in my vault have been marinating in there and now they’re coming to life. That’s the biggest thing for me.”
Karen’s face lit up with excitement as she reflected on her own songs that she’s cooked up over the years. She’s got plans to embrace every genre possible from Latin pop to R&B. Now that she’s got the right support system behind her, we can expect to hear more original music from the 27-year-old singer real soon. In the meantime, she’s become an open book and plans to give her 170K+ YouTube subscribers a closer look into everything she does in and out of the studio.
Origin: Brooklyn, New York
Family Heritage: Puerto Rican
Hit Song: “This Woman’s Work”
Favorite Meal: Arroz con huevo, habichuelas y chuletas
In the early 2000s, 17-year-old JayRo Rosado made his grand debut, winning over the audience at “Showtime at The Apollo” in Harlem. His rendition of Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work” had the crowd screaming with praise. Nearly 15 years later, the Puerto Rican crooner has stepped up to the plate to diversify bachata by turning his R&B-based cover into his first release under the new Roc Nation Latin imprint.
“Ever since Romeo and I met, it’s been this underlying click that only he and I could see and understand,” Rosado said about his work with Santos. “I believe strongly that he and I together is like a time bomb. It’s just a matter of time before we really blow up.”
Rosado’s journey to establish his music career had already been full of ups and downs before Romeo Santos signed the 32-year-old singer. His winning streak led him to Puerto Rico in 2005, where he competed in “Objectivo Fama” and dropped his first album Melodico one year later. Rosado was able to dip his hands into various genres of Latin music, from salsa to alternative rock. While he strived to find his niche, JayRo always discovered new ways to integrate his love for urban music in songs like “Alma Rosa” featuring Yomo.
After leaving Puerto Rico, Rosado found a full time job as a special aide for the Department of Education in Newark, yet kept his music career alive by performing at private events with a band on nights and weekends—that is, until he got the phone call that changed his life forever. “I was watching the Super Bowl at my sister’s apartment and I got this phone call from Joaquin Diaz, who is the musical director for Romeo, and he’s been my boy for 10 years prior to that. It came out of nowhere.”
In 2014, Romeo Santos needed a jack-of-all-trades who could embody the essence of Drake and Usher for his high profile ‘Formula Vol 2’ tour. He knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove himself worthy in the eyes of the “King Of Bachata,” proving to be the perfect pick. During Romeo’s tour stop at Yankee Stadium, Jayro gave Usher a run for his money after he seamlessly owned the hook for “Promise.” That’s when he truly earned his place in the spotlight.
Rosado’s passion for Latin music has garnered him worldwide attention, yet it was his love for R&B and hip-hop that pushed him to pursue music in the first place. His unique blend of inspiration from Jay Z, Big Pun, Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Musiqchild and Usher helped shape the core of his musical interest. Since the tour ended, JayRo and Romeo have been thinking up a master plan to evolve bachata into an international sound that everyone will know and love.
“He and I have always had that vision and that’s why we connect, Rosado said about his relationship with Santos. “If we’re going to do bachata, we want to give it that dope feel where the listener can hear the R&B influence and they might be confused as to who the singer is. They’ll listen and be like ‘is that a brother singing that?’ And that’s what we want. That’s where the key lies. Not everyone can bring it like that.”
After moving up the ranks in the last decade, the Brooklyn-born singer still can’t believe that his cover of “This Woman’s Work” that won over the Apollo has evolved into his first major single since inking his new deal. “It’s mind-boggling. It was a fun experiment and the people like it.” At the moment, JayRo is in the studio working on his next release, coming soon. —Tony Centeno