De La Ghetto Talks Reggaeton, Musical Muses, & Why Family Will Always Come First
De La Ghetto will never forget where he came from.
That’s probably why his artist name, “De La Ghetto” literally means “from the ghetto.”
“What I always try to interpret with my artistic name, De La Ghetto, is just because you’re from the hood, doesn’t mean you’re a gang banger or a drug dealer,” he says. “Doesn’t matter where you’re from, my name represents that you can turn something from a negative to positive.”
And turn something negative into something positive, he sure did. De La Ghetto is nominated for his third Grammy this year and is gearing up to release his fourth studio album this year, and he says the secret is family—plus viewing music as a business (for all aspiring artists reading this: write this down!).
We talked to the Puerto Rican papi all about reggaeton, what he learned about music from the women in his life, and his upcoming album.
Tell us about your artist name “De La Ghetto” and what it represents for you?
De La Ghetto is an urban name from the hood, from the ghetto, from the slums. I grew up in Puerto Rico in the ghetto, a place where there’s a lot of good people and also a lot of bad people. But, I was a kid who grew up without my father, without my mother and my grandmother, so I always try to motivate kids that have a similar background, that come from the streets. I tell them, “Yo, if I did it, you can do it too,” because I know it’s hard sometimes for the young youth struggling — some don’t have the best financial situation on their side or an education, and sometimes you feel like, “Wow, I cant succeed, I can’t move forward.” What I always try to interpret with my artistic name, De La Ghetto, is just because you’re from the hood, from the ghetto, doesn’t mean you’re a gang banger or a drug dealer. Doesn’t matter where you’re from, my name represents that you can turn something from a negative to positive. When I started out there were no videos, so when I’d go to radio stations people thought I’d be african american, with gold teeth and dreadlocks. It was a crazy misconception that stemmed from my name.
When did you start falling in love with music? Do you have any specific childhood memories that you can share with us?
I’ve always loved music since I was a kid, since I was 5 or 6 years old. I have a lot of memories from Christmas parties, and when I lived with my mother and my stepdad, during the time I was raised in the U.S. The music was always salsa from La Fania and Hector Lavoe, to Lionel Richie to Phill Collins. My older cousins listened to Run DMC and LL Cool J, and as I got older I really liked rock and American music in general. From Guns N’ Roses to Nirvana, Metallica, Jay-Z, Wu Tang, Biggie and Tupac. I also liked R&B a lot. I’ve always been very versatile in regards to my musical taste. I listened to everything when I was a kid. When I was younger, I enjoyed American music, but as I started getting into my teen years, I started embracing more of my Latin culture and began to understand it more. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I was listening to Frankie Ruiz, Hector Lavoe, and Isamel Rivera, but I wasn’t really feeling the songs, it was just at a party. As I grew older, I paid more attention to the lyrics and really started understanding the meaning behind each song.
You have been recently nominated for a Latin Grammy, how did you find out and what was your reaction?
I was at home. I had just gotten back from Jamaica, where I was celebrating my birthday with my wife in Montego Bay. It was my first time going over there. I got a call from my manager, and he was like, “Yo, congrats!” And I was like, “What do you mean, my birthday already passed, we already spoke about this.” Then he said, “Check your Whatsapp,” and I checked and there I saw the nominations to the Latin Grammys. I went to the Grammy’s instagram account to verify and make sure it wasn’t a joke or something, and I was like, “Yo, it’s official!” I was super excited! I imagined this 3 or 4 years ago when we made the album, we made it with a purpose. I said to myself, “I’m going to make an album that’s more musical, more world. Something the Grammy’s could pick up and listen and say, this kid’s amazing!” It’s my third nomination, so I’m blessed and I’m happy to be a part of it.
How do you think Reggeaton has changed throughout the years since you first started?
It has changed a lot. Before Reggaeton, you had Spanish Reggae from Panama. Before Spanish Reggae, it was Reggae from Jamaica. So you can say, if it wasn’t for Jamaican music and dancehall, there wouldn’t be Reggaeton. I’ve seen the change since the early 90s, when I was a kid. I’ve been following Daddy Yankee since back in the day, and I’ve seen all the musical changes from the 90s to now. Now in 2020, the sound has evolved and people are more open to different rhythms and different fusions. Now, the genre is more organized, and a lot of us are family men, so we look at this now more from a business perspective. We still love what we do. I love creating music, but now it’s more of a business.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a new generation of kids coming out with music?
An advantage would be that the new generation—who are really talented kids—have the opportunity to really make something out of themselves with their music, especially through social media and streaming. In other ways, I feel like a lot of artists aren’t given the chance for their music to be heard, because there’s so much music out there every week. I remember when I was a kid, I used to love to buy CDs and would listen to them throughout the whole year. Artists would come out with an album once a year, a single once every five months, so I’d enjoy and live with the music for however long I wanted to. Now, it’s just overwhelming with so much out there, so those who are really talented and take time to make the music may not have the opportunity to be heard.
What was the best part about creating your new album?
The creative process. It was beautiful, we did this album in 4-5 months. I just locked down, and did camps in Miami, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and it was fun because I would just focus on my music and I didn’t have to worry about shows. My family and kids understood, so I was able to focus without the pressure. I was just having fun, making music for the new album called Los Chulitos, which has an urban feel—but more colorful musically for a younger generation. I’m really excited about dropping the album in early 2020. We’ve already dropped two of our singles: “Selfie,” and most recently “Feka” with Dominican dembow artist El Alfa and Miky Woodz from Puerto Rico. Next year, we’re dropping the next single with Darell which is totally different, a real danceable and club track. Every song is different, no single is the same.
What song from this album is your favorite and why?
There’s too many! I can’t say there’s one favorite song, I’m not going to lie. We have 15 records, and I can say that at least half of the records I can consider my favorites.
What is the motto that you try to live by?
One word: Family. That’s it! Family means everything. Love, discipline, respect for everyone and just doing what I love. I thank God every day.
How do you describe your style and flow?
My style, my flow, is American but with a Latino flavor. I grew up in the US and Puerto Rico, and I’m ½ Dominican and ½ Puerto Rican, so my style varies. Hip-hop and R&B really define me.
Do you have a favorite designer?
Nah, I got a favorite stylist— Darius, who dresses me [laugh], but I don’t have a favorite designer because I like to dress how I feel. I can go from H&M to ZARA, from Balenciaga and Tom Ford to Gucci.
You’ve been in the industry for many years, how do you keep up with it?
Like I said, family is everything is everything. If you don’t find your center, you’ll get lost in this world. I have a great team, and with experience I learned that this is a business. When you learn that, you’ll thrive. Just work hard, be humble, and don’t believe the hype. There’s a lot of superficial things that come with the territory and it’s all fake, don’t believe the character. Enjoy what you do and stay grounded. I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and I see myself doing it for 10 or 15 more. I love what I do, we all do. You have to also accept the reality that one day you may need to put away the gloves, but there’ll be other ways for you to do what you love in the business you love.
Would kind of influence have women in your life had in your music?
Well, women know a lot about music, they’re really in tune with it. For example, my grandma used to listen a lot to Jose Jose, Los Panchos, and Bohemias. My mother [listened to] Richardo Montaner, Lionel Richie and Salsa. I’ve found that women love romance and artists who sing romantic and emotionally charged music. It inspired me to start singing and combining raps with lyrics, because I knew that’s what they loved.
Photo/Creative Direction: Prince + Jacob
Styling: Darius Baptist
Interview: Ariana Plaza