O ver the past several years, two of Argentina’s biggest careers have run parallel to each other: In the port city of Rosario, singer and rapper Nicki Nicole broke into the music scene when her 2019 track “Wapo Traketero” became a hit and showcased her gritty, darkly hued R&B sound to the world. A few months later, a massive YouTube session with the buzzy producer Bizarrap blasted her into even more fame, setting the stage for her debut album, Recuerdos. About 200 miles away, in the working-class neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires, a young rapper named Trueno was battling his way through the city’s renowned freestyle scene. The son of the Argentinean rapper Pedro Peligro, Trueno’s skills got him noticed and won him the national championship at Red Bull’s Batalla de los Gallos competition in 2019.
Their paths finally crossed one day in 2020: Trueno had been working on his first LP, Atrevido, and he enlisted Nicki for the song “Mamichula.” Sparks flew in the studio. “It was the best way to connect because we could express in the song everything that we wanted to say to each other in person,” says Nicki with a smile. “We went on a date a few weeks later, fell hard in love, and started making tons of music together.” Since then, their careers have only continued to grow: Nicki’s blockbuster album Parte de Mí, from 2021, is full of transcendent collaborations with the likes of Mon Laferte and Rauw Alejandro. Earlier this year, Trueno dropped Bien o Mal, a sprawling LP that features musicians from disparate genres, pays homage to old-school rap, and reinvigorates South American hip-hop.
These days, both artists are constantly flying around the world, playing enormous shows for their ever-growing audiences. Still, Nicki, 22, and Trueno, 20, found a few quiet moments to catch up in Buenos Aires. After walking through the city’s lush, green Jardín Museo Larreta, they talked about their creative process and the future they see together.
Trueno: What was it like to explode in popularity from one day to the next, after “Wapo Traketero” and the Bizarrap session? My path was almost the inverse: more gradual through freestyling.
Nicki: The truth is, it was craziness. I still remember being in school and getting a message from [the Argentinean rapper] Duki [who shared the song] — it was like the day after we released the song. And, yeah, it was such an indescribable feeling. The session with Biza was also insane, and I think I’ll always be grateful to him for that moment. But I’m happy about the path I had to walk, where it was learning day by day as everything happened to me. For you, would you ever go back to freestyling?
Trueno: Yeah, freestyling is something I do all the time: At shows, and some of my songs come from freestyling. But to me, freestyling is a way of living. Competition circuits are an era that was really special for me. Whenever I get asked to judge or go see a competition, I try to do that because it’s something I still enjoy.
Hip-hop was born because people didn’t have a vehicle to express themselves. You can rap a message of protest or celebration — you can be angry or happy — but the common denominator is people who grab a mic because they have something to say. It’s not a game; there’s context and codes, and it’s important to study them. Something I’ve learned from my father, from my band, and all the music that nurtured me, is to seize the moment. Whenever I put out a new track, I need it to express everything that needed to be said at that specific moment. When we recorded “Mamichula” together, did you think it was going to be as big of a song as it was?
Nicki: I think when we recorded “Mamichula,” we both knew it was a great song, but I don’t think we knew it would get to where it is today, right? Like, we were just enjoying making the song. I don’t think you make songs thinking about that, but the reality is that you always hope for it one way or another [laughs]. What was the moment you realized that music was going to be your life?
Trueno: There was definitely a moment in my adolescence — I think I was about 15 — when, I think like all people, you start to realize who you are and what you want to do. For me, there was music everywhere, and my family was made of musicians. I saw my dad playing, my mom playing, my grandma singing, my grandpa playing — everything, percussion, chords, voice. Music was always in every part of my family, and I think that’s when I realized it was what I’m made for.
Nicki: What’s it like to share the stage with your dad?
Trueno: I’ve been sharing the stage with him for as long as I can remember. He’s the one who taught me about the world of hip-hop and who’s shaped everything I am, all the rhymes I live [laughs] — all of that I learned from Peligro. We went through so many moments that were really low, really high, medium, slow, and here we are. Only we know how much work it all took, so yeah. Now that you’ve established yourself artistically, with two huge albums, what do you imagine or manifest for your career in the future?
Nicki: My future is day to day. It’s just to keep making songs, to keep touring and meeting fans, which makes me the happiest. Going to each place and getting to know a little more of the people who come out to see me is like a motor that makes me keep going. But sometimes I’m here in Buenos Aires and think, “I miss playing live.” Then I’m on tour, and I’m like, “I love this, but miss my family too much.” Everything happens so fast when you’re experiencing the life of a musician. [But when I’m on tour], I love spending time with my team. We have an incredible relationship with everyone, and it’s in those moments that we all connect.
Trueno: And before shows, how do you prepare?
Nicki: I try to stay calm. We always have a talk before we go out with the band, like a motivational chat to leave behind any bad energy and focus on what’s coming.
Trueno: Yeah, out of everything that involves being a musician and being an artist, I think touring is what I like most — and playing live and re-creating songs live is something I love. But of course, there’s always how much you miss your family, your partner, your neighborhood, and that’s the downside of leaving. But it’s also great to come home after you’ve been away for a long time.
A key component [behind Bien o Mal] was the fact that I left my country, got to know other places, and also experienced how Argentina is seen from the outside. You can be in Los Angeles, but when you meet someone else from Argentina, it’s like a party. In the end, we’re a family. I always joke that Argentina is in a perpetual state of turmoil, but whenever the national soccer team plays, we become one. My world used to be very small. It was all about La Boca. Then I started traveling to Peru, Mexico, Spain. Whenever I’m in Europe or the U.S., I become another Latino among so many foreigners. I got to grow up and feel a new sense of belonging.
Nicki: The moment I heard I was going to perform on NPR’s Tiny Desk, I made up my mind to represent Argentina. My musical director, Juan Jiménez, started showing me the new arrangements, and I realized we had a clear choice: to do something conventional, or create something that could be remembered with pride 20 years from now. The taping was emotional: We were in a state of complete bliss playing that music. We got so many positive comments that I ended up uploading the session on Spotify. Now, you’re planning on taping a Tiny Desk as well.
It’s good to find that place of trust where you can bring up your doubts: ‘I’m thinking of this idea for a video.’ ‘What about that wardrobe for a show?’ We talk about everything.
Do you share snippets of unfinished songs, bits of lyrics or loops?
Trueno: Both of us are artists, but every artist has their own personal vision. So getting advice from [Nicki] is excellent. It’s really good to find that place of trust where you can bring up your doubts, to share and create together: “Look, I’m thinking of this idea for a video.” “What about that wardrobe for a show?” This applies to everything beyond our live performances: music videos, potential collaborations, new tracks, wardrobe. We talk about everything.
Nicki: I like sharing tracks that I’ve been working on, especially because I value [Trueno’s] opinion so much. I love to put headphones on his ears and watch as he reacts to a song from beginning to end. If somebody knows about music in this world, it’s him. I respect his advice because I know he loves me — he wants what’s best for every single song of mine, and for me as a person.
What’s your songwriting process like?
Trueno: It depends, because no matter how much you try to control it, inspiration can strike when you’re riding a bus, or in the recording studio. Before my first album, I had a more rigid way of songwriting at home and then taking what I had to the studio. Now, I’ve started to experiment. Sometimes I have a backing track in my mind, I tape it on a portable recorder, and then we reproduce it in the studio. The last album was more musical, writing with a guitar. Personally, I don’t have a songwriting method, just what may come up at any moment.
Nicki: With me, it’s weird. I’m not like that, where I can write a new song out of thin air. Maybe a whole week goes by and I’m not even thinking about music. I’ve noticed that I’m much more careful when I sit down to write a song, whereas freestyling in the studio allows me to connect with the feeling of the moment. Music has helped to free me. Now, I can verbalize a lot of things that I couldn’t say earlier in life.
I recorded a song named “Venganza” with Uruguayan band No Te Va a Gustar, about the horrors that women experience on an everyday basis: the endless incidents of rape and disappearances. I got messages from women thanking me for addressing these issues. It may be difficult to hear, but it’s good to speak about these things through music. When I performed the song in concert, I saw that many people in the audience were visibly moved. It’s the same with [Trueno’s song] “Tierra Zanta.” Knowing that they are becoming part of that message gives me hope. [As a last question], would you start a family with me?
Trueno: I’d love if we formed a family one day.
Musicians on Musicians is the annual franchise where two great artists come together to talk about life, music, and everything in between. We’ll be rolling out each story in this year’s series through November 2nd, and each one appears in the November issue of the magazine. You can also hear a podcast version of many of these conversations right here.