Dalex Talks About The Creative Process Behind 'Unisex' - Rolling Stone
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Dalex on the Lustful R&B and Dance-Driven Reggaeton of ‘Unisex’

The Puerto Rican singer talks about his new album and why he’s always open to new sounds

Dalex

"R&B is part of who I am, and R&B is very sensual," says Dalex

Luis Alejandro Márquez/Vomba

Dalex’s new album, Unisex, opens with “Oh Ma,” a dubby cut that captures the upbeat, EDM-inspired direction that reggaeton has been moving toward — only the Puerto Rican vocalist, whose style has always been heavily indebted to R&B, smooths out the corners with his lighter vocal delivery. Across the rest of the album, the music is provocative, risqué, and lustful as ever, even as Dalex energizes with dance-driven beats. “I wanted to make it a little different from my past projects,” he says on a recent Zoom call from Miami, mentioning 2019’s Climaxx and the 2020 EP Modo Avion.  “It’s more up-tempo and accelerated — my music has always been a little slower, so I tried to speed things up without losing that Dalex flair.”

The singer, who started making music as part of the duo Jayma and Dalex, worked on the album over nearly two years, recording in Panama, Puerto Rico, Miami, and the Dominican Republic. The spirit of those places can be felt through the sounds, as well as in a list of collaborators that includes Wisin & Yandel, Jay Wheeler, and Zion Y Lennox. The singer Favela teams up with Dalex for the acoustic ballad “Favorita,” while “Machina de Tiempo” features Rauw Alejandro and Lyanno exchanging melodies over futuristic production.

Below, Dalex shares more about the inspiration behind the album, the many places that influenced its sound, and the unpredictable directions he sees reggaeton moving toward.

You started out as part of the singing duo Jayma and Dalex. What did you learn from that experience and how did it inform your goals as a solo artist?
It was a great experience. If I hadn’t gone through those moments as part of the duo, I might not be here now. It was part of my process, and I enjoyed everything we did together. It helped me learn to share ideas with other people in the studio, since as a duo, we had to come up with things together and make sure we both liked the sounds. It made me learn to work with others and collaborate in a better way. My goal as an artist has always been to give people good music that they can enjoy and have fun to, and it’s a little more sensual — it’s always been something you can dedicate to someone special. There’s still a lot that I want to do and accomplish as a solo artist.

The album is called Unisex. What’s behind the name, and how does it relate to what’s going on sonically on this album?
Unisex came from this idea that this is music everyone can enjoy, regardless of who they are. It’s music for him as much as it is music for her — it’s for everyone. My essence is always going to be about reggaeton and R&B, but on this album especially, I added a lot of different touches: styles from the Eighties, dancehall, ballads. I wanted to give people as much variety as I could, and that’s also part of why I made the title Unisex, because there’s all kinds of music on there for everyone’s taste. It’s varied, and I’m really happy with that aspect of it.

There are a lot of electronic influences on here, which is a direction reggaeton has been moving toward. What do you think of these electronic fusions in reggaeton, and what did you want to add to it?
I think everything is like a cycle and it comes and goes. A few years back, when Wisin & Yandel came out with that electronic sound — those hits like “Sexy Movimiento” — and Arcangel with “Chica Virtual,” all of that style is coming back. It was missing for a while, but it’s refreshing the genre and making it so that we stay on top of things. I think it’s something special that reggaeton has: We’re always reinventing ourselves and making new sounds. Right now, this is a style that people are really enjoying, but I tried to make it my own and do it Dalex-style. There’s also a lot of R&B. I’ve loved R&B since I was a little kid, and even when I’m trying not to make it, it’s there. It’s something natural in me. Even if I do EDM or whatever, it’s going to have R&B in there. It’s part of who I am — it’s kind of inevitable.

That sensuality is present in your lyrics, which are romantic, and also provocative in some cases. What’s the songwriting process like for you?
When I’m in the studio making music, I’m guided by what the rhythm is. I kind of mumble and just try to figure out the flow. Then, when I’m writing lyrics, I’m constantly trying to come up with things people can identify with, obviously in my own way — more sensual. R&B, like I said, is part of who I am, and R&B is very sensual. I try to make stories people can connect to, just with that spiciness. It’s what my fans like and what they ask me for.

You were traveling while recording the album. How did the places you recorded shape the sounds on here?
We create the album in Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Miami, Panama. It was a lot of different countries because I was working on these songs for more than a year before making selections for the album. Through that year and half, I went to all those different places. I work with a lot of Panamanian artists — Dimelo Flow, Jhon El Diver, I know a lot of people from there. In Santo Domingo, we spent a lot of time out there and spent a bunch of days with producers and artists there. The party vibe and all of that came from there. And then obviously Puerto Rico, the roots of reggaeton — most of the inspiration in my case comes from Puerto Rico. I live there, I’m always there, so that always comes naturally to me. And Miami, I love that people are always partying and having a good time, so that’s why the album has that party flow. It has a lot of feeling too, but there are a ton of songs to dance to.

What other sounds do you want to try in the future?
I’d love to do rock. I’d love to make a little bachata, which I like. I also really like this style of drill music that’s emerging, it’s a little more underground, but it’s coming up and I’m into it. In the genre, there are always so many reinventions happening, so maybe there’s something new that’ll come out that I’ll try. It’s really unpredictable, and it’s hard to say where the genre is going— if I were to say, “Oh, it’s going in this direction,” I’d be talking just to talk. Right now, we’re seeing people go into this EDM wave, which is a little faster, but it could be that after people get tired of listening to fast-paced stuff, more ballad-style music will get big. Maybe something more romantic. At the same time, it could go toward old-school reggaeton. It’s hard to say. … I think there’s a lot of room for the genre to grow. It’s in its best moment yet right now, but it can still grow so much.

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