Yashua dares to defy the dominant sounds of Latin pop with his new single “Pena.” At a time when many artists nod to rap’s dominance by talk-singing, Yashua displays a crooner’s lithe falsetto, lingering over notes with affecting angst. The beat flickering beneath him is neither straightforward reggaeton-pop nor thunderous trap; it’s slyly propulsive, bridging the gap between the Latin mainstream and soft R&B.
In the “Pena” video, Yashua sets himself apart yet again by dancing — not with the goofy charm of say, J Balvin and Nicky Jam in “X,” but with a taut mix of rigidity and fluidity that pays homage to Michael Jackson by way of a young Ne-Yo. The 19-year-old Dominican-American singer grew up in Providence, Rhode Island before decamping to Miami, and he danced as a child in a family group. His first big break came in 2015, after competing on the Spanish-language answer to Making the Band, Univision’s La Banda. His moves are suave and finely tuned.
“Pena” follows Yashua’s breakout single “Silencio,” which appeared on several of Spotify’s most popular Latin music playlists — even though the singer was not signed to a major label. (This is unusual, though not unprecedented: Danny Ocean’s “Me Rehuso” achieved the same feat in 2017.) “Silencio” has drive, bounce and a fearsome drop that could ignite a dance floor; in the video, Yashua dances with liquid hips and stiffened shoulders, nodding again to Jackson by spinning and crotch-grabbing in a red leather jacket.
Shrewdly, Yashua reunites with several of his “Silencio” collaborators on “Pena”: Ape Drums, a producer who has also released music through Diplo’s Mad Decent label, plus Ali Alvarez and Cris Chill. Yashua’s intuitive melodies and polished dance moves earned him the attention of salsa superstar Marc Anthony, who signed the young singer to his Magnus Media label in April.