Over the last couple of years, the Puerto Rican artist and producer Mora has spent months playing back-to-back shows in Europe, getting to know completely new countries and soaking in sounds wherever he went. One place that he immediately connected with was the island of Ibiza, where deep house blends and dreamy Balearic beats pumped up dancefloors at all hours of the night.
“As soon as I was done with my tour, I was like, ‘I’m going back to Ibiza,'” he tells Rolling Stone. The 26-year-old artist, whose real name is Gabriel Mora Quintero, returned to the island and spent about four weeks there. He made music the entire time and before he knew it, he had a new album that he decided to call Paraíso. “It’s a party vibe,” he says. “It’s a higher BPM, it’s faster, its more danceable. It’s really different to what I’ve done before.”
It’s his second release this year, following his sophomore effort Microdosis. That LP, released in April, solidified his reputation as an alt-minded renegade who playfully smashed together tropical, electronic, and reggaeton-influenced styles and moody lyricism. In between, Mora has been performing all over the world, making 2022 one of his busiest and most creative periods yet. When he catches up with Rolling Stone, he’s still reeling from an October homecoming show at Puerto Rico’s Coca-Cola Music Hall, where he brought out a slew of stars that included Bad Bunny, Sech, Tommy Torres, and Eladio Carrión. “It’s different when you’re from Puerto Rico,” he says. “They give you so much enthusiasm because they’re your people. You get more nervous, but everything went well, and we crushed it.”
Mora has been a central fixture in the Latin music industry for a while. He got his start as a producer — he has credits on Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG and Un Verano Sin Ti, and he also helped write the mega-hit “Dakiti.” He made his debut as a solo artist with 2021’s Primer Dia De Classes, a surprisingly tender collection of nostalgic reggaeton and mopey trap songs that explored heartbreak and longing.
But working behind the scenes and constantly brainstorming new styles are production habits that never left him — and ultimately, they influenced what’s on Paraíso. “To tell the truth, I’ll always be a producer. I cant see it like ‘I’m a producer or I’m a singer or I’m a composer.’ I just make music,” he says. “One day I wake up and I want to make tracks, the next day I want to write, the next day I want to sing. I don’t like to divide it.”
Mora has a regular stable of producers he turns to for his solo projects, including the rising wunderkind Elikai, but helms and directs each of his songs, and he guided the floor-pounding ecstasy of Paraíso. A few songs came out of his collaborations with other artists: The woozy ballad “Cositas,” which features sad-girl perreo ambassador Paopao, came together after the two linked up in a studio to work on the remix for her track “Algo Asi.” And the slow-winding “Airbnb” is something Mora had recorded about two years and eventually sent to reggaeton veteran De La Ghetto. “When he sang it and sent it back to me, I couldn’t help it,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m gonna release this on the album.”
Then there’s “Domingo De Bote,” an electric ball of energy that started as a track Mora and Elikai had sent Bad Bunny. The superstar was intrigued by it, but had a couple of his own ideas. “Benito was like, ‘This is wild, but instead of the electro-pop percussion, let’s add reggaeton drums to it,'” Mora says. “I said, ‘My man, this has a BPM of 125. The fastest reggaeton beat out there is like 110, 115. This is insane.” Mora found a way to make it work, and he loved it so much that a few months later, he reached back out to Bad Bunny. “I said, ‘Did you end up doing anything with that track?’ And he said, ‘It’s yours.'”
House and electronic sounds have been enticing a growing number of reggaeton and urbano artists in recent years, with smashes such as “Dakiti” and Farruko’s “Pepas” becoming mainstays on the charts. Though Mora had a hand in the first track, he’s quick to point out that he’s drawing from a lengthy history. “Electronic music has always been around… it’s been big with songs like Wisin Y Yandel’s ‘Sexy Movimiento,'” he notes. “But I do think people released it sometimes and didn’t understand it.” He hopes Paraíso gets listeners more acquainted with these sounds and shows how much production potential there is in the music.
Mora is still touring with Microdosis, but he’s envisioning major rave-style shows when he takes Paraíso on the road. He’s not trying to get ahead of himself, though. “I like to go with the flow, and I don’t like to make plans too in advance,” he says. Right now, he’s happy with just how far he pushed himself on this album. “Everything I’ve wanted to try, I did on this album,” he says. “I’ll see what I ant to experiment with, but I did exactly what I wanted to do.”