Ask any young woman in pop today whose songs she first sang into her hairbrush as a child, and at the drop of a hat, or wig, she might tell you it was Britney, or Beyoncé, or Dolly, or Mariah.
As a little girl in the capital of the Dominican Republic, Natti Natasha’s divas of choice were hip-hop stars: She cites Lauryn Hill and Ivy Queen among her faves. Born Natalia Alexandra Gutiérrez Batista in Santiago de los Caballeros, the 32-year-old singer-songwriter wants to be that diva for another girl out there — or even better, for millions.
“When you’re a little girl,” she says, “You never think anyone’s gonna tell you ‘no.’ If you believe in something, and you start playing the part enough, [you think] it’s just magically gonna happen! Because why not?
“I don’t pay attention to the no’s,” she adds.
On a brief coffee break during New York Fashion Week in February, a day before walking in a show for the colorful Spanish label Custo Barcelona, Natasha meets Rolling Stone in a green Louis Vuitton scuba jacket. As of 2019, she’s arguably the diva she dreamed of becoming, at least by one important metric: She is the most-watched female artist on YouTube, far surpassing Top 40 queens like Cardi B and Ariana Grande. Her first of many blockbusters, 2017’s “Criminal” — sung alongside reggaeton superstar Ozuna — counted over one billion YouTube views. She’s since continued to chase that momentum with more standout collaborations, from the Bad Bunny-assisted “Amantes de Una Noche” (349 million views) to “Buena Vida” with Daddy Yankee (89 million) to the freewheeling “No Me Acuerdo” with Mexican icon Thalía (774 million).
By the end of 2018, Natasha had carved a niche as música urbana‘s favorite co-star. This year, she’s taking the lead with her new album, IlumiNATTI, released last month on reggaeton legacy label Pina Records. Natasha spends the album teasing out some of Caribbean music’s most essential staples — dembow, dancehall, reggaeton — and alchemizing them into pop. “Music is so unpredictable, but it’s universal,” she says. “What you do is you keep working at it and then thank God when people actually connect with you.”
While she still throws down in the Latin urban circuit, IlumiNATTI shows that Natasha is a woman untethered to its conventions. She touches upon her reggae roots with Dawn Penn-like swagger in “No Voy A Llorar.” “Quién Sabe,” sung from the viewpoint of a woman with a boyfriend — and a roving eye — is a lavish feast of genres. Much like the song’s protagonist, Natasha establishes the Dominican-grown bachata sound as her number one, but flirts with touches of Eighties synthwave, and welcomes sweet nothings from a saxophone. Meanwhile, her balada romantica, “La Mejor Versión de Mí,” is dedicated to a love of the self — a culminating moment in a record she describes as an act of ultimate self-possession.
“I saw myself struggling with being independent,” says Natasha of writing the album. “And being afraid to try different things, of going into different genres, of going into a studio and being [the only] girl.”
Long before her star was born, she spent several years in a creative limbo, grappling with her identity as an artist. Seven years prior to IlumiNATTI, she put out a single release under Don Omar’s own label, Orfanato Music Group: a dance music EP titled All About Me. She had previously collaborated with the Puerto Rican reggaetonero, and with fabulous results. Yet she found that men were filling most of the behind-the-scenes roles — writing the songs, running the mixing boards and the labels. This inspired her to step into her power as a woman and seek the camaraderie of fellow Latinas through collaboration. (While male hitmakers like Chris Jeday and Gaby Music helped produce IlumiNATTI, Boricua singer-songwriter Kany García and Brazilian pop ambassador Anitta contribute the only features on the album.)
“I was a girl who believed in the color of my voice, and what I had to say,” Natasha reflects. “I was not going to listen to any man [who would say], ‘Girls don’t sell.’ I mean, so many women are making it around the world! You’re gonna put that down?”
Natasha says she’s found supportive colleagues in male artists like Daddy Yankee and Ozuna. But she’s still frustrated by the skepticism she’s encountered when it comes to collaborating with other women in Latin pop. Take her R-rated slumber party hit, “Sin Pijama”: Upon releasing the coquettish duet with Mexican-American artist Becky G, co-written with Daddy Yankee and Mau Y Ricky, the women drew some criticism for singing praises of smoking blunts and being naked in each others’ company. While critics have accused the vocalists of catering to the male gaze, Natasha, an outspoken feminist, has argued that “Sin Pijama” is a celebration of women’s sexual expression — fundamentally unbound to that of heterosexual men. (It also passes the Bechdel Test.)
“‘Are you sure you wanna say that? Are you sure you’re not scared?'” Natasha recalls hearing — hinting that some of the pushback on the song happened before its release. “Look,” she adds. “I’m not here because I was safe doing things!
“Girls are way more powerful [today],” she continues. “We speak very freely. All girls from everywhere around the world. It’s an honor to be the voice for girls who are not scared, and who want to have someone to connect with.” Rest assured that somewhere out there — whether in the Bronx, Miami or Santiago de los Caballeros — is a gutsy little girl singing Natasha’s songs into a hairbrush.