A few years ago, the Puerto Rican artist Paopao was working as a songwriter in Miami, bouncing around different studios and sessions throughout the city. She had a knack for crafting swelling pop ballads on her guitar and loved telling stories through music. But after she’d spent time grinding it out in the industry, she started seeing the way the Latin pop machine can flatten narratives about women, treating female-led songs without much nuance and painting empowerment anthems with broad, general strokes.
“I started to be like, ‘Everything sounds the same,'” she remembers. “I was like, ‘It’s cool that this works, but there’s more to being a woman than just saying we’re independent and powerful in the literal sense.’ I was like, ‘What is this?'”
That’s when she took it upon herself to dive deeper and excavate her own interiority to find something new. “I’ve always been the dark, moody girl, but I kept it under wraps to be semi-normal at school,” she says, laughing. As she began exploring her own artistry, she started writing more personal lyrics and expressing her most intimate thoughts and feelings, pairing such vulnerability with shadowy, woozy soundscapes. Her sound and style, marked by edgy goth-kid aesthetics and a need to constantly experiment with unexpected strains of alt-urbano, eventually made fans out of artists like Bad Bunny, who shared that he’d been blasting her song “Algo Asi” non-stop, and Mora, who hit her up for a couple of collaborations.
Lately, she’s been on a roll: Last year, she released Hembrismo, an EP made up entirely of women that featured La Gabi, Cami Da Baby, Villano Antillano, and Aria Vega. Then she dropped the first part of her EP Diamantes y Espinas in the summer — and this week, she’s back with a deluxe version that shows even more of the unique artistry that’s attracting fans from every corner of the music world. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she broke down six songs from her latest project and shared how it’s let her discover who she really is. “I feel like I’m unapologetically myself and this EP has given me the courage to do so,” she says.
I had been listening to that Drake song “Life Is Good,” and I said, “Why don’t we do something like that?” I loved that flow, and I love trap sounds, and it felt like it wasn’t a common thing to do. So I wrote that song with my everything, my right hand, whose artist name is Toy Wapo, and it came out in like 30 minutes. That’s probably the fastest song we ever wrote. I wanted it to be a fronteo song, like one to front to, and I remember him telling me, “What describes you? What the elements of your personality we can talk about?” So we started going off of that and made it personal.
I just moved back to Puerto Rico after living in Miami for 10 years, and at the first concert I did here, I started off with that song. I felt like I was a virtual artist in a lot of ways — I didn’t know if one person would come, if 10, if 20, if 100 would come. But my first show there, it was sold out. It was packed. People were singing every single song. It was such a surreal feeling and I was like, “OK, so this is actually working.”
“N La Disco”
That’s another song that I wrote at the beginning of when I first was discovering who I was. And then it got a whole revamp with the production with Los Puche. I remember I showed them the song in its original form and I was like, “I promise it’s good! Just trust me. Just do the beat. Just listen to the song for how it is.” And then it came out that same night. They were like, “Oh shit.”
I feel like it’s a perfect song to start the year with, after people get this whole sad girl in a club vibe. I had a few tweets, too, being like, “Pao is crying in the club and I’m crying at the gym!” and stuff like that. That’s why I love it; it’s really become this stamp that says who I am.
I remember I had to leave the studio to go somewhere. and when I came back, Los Puche were like, “Check this out.” They added this little outro, there’s a little piano, with a little synth thing happening. And then the vocals I added after, so it’s cool they created their own little space there.
“Diablo” featuring Robi
When I had my first session with Robi, I was like, “How old are you?” I think he’s like 19 or 20. I kept thinking, “In a few years, this guy is going to be taking over.” I wasn’t even an artist and I had no music out, but Toy brought me into a session they had set up, which is where I first met him.
Then fast forward a year and a half, two years later, I remember trying to find a feature for this song and I was like, “Oh shit, Robi would be perfect.” It’s funny, I sent it. to him and he got it back to me a day and a half later, when I was with Toy’s family out axe-throwing [laughs] He sent me this song and I was like, “Shit, I can’t listen to it now.” So I remember driving back home and listening to it. It was like he gave it what the song needed. That’s one of, I think, people’s favorite songs on the EP. And honestly, I want to see what he does. I’m a fan.
I remember I was at my house in Miami needing to rant. I was at home in the living room, and I was hearing the original beat over and over. Sometimes, I let songs breathe. and I’ll let it rest for a few days and I’ll come back to it. But for this, I was like, “I need to finish this song now.”
It’s kind of a drill beat, and I love that genre. In Puerto Rico that genre is very respected, and I’m actually a little scared to see how people are going to react to it. But I don’t think anyone has done it this way before there. I don’t want to say it’s girlier, but it’s more commercial. I’m singing about wanting to be with this guy, but we’re both in different relationships, and usually, that doesn’t happen in drill — it’s a lot of street, guns, drugs. But I’m really happy with it. It was also produced by Los Puche. I wanted it to be a drill, and they were like, “We’ve never actually done a drill. I don’t know, but let’s try it and see what happens.” They had turned down other artists, because they were like, “Look, drill is not our strong suit.” But after I heard how great they made this, I was like, “You lied.”
“Algo Así (Remix)” featuring Mora
This is my first radio song! I was checking it earlier and, at least on Spotify, it’s at 17 million streams. It just blows my mind. It’s insane because I remember I was in Puerto Rico — I think Robi invited me to perform at a release party for Jay Wheeler, and I was here for a few days. But this was around when Bad Bunny had re-posted the song and I got to Miami and my label was like, “Mora wants you on one of his songs. You have to get back to Puerto Rico in three and a half hours.”
I went directly to the studio, and he started writing. I was on this couch, at his place, just falling asleep, but it was really cool, just bouncing ideas off each other. And that came pretty quickly. And then the next day we wrote “Cositas,” “which is on his new album.
“Noches Largas, Faldas Cortas”
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I initially wrote that song for a guy [to sing]. I was planning to pitch it to Eladio Carrion, but there was something that wouldn’t let me do it. His lyricism, it’s incredible, and it’s crazy what he’s done for the Latin music ear. He’s one of the few artists that I listened to in the past year where I was like, “This is fresh!” He makes me want to get better as a songwriter. I started writing this at a songwriting camp, and I remember I was the only girl there. I ended up shutting myself off in my room and finding a beat on my computer, and I wrote the chorus in 10 or 15 minutes. Then I had to leave for the airport and wrote the rest on the plane.
It was meant for a guy, but I was like,”I like this song.” I tried to change the line where it says, “Soy un cabrón,” because that’s obviously for a guy, but then I was like “Fuck it, I’m gonna leave it.” And now I love when I’m singing it live and hear women go, “Soy un cabrón!”