Randy Knew 2021 Would Be His Year
Randy Ortiz, the singer and reggaeton star known as part of the duo Jowell & Randy, has always had a feeling something big would happen in 2021. He can’t really explain it, but he started anticipating a seismic change a long time ago — he even called out the number 2021 on a couple of his songs, including at the beginning of his 2011 Cultura Profética collaboration “Solo Por Ti.” “I don’t know why, but I would always go ‘Randy, 2021!’ in my music,” he says in Spanish during a call from Miami, where he’s rehearsing before the launch of his solo album Romances De Una Nota 2021, Vol 2.
As it turns out, this year has ended up being huge — life-changing, even. After months of work, he’s finished Romances De Una Nota 2021, Vol 2, an eclectic project that leans deep into his vocal talent and his love of R&B, funk, and soul. It’s a creative leap that he says represents everything he’s been wanting to do as an artist. “This is the year where I grabbed the bull by the horns,” he tells me. “I’m doing what I’ve been saying I’m going to do. I’m owning my career, my art, and my future. It’s like a prophecy came true.”
The timing is also right. When it comes to R&B in Spanish, Randy has been ahead of the curve. He pushed for the sound on his early solo projects, like on 2015’s smooth Roses & Wine, but he remembers feeling alone in his efforts. “The radio stations would get bored, they’d get tired, and they’d go, ‘That’s not going to hit,” he remembers. However, a new generation of newcomers interested in R&B — including Rauw Alejandro and Dalex, who both appear on the album — have lit the spark that Randy always knew was there. “This is something magical now,” he says. “And I’ve had the vision for this for years. I’ve been preparing for this.”
He spoke more about that vision and shared what he’s learned through this experience, why he picked his collaborators on this project, and the future he sees for Jowell & Randy.
There are a lot of different influences on this album — R&B and soul and house — but it’s cohesive. How did you achieve that balance?
It’s an ambitious project that we spent hours and hours on. Every track had to have its own identity and a unique richness so that people would go, “Wow. What a song.” We didn’t do this for money or to keep pace with anything in the industry — it was more important to me than that. It was about making art, and this album feels like an exhibition to me.
This is my first album with OneRPM, but it’s my third as a solo act. The first albums I did, I released on my own and didn’t have a lot of support, but the concept was always there. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing in the beginning, about all the work that went into making a good album like this. But those albums were like preparation for what I’m doing now. I wanted to do something big and get people on the same page, to get them behind who I am as an artist, and now that’s happening.
You’ve worked for decades as part of the reggaeton duo Jowell & Randy. How did the experiences as part of a duo prepare you for your solo work?
I’ve learned so many things. It’s been 21 years as a duo, with so many hours working really hard, but I always said, “Let me get ready for my own art little by little. It won’t happen yet, but I know it’s going to.” Ever since “Sensacion Del Bloque,” “Shorty,” all of those songs from 2007, I knew I had to clear a path for myself and make things happen. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, especially because the qualities that make Jowell & Randy are so strong. To do things apart from the duo and to do things that I had in mind for myself, I knew that wasn’t going to be so easy for some people to understand…
[The duo has] taught me a lot, in terms of keeping my thinking fresh, of making decisions for myself. I didn’t have anyone making decisions with me here. What you see [on Romances De Una Nota 2021, Vol 2] are my own choices, my own ideas, my own tastes in terms of music, writing, and visuals. So, by now, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin and how to respect both things: what I do as Jowell & Randy and then the things I do as a solo act. I had to work a little harder on this because it’s completely me — I didn’t have two or three different minds coming together and different people talking about what we’re going to do, what colors we’re going to wear. This is all me.
You’ve always wanted to make R&B and use more of your skills as a singer. What were your first experiences with R&B, and how did you orient yourself in this kind of music?
When I was five, I started listening to artists from Motown Records. I lived with my aunt and she had a full collection of the best of Motown, the best R&B artists from the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. And then when the Barrio Boys, who had such a big impact on Spanish R&B, came out, I was like 11 or 10, and I said, “What a sound in Spanish. We can listen to the kind of style Motown does in our language.” I was a huge fan of those first albums, and I was also a big fan of Cultura Profética, of Luis Fonsi. I began learning about harmonies, how to sing in a plush way without yelling, to make music to charm people’s ears. From there, you can incorporate it into anything — in reggaeton, in house. So, when I was young, that’s all I did: Listen. And it helped make me who I am today. I needed to pave the way so I can sing what I want to sing about. Ever since I was young, I said, “I’m going to do house, I’m going to do funk, but I need to train.” And here, since it’s just me on this album, I had to do 200 percent of the work: I sang the choruses, the intros, the verses, to be in charge of all the songs, so I committed to doing what I love. I love house and techno and mixing it with soul and R&B makes for a sound that’s really exquisite. I’ve had a vision for this and it didn’t happen from day to night. I knew what’s happening in the genre now was going to be big and that my generation was going to like it.
The album features a lot of young artists who have been experimenting with R&B themselves. Tell us about how you’ve embraced this rising generation.
Yeah, Rauw, Dalex, Wheeler. I’ve never been one of those guys that’s intimidated by a new generation. I’ve known them for a long time, like for four, five years, and I was watching all the work they were doing, even before they were on labels. I took an interest in what they were doing since like 2014, sometime around then, and I was listening carefully — Alvaro Diaz, Rafa Pabön, all of them. There was a ton of them working and making R&B and I said, “I have to get to know their music.” And now those people that I took an interest in are the ones who are here. I said, “I need Dalex, I need Justin Quiles, I need Jay Wheeler.” All the ones I’ve been watching for a while. They wanted to do this with me because I always took an interest in their work. You can’t be blind to what’s happening around you, you have to be tolerant of what’s going on, and you can’t be a hater… We can’t do this alone. If there’s 10 of us doing R&B, then there’s 10 of us doing R&B. This is a team in terms of the genre.
And specifically with Jay Wheeler, you’ve recreated your hit “Loquita,” from 2011. Why did you choose to remake that track with him?
The video for that is amazing. The song is refined, it’s sexy. People are going to see us at our best. And Jay Wheeler deserved that song — because of the work he’s doing, because of his discipline, because of his calmness, because of his respect. When I met this kid, I was like, “Come on Wheeler, we’re going to do ‘Loquita,’ and you deserve it.” Actually, Anuel AA asked me for “Loquita,” and Bryant Myers wanted it, too — both of them. They said, “Don’t release ‘Loquita!’ ‘Loquita’ is mine, you have to do it with me!” But I wanted to have someone super-dedicated and someone who would make it different and rich. With Wheeler, he came to me in Orlando, while I was recording the song. He said, “I love that song.” I was like “Papi, be patient, I’m going to put you on it.” But I was recording my part and then I was like, “Let me close the album and then I’ll call you.” He’ll tell you this, but he didn’t think I was going to call him again… But as soon as I was ready, I phoned him and said, “That song I was recording, you get ready because we’re going to do it and make the video.” In two days, he had it. And that meant a lot to me. I have a concept, and this guy trusts in me, eyes closed.
For fans who love Jowell & Randy, what does this mean for the group? Do you see your time as a duo ending?
Never! Jowell & Randy is a project that’s like my baby. It’s the perreo concept. Right now, we’re working on the next Jowell & Randy record. Our last album was Viva El Perreo and uff, that one hit hard: Bad Bunny wrote with us and people loved it. So now, we’re getting ready for Viva La Musica, which is going to be great. But I also always wanted to showcase this side of me in R&B. My dream has been to do both and to be great at both: R&B and perreo. We’re going to keep making hits.