Early in his career, our February cover star, Rauw Alejandro, seemed eager to fill a void in the Latin music industry by making slippery Spanish-language R&B, inspired by performers like Usher, Chris Brown, and Justin Timberlake. His first few songs, which started getting attention in the mid-2010s, flaunted vocals that were lighter and more melodic than what his contemporaries in Puerto Rico were releasing, even when he was riffing over rougher trap beats. But quickly, Rauw proved himself to be too twitchy and restless to stick to the same types of sounds.
On his debut album, 2020’s Afrodisíaco, he borrowed inspiration from the golden era of Nineties reggaeton; his follow-up, 2021’s Vice Versa, was a kaleidoscopic compilation that stitched together sparkly synths, bolero samples, and electronic flourishes. In between each project, Rauw has been a prolific collaborator, leaping onto tracks with other artists and piling up list of hits that reflect both sonic inventiveness and commercial adaptability. Here’s a look at some of his most compelling tracks so far.
“Que Le Dé”
Rauw built momentum early on by collaborating with major reggaeton stars, and one of his first breakthroughs came when Nicky Jam joined him for 2019’s ultra-hooky “Que Le Dé” Nicky Jam is known for a smoother style that deeply influenced the popetón sound from Medellín in the late 2010s, and his satiny delivery fits right in with Rauw’s vocals as the two sing over Mr. Naisgai’s blithe, dembow-laced beat.
“Cuentos De Hadas”
Trap Cake Vol. 1, released in 2019, was Rauw’s way of testing out riskier, more provocative lyricism and grittier trap production without losing the softer edges of his music. He pulled off that balance on “Cuentos De Hadas,” a darker, bass-heavy cut, about an impulsive, no-strings-attached meetup, that’s made more spontaneous with an irreverent verse from one of Latin trap’s most unhinged characters, the rapper Jon Z.
With its futuristic, dance-driven production, “Algo Magico” served as a twinkly precursor to some of Rauw’s more unabashedly pop experiments, like “Todo De Ti.” The Afrodisíaco track let Rauw lean into the choreographed moves he’s spent years refining. Shortly after the song came out, he released a highly stylized video that shines a light on his choreographer Fefe Burgos, who remarked on Instagram, “What other artist has done this with their choreographer?”
“Dream Girl (Remix)”
When the singer-songwriter Ir-Sais decided he wanted to remix his laidback, dancehall-inspired hit “Dream Girl,” he went to Rauw — an artist who’d stood out to him from the beginning. “I told my girlfriend that he was going to make it big because his flow is different,” Ir-Sais told Billboard. Rauw swooped in and added a sleek verse in Spanish to Ir-Sais’ lyrics in his native language Papiamento, emphasizing the song’s Caribbean influences.
After coming up with the breakneck, high-powered baile funk sound of “Brazilera,” Rauw knew there was one person who could take it to the next level: The superstar Anitta, who has globalized a pop-leaning version of the Brazilian style. She packs the track with pluck and personality, leaping into lines in Spanish and Portuguese, and helping Rauw end his second album, Vice Versa, with an energetic whack.
“Dile A El”
The opener from Afrodisíaco instantly signaled that Rauw was veering from the sensual R&B he’d set out to make and embracing the reggaeton roots he grew up on. Still, he went for a down-tempo, slightly darker variation of the sound and folded in a surprise at the end: Rosalia, who helped produce the track, wove her distinct vocals in and out of the outro for some extra dimension.
One of Vice Versa’s most interesting peaks comes during this blurry, synth-driven trip, which finds Rauw so discombobulated after a break-up that he barely knows where he is. Tainy’s spacey production, which is featured a few times on the album, brings out the song’s lysergic wooziness and helps Rauw swerve into unexpected directions — a move that’s refreshing for an artist who easily could have followed a more straightforward path of reggaeton hits.
“Todo De Ti”
Rauw’s biggest blockbuster hit to date almost didn’t make Vice Versa: It came together in the very last moments, just before he submitted the album to his label. He was pushed by the feeling that he was missing a summery dance track on his wide-ranging collection of songs, and within a few days, he and his longtime producer Mr. Naisgai had laid down the spangled, disco-tinged arrangements and the bright vocalizations that would garner hundreds of millions of streams.
“Quimica” starts out as an upbeat reggaeton track that’s boosted by genre veterans Zion Y Lennox, who inflect the song with old-school rhymes that sound like they could have been pulled from their golden-era releases. However, the music quickly shifts away from nostalgia and morphs into something new as the Martinez Brothers — the DJ duo from the Bronx — barge in with sudden flashes of sudden hi-def house.
One of Rauw’s moodiest productions, “¿Cuándo Fue?” acts like an antidote to the ecstatic peppiness of songs like “Todo de Ti.” The metallic break-up ballad starts with mopey, faraway vocals that become more urgent the second the track explodes into staticky drum-and-bass breakbeats that mirror the tumultuous end of a relationship. It was Rauw’s idea to add a touch of D&B to the Tainy-produced track — an inspired detail that stands out in his discography.