“The weirder it is, the more I like it,” Amenazzy says.
One minute he’s on television boasting about having sex on an airplane, the next he’s shyly sinking into an executive chair in Brooklyn attempting to put his sound into words. Though the quote above could be placed in either or scenario, this time the 24-year-old Dominican artist happens to be referring to the latter challenge of the two.
Over the last three years, Amenazzy (born José Daniel Betances) has delved in and out of R&B, reggaeton lite, and trap romantico as he calls it. His upcoming work, neatly packaged in debut album form, will all but condense the pockets of sound he occupies. You can expect to hear him throwing reggae and other genres into the mix instead.
How he got to this point in his artistic career is beyond him, and a blessing he largely accredits to the public. More specifically, a loyal fan base at home who carried him from la Plaza to the world. “My thing was support, not monetary or in the form of investment, but how people welcomed [and accepted] me,” he reflects in Spanish.
In 2006, an 11-year-old Betances wasn’t looking to be the suave urbano loverboy he is now. At the time, the Rimas signee took to local tiraderas to practice and explore his lyrical capacity amongst friends on the streets of Santiago in the Dominican Republic. He was the smallest of the group in both age and stature, and was thus labeled El Nene. His moniker has evolved a few times over the course of the years since then. The name Amenazza, which translates to “the threat,” was established after he sharpened his chops and became a lyrical force to be reckoned with. The subtle switch to the now somehow less menacing Amenazzy is a pure, quick attempt to appeal more to urbano’s vasty women fanbase.
His mentor and padrino in the music industry, Alex Gárgolas, advised him to do so. The producer is also partially to thank for the stack of collaborations the Santiaguero has to his name, which includes tracks with Bryant Myers, El Alfa, Lary Over, Arcangel and Farruko. “Quizás muchos fanáticos no lo conozcan, but [Gárgolas] has done a lot for the genre,” El Nene says. His collaboration with Don Omar (“DON,” Don Omar voice) is one of those things.
On “Desierto,” the urbano vet blesses the rising star with a rare collab in which the more senior counterpart seems to be getting acclimated and settled into the newcomer’s flow rather than vice versa. That popular single flaunts the qualities that make Amenazzy a standout – it features a seamless blend of R&B and reggaeton paired with lyric-centric production that highlights his dulce yet deceitful voice.
“Le doy gracias a la casualidad por no dejarme fuera, y darme la oportunidad… Saber que se siente/Matar el deseo de tener curiosidad,” the smooth operator sings on his foundational track “La Chanty.” I give thanks to coincidence for not leaving me out, for giving me the opportunity… to know what it’s like/[And] killing the desire for curiosity.
Is this about sex with a long-standing source of infatuation, or a moment of appreciation for how far he’s come already? Going to go with the latter again.
Everything in Amenazzy’s life up until now has been a risk and shot in the dark fueled by inquisitiveness and aspiration. Though music was always an end-goal, he didn’t leap without a net. In another life, the “Baby” singer would’ve been an accountant. After a year in college, life had other plans. “There’s a lot of talent out there who think that hitting the streets and living out that life experience is enough of a tool to be an artist, and it’s not,” he says thinking of rising talent back home. “Lo primordial is your studies, Papa Dios, and perseverance – work hard.”
Given his journey to this moment, it should come as no surprise that the singer has no five-year plan.
“I don’t want to know what’s going to happen, I want whatever happens to be a surprise – even for me,” he decides.
When Amenazzy hopped on stage at Madison Square Garden in April 2018, a group of fans beside me squealed and sang along to every song in his short set. They knew it, and at that moment so did I. They were OG fans of El Nene and wanted to make damn sure everyone else was aware. The talent on the rise was opening for a little known Puerto Rican pop star named Bad Bunny. The two collaborated on the bold-faced track “Lean” in 2017. Fast forward to six months later, and the rising star who held his own that night is preparing to perform at Santiago’s la Arena del Cibao, as headliner, on November 16. Although Amenazzy would perform at Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez (capacity 72,000) alongside the likes of Daddy Yankee a few days after we met, it was the thought of that upcoming performance in his hometown (capacity 9,000) that made his eyes gleam, and pride swell. “That moment on stage is going to make the people of Santiago and those who grew up with me proud,” he says. “It’s an accomplishment for me, for the country, those who work with me… everyone.”
Amenazzy is part of a rising tide of artists with a particularly difficult challenge at hand – making a ubiquitous, increasingly homogeneous sound their own. He seems keen to take it on.
“I have no limits. That’s my objective – no limits.”