There’s a city that exists at the center of two Andean mountain hilltops in Colombia; flourishing as a global attraction and a vibrant music scene, the city of Medellin has become a musical phenomenon within the music industry.
Once marked by it’s dark past, the current narrative linked to the city is one of cultural fulfillment and embracement. The city birthed and raised many of the country’s biggest reggaetón stars, and its movement is continuously growing. Amid the reggaetón and trap community, there’s a saying: If DJ Pope doesn’t know your music, you’re not working hard enough.
This is largely due to his cultural awareness and significance. With a career that spans 20 years, DJ Pope is known as the pillar that carries the movimiento culture in Colombia. “We literally had to create an urban movement,” he tells Remezcla. With a “street-team” strategic approach, alongside his right-hand man J Balvin; the duo created a much-needed structure in the mid-aughts—eventually placing Colombia’s second city as the navel of reggaetón‘s international resurgence.
“We had a very dark past in Medellin, narcos and all that stuff. Now we have a new Medellin, one that is musical, artistic and athletic,” he says. As a firm believer that music, culture and art changes lives; Pope created 574 Studios, a music collective and label that supports and promotes the new wave of rising Colombian acts. The collective’s name reflects his vision: 57 represents Colombia’s dialing code, while four represents Medellin—symbolizing the connection between Medellin, Colombia and the world.
More than a label and resource, it’s presence encapsulates the various aspects of Medellin’s music culture; highlighting painters in art shows, embracing the streetwear fashion that compliments the scene, as well as open mics and weekly ciphers. Essentially, It’s the access that was non-existent in Pope’s early years in music when the scene in Medellin didn’t have resources like labels, producers, studios or videographers.
Born José David Rivera, the 574-founder credits his year spent in Connecticut as a 16-year-old as the igniter to his music taste. “I’m grateful for that time in the U.S. because it was where I began to fall in love with urbano. I had many Puerto Rican and Dominican classmates and it was all we listened to,” he says. That was when he purchased his first equipment and the reggaetón albums that would later inspire his career by artists like Los Guanabanas, The Noise and Hector y Tito to name a few. When he returned to his city a year later, he brought those influences and newfound passion with him.
Making a name for himself as DJ to Tres Pesos, a known Colombian reggaetón group at the time, he understood the impact el movimiento was making in the underground scene, while also acknowledging the need to build an industry—though radio refused to permit airplay, the hood kept the music alive. “There wasn’t even a space for a Colombian artist in Colombia,” he says, adding, “we weren’t taken seriously.” After a few years of dedication to the group, DJ Pope made his exit to pursue a new project that involved a then-unknown artist, J Balvin.
His moves were questioned of course, but for Pope it was simple: they had a “dream chemistry” and similarities in their career goals, motivating the pair to join forces and prove to the world that there is talent in Colombia. “Only space we had to sing to people was at a barbershop,” Pope recalls, reminiscing in an era led by what he considers “Trabajo de calle” promoting albums on Myspace and personally distributing CDs. They would also visit schools, bars and clubs to spread the word of their music.
The mission was always to build community, a movement that would put Colombian artists on the map. Later down the line, he created Infinity Music, a producer crew of sorts, that eventually carved the biggest breakthrough moments for the country’s reggaetón scene. Dropping J Balvin and Farruko’s “6 AM” in 2013, the song peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Latin charts and symbolized a revival in reggaetón with more commercial-leaning topics, lyrics and melodic beats by producers like Mosty and Sky Rompiendo.
The new sounds infuse colors and textures rooted in the different genres that reign in the country: the flutes found in indigenous styles like bambuco, the traditional cumbia and dancehall blend, and electronic musical influences.
“Two years ago I reconnected with that same mission, to create a new group, a new line of artists, new composers, new beatmakers, everything that is related to music, culture and art. In the end, we created 574.”
The assorted catalog of artists ranges in styles and talent. Among the artists there’s HOMIE!, a singer-trapero discovered on social media for his acoustic reggaetón covers. Through the organic growth of resharing, he caught the eye of many in the industry including DJ Pope. “I haven’t seen an artist like HOMIE! in a long time in Latin urban music. You listen to his music, and it’s more rock. But he is also urbano, he will add trap, reggaetón, perreo—he’s very versatile,” says Pope.
“He said bro, you have a community in Medellin,” shares HOMIE!, who at the time lived in his native city of Envigado. Pope’s mission for his proteges is to aim for career structures that resemble those of Daddy Yankee, Balvin and Wisin & Yandel—artists that have done their homework and whose work has led to solid projects and not become disposable. “He doesn’t want me to just give me things and that’s it. He wants me to construct a career, a name.”
Nao Btz may just be his secret weapon, whose essence has received nods of approval by Tainy. There’s composer and freestyler Slay fox, and 14-year-old MAXI. The latest 574-produced track is MAXI’s “Momma Part II” featuring Rayo and Toby brought on board You Andy, Bantu, Nao Btz and Slay Fox for production.
The dream isn’t limited to creating the collective and building the industry in Medellin.The idea that Latin artists once had to sing in the English to collaborate with American artists or reach global recognition has long been abandoned and DJ Pope wants to go global. “I believe 574 will easily become an empire: says HOMIE!. With an endless list of projects in the works featuring artists like Eladio Carrion, C Tangana, Diplo; and veterans like Jowell y Randy, Trebol Clans, it is sure to be the case and just the beginning.