Julianno Sosa_

INTERVIEW: Julianno Sosa Discusses Redemption, Chilean Reggaeton & New Album

Photo by 898Sosmafia.

Though a decade ago, Chile was synonymous with cinematic indie pop, today, the Andean nation is home to a booming trap and reggaeton scene. El movimiento found its footing as inside music for inside times — a soundtrack for socio-political unrest that reached its dramatic climax with 2019’s “estallido social,” reverberating well into the pandemic and the post-lockdown urge for collective dancing. Since then, the staggering numbers of Polimá Westcoast and Pailita’s “Ultra Solo,” Cris MJ’s “Una Noche en Medellín,” and Pablo Chill-E’s head-turning guest spot on Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG have blasted Chile’s music industry into the stratosphere. One of the titans of Chilean trap and perreo is Julianno Sosa, the architect behind waist-winding anthems “Cochinae” and “Ganas,” as well as malianteo bibles Flaites NY, alongside Pablo Chill-E, and El Rey De Los Trenches

The rapper hails from the district of Puente Alto, in Southeastern Santiago, a vast, lower-income community problematically nicknamed “Puente Asalto.” In a way, Sosa embodies the socio-economic shift that sparked el estallido and which has permeated Chile’s sonic transition from naive collegial pop into gritty storytelling from the urban periphery. But in scarcity, Sosa developed a keen eye for opportunity, one he hopes to share with other young hustlers.

“Growing up in Puente Alto was a blessing and a curse,” says Sosa, speaking with Remezcla from his Santiago home. “It’s considered one of the most dangerous barrios in Chile, and back then, you could only really dream of becoming a fútbol star. That or study. Now music is a viable option, and there’s talent that just needs a chance. That was my case. Work hard, invest time and resources into well-produced art, and you can be somebody and help your family get ahead.”

In no small way, Sosa’s new album Finalmente Libre projects this sense of gratitude and hope, laced with a hefty dose of flexeo. The boom bap-fueled opening track “La Eme,” as well as his throbbing collaboration with Spanish-Moroccan club rap phenom Morad on “My Hood,” pay homage to the mean streets that breed superstars. His international ambition shines on the bar-forward “Tamo Aquí” with NYC-based Dominican rapper Dowba Montana. And on “Distante,” Mexican it-boy El Malilla helps Sosa bridge two of Latin America’s fastest-growing, though still underestimated, reggaeton scenes.

However, at its core, Finalmente Libre is a redemption story. In 2016, when he was 18 years old, Sosa headed to the U.S. to become, as he describes it, “an international thief.” In 2020, he was arrested for breaking and entering and sentenced to five months in a New Jersey jail, followed by a year-long probation where he wore a state-mandated ankle monitor featured in many of his early music videos. A shockingly candid Sosa says the title of his new album has more to do with freedom of heart and mind than with cages, as the conversation pivots to his “demons” and the many times “music saved my life.”

“Everything stops when you’re put away,” he reflects. “For you, at least. On the outside, things carry on. Rent, car insurance, supporting my girl; all that continued. Everything I’d saved from my dealings was depleted. In the most difficult times, I’ve always asked God for a sign that music is my path. I did bad things, but I was never a bad person. I never hit or tied anyone up. I stole out of necessity, not for fun. We justified our actions as rich people’s karma catching up to them. So when I got out, I figured I could go back to stealing or go hard with music.”

Though Sosa dabbled in music before leaving Chile, it wasn’t until his longtime friend Pablo Chill-E began blowing up that he felt encouraged to pursue his passion. Before landing in jail, they recorded a collaborative trap mixtape called Flaites NY that yielded the hit “Dale Tu Kolin.” After getting out, Sosa noticed reggaeton was on a massive South American come-up and dropped the EP Querian Perreo? in April 2022, spawning the global smash “Cochinae.” Success and new income were catalysts behind his next record, Finalmente Rico, deepening his relationship with perreo on the Young Cister and Guelo Star-featuring hits “Ganas” and “Tranquila.” Here his crossover aspirations came into focus, also dipping into corridos tumbados on tracks “Tan Bella” and “Chingandole.”

But Sosa’s legal battles weren’t over, and in July 2023, he was deported following an arms-related incident in Miami, FL, for which he maintains his innocence and still attends court hearings via Zoom. He hopes to settle the case and return to the country soon in order to meet his daughter, who was born after his expulsion. Shortly after arriving in Chile, he organized a celebratory motorcycle joy ride for which he was also arrested, spending another month in jail. And yet, in the darkest of times, his pleas for guidance have always been answered.

[My hometown of Puente Alto] is one of the most dangerous barrios in Chile, and back then, you could only really dream of becoming a fútbol star. That or study. Now music is a viable option, and there’s talent that just needs a chance. That was my case.

“I got out on September 1, my mother’s birthday,” he remembers. “That same day, Myke Towers hit me up over DM, saying he just arrived in Chile, that he’s playing the Movistar Arena, and that I should come join him. Later that day, I get a message from Anuel’s cousin, who I know from New York, and he says, ‘We’re on the jet on our way to Chile, you should come to the show!’ Man, every time I ask God for a sign he sends it loud and clear. The day before, I’m in jail; the next day, I’m at Movistar Arena with DJ Luian and the whole crew. Later, Myke hit me up saying we should do a song together, and I asked if I could bring someone, and he said yeah. So Polimá and I went into the studio with him, which was a dream come true.”

The result is “AQHSDLU” (or “A Qué Hora Sales De La Universidad”), a stand out from Finalmente Libre that infused the synth-driven romantiqueo of Puerto Rican reggaeton with raunchy Chilean slang. The track is also one of three featuring Polimá Westcoast, also popping up on the seductive “Por Ti” alongside rapper Harry Nach, and “Miami Vibes 2.0,” a sequel to the pair’s incandescent trap hit from 2020. 

In a final twist of fate, Sosa took two bullets during an attempt on his life last month. The investigation is ongoing, and while he was still convalescing at the time of this interview, the incident has in no way deterred his play for global domination.

“I feel so blessed,” he says, getting emotional. “I just got shot. Twice. And I’m OK. I was talking with Polimá, and he said, ‘Bro, I admire you. Sometimes I feel down and stuck, but here you are in the studio after two bullets.’ But my goals are big, and I can’t let anything stop me. My family depends on me. My barrio believes in me. I was on the street, I was poor, and I made it. Music truly saved my life.”

Finalmente Libre is out now.