Reggaeton is having an undeniable moment on the global stage right now, and while that may be a surprise to some after its commercial descent in the late 2000s, Puerto Rican-born artist Justin Quiles always saw the explosion coming.
“Everyone who said reggaeton was falling — you guys are wrong!” he joked to Remezcla in a recent interview, laughing. “I grew up listening to this, and I feel like it’s got so much more to go on. It’s going to keep evolving, and there’s so much more happening.”
Quiles would know; he was born in Connecticut to Puerto Rican parents and raised in Florida. He burst onto the charts in 2016, when his reggaeton album La Promesa hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart. But his prescience also has to do with the fact that even before his solo debut, he’s been an insider in reggaeton for years, working behind the scenes as a songwriter for some of the genre’s biggest stars. He’s penned hits like Yandel’s “Loba,” the J Balvin and Daddy Yankee collab “Pierde de Modales” from Energía, and “Recuerdame” by Maluma, among others.
Following the success of La Promesa, Quiles has been spending time on new songs that expand his take on reggaeton and experiment with R&B, trap, and other urbano sounds. In March, he released the uptempo “Pendiente de Usted,” which fans had been waiting for since Quiles teased it as a demo. He also shared “Dinero Fácil,” a slow-wind collab with Brytiago, Gigolo, and La Exce, and his recent tracks “Monstruo” and “No Quiero Amarte” go down a more seductive lane, showing off Quiles’ vocals and versatility.
“It’s just getting bigger and bigger. Right now, it’s all eyes on us.”
“Music is about evolution and trying new things,” he said. “I try to switch up some sounds — ‘Monstruo’ is kind of an American R&B sound and it’s different for me, but it’s not too outside of what Justin Quiles’ music is.” He adds that on his new songs, “the rhythms are more updated and more in keeping with the style now.”
Quiles’ new forays are happening at a time when reggaeton is also being pulled into multiple directions in the face of surging popularity. Quiles has been at the forefront of the genre as its been embraced – and to some, co-opted – by both Spanish-speaking and Anglo pop artists, and he’s noticed all the ways in which reggaeton seemingly has stretched and multiplied over different styles of music. Now, he says, it’s not uncommon to hear massive mainstream hits that have elements, like drum beats, that derive from reggaeton’s signature dembow riddims.
“You listen to ‘Unforgettable’ by French Montana,” Quiles lists as an example. “If you listen to the drums, it’s a loop we use for reggaeton. We call it the ‘Rich Girl.’ So everybody who does reggaeton knows that…Even if people are making it pop or making it something else, it’s still our foundation.”
On his own tours, Quiles has witnessed the way in which doors to the genre have been opening around the world, too. While traces of reggaeton permeate the mainstream U.S. pop charts, Quiles explained that audiences all over the globe have also started to support Latino urbano artists in droves, helping them garner more critical mass and attention. “Right now in Europe, reggaeton is huge. All of us have been traveling and doing tours — I’ve been going to Rome and different places like Amsterdam, and there’s a lot of people that love reggaeton out there. I definitely feel like it’s growing and becoming worldwide.”
Still, for vanguards who have been around for years, it can be disorienting to witness pop acts borrow from the genre to make music that is far more mainstream than reggaeton’s early underground days. But Quiles isn’t fazed; he explains that what’s happening in these genres is a huge win for the industry and a source of pride that shows how far into the global consciousness of reggaeton can go.
He also points out that even as reggaeton becomes the new pop, there are certain artists who are always going to want to revisit and revive the more hard-hitting, rough-and-tumble side of the genre.
“We’re always gonna have people doing what we did back in the day. Our roots are always gonna be there. It evolves, obviamente va crecer — the sounds always changes a little bit, but it’s still reggaeton,” he said. “You can listen to the drums, you can dance to it, and there’s always people making reggaeton bangers. Daddy Yankee is doing it; Don Omar always brings us back. There are always people taking it to old school reggaeton.”
Quiles’ understanding of the genre remains an influence as he crafts new material. As someone who is always keeping an eye toward where the genre is heading, Quiles also talks trap often, and sees serious momentum in where urbano as a whole is going. He says this new wave shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
“I feel like now it’s gonna be more collaborations with Americans because of trap, too — Latin trap is big and trap artists on the American side, they see that. You have Karol G with Quavo,” he said. “It’s just getting bigger and bigger. Right now, it’s all eyes on us.”