To hear him tell it, LeeBrian shouldn’t even be here.
“I didn’t really follow any music or artists before I started recording,” he says. A little over a year ago, though, LeeBrian (surname Canales) began to appear on a popular Instagram page called Freestyle Mania Season that uploads user videos in which budding talents can show off their freestyle abilities, get their names trending, and start the occasional rap beef between themselves too.
“I’ve always had a talent for writing, ever since elementary school,” he shares, so his friends pushed him to make some videos of himself and post the results. “I wouldn’t even still be doing this if it weren’t for the fans asking me.”
He initially only posted his videos on Facebook, where they eventually came across the founder of Freestyle Mania, who promptly shared them on Instagram.
Before too long, the baby-faced rapper found himself gaining the most user engagements week after week, upload after upload. Viewers craved his rapid-fire delivery, creative rhymes, and bouncy, rollicking flow, which stops, starts, slows down, and speeds up all sometimes within the same bar. LeeBrian, who hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico, quickly became one of Freestyle Mania’s most popular lyricists and his fan base grew accordingly. One of the people who took a particular interest in him was Alejandro Ramírez – otherwise known as Sky, one of J Balvin’s longtime producers and associates.
Sky eventually reached out, introducing himself and expressing his interest. After a few more formal conversations and meetings, Sky officially signed the young rapper to his label Black Koi Entertainment and immediately put him in the studio. “I liked his attitude and his desire to work hard, and the [genuineness] in wanting to work together,” says Sky.
In the months since joining the Black Koi team, the 17-year-old rapper has already released three singles, including the short-form guillaera freestyle “Rookie,” a perreo called “Como Te Gusta” alongside fellow newcomer Lunay, and most recently the anime-influenced “Goku Sin El Ki,” which boasts a colorful, manic video that shows off its Dragon Ball references with pride.
His newest single is “Flow Payco,” named after the popular Puerto Rican ice cream and popsicle brand. It’s a dose of rap braggadocio that employs the same clever wordplay and cultural references that have fueled his nascent career. LeeBrian says the song was inspired by the idiosyncratic beat. “I listened to the beat and found it very odd, so I kept brainstorming until eventually I came up with a verse that fit. The challenge of it was what motivated me.” In the video, he plays on the track’s ice cream theme, rapping on top of a Payco truck and later in a cone factory. It’s playful and slick, a promising effort from the next big thing in Puerto Rican rap.
Neither the mainstream hip-hop nor the Spanish-language urbano industry are strangers to presenting young talent. From Lil Bow Wow and Kriss Kross in U.S. rap, to reggaetón artists like Miguelito, Xavi the Destroyer, Yo-Seph, and the vieja escuela phenom Feloman, there’s always been a niche interest in teen artists. Nowadays, with the advent of social media and online distribution platforms, the floodgates have opened for young rappers, and the so-called SoundCloud generation of acts are thriving. LeeBrian certainly falls inside that demographic, alongside popular English-language contemporaries like Lil Pump and Juice WRLD. With his curly mopped hair, wardrobe of vibrant sunglasses, and seemingly neverending on-camera energy, his youthful exuberance is definitely a major part of how he and Sky plan to start making inroads with fans around the world.
Indeed, LeeBrian has lofty goals for his future. Apart from being hopeful for collaborations with artists such as Bad Bunny and Miky Woodz, he also has more humble aspirations: “I want everything. I want everyone to hear me,” he says. “I want to conquer the world.”
He just might – he’s already getting co-signs from major streaming platforms. Deezer selected him as part of their NEXT 2018 lineup, in which select emerging artists benefit from an increased streaming presence, playlisting efforts, and marketing campaigns that involve interviews, fan events, and social media support.
On top of all of that, his first seven-song EP titled UnderWater is set to debut soon.
“I see so much potential in him! I think he’s just starting to get to know himself inside the studio, know himself as an artist, learn about the [music industry] — and that’s the good thing about being 17 years old, that you can explore and you have time to go through phases and let that help shape you into an artist or even a superstar,” adds Sky.
As for how LeeBrian himself feels suddenly being thrust into the music industry at his young age and who, by his own admission, only started rapping because he was “bored”? He laughs and says, “Ay bendito, I feel right at home!”
Watch the video for “Flow Payco” below.