MJ Nebreda has always been drawn to music ever since she was young. Growing up, she would find herself practicing her skills with drum sets, and those self-taught lessons would inevitably end with her recreating reggaetón beats and fills. Born in Venezuela and currently Miami-based but raised mostly between London and a handful of other cities, MJ was also exposed to electronic music during her adolescence. “That was my first influence — artists like Jamie xx, Ratatat, and [progressive house],” she tells Remezcla. The arc of all these influences eventually bent towards her very first single, last year’s self-love paean, “Adicto a Mí.” “That’s where [that song] came from, which is house keys and reggaetón drums,” she explains.
The road that led her from those rookie drum sessions to her new EP, Amor en Los Tiempos de Odio, was one paved with an inspired approach to working in the music industry, a serendipitous discovery of a hidden talent, and a career change that was buoyed by chasing a dream and a calculated moral stance.
While MJ, short for María-José, quickly realized she wanted to work in music, she was initially on the fence about how exactly to go about it. Eventually, she decided to try the business side, working at Warner Music Latino behind the scenes with different artists like Zion y Lennox, Justin Quiles, and more. Working alongside artists of that calibre and being, at times, a fly on the wall was an immeasurable learning experience. “I learned the rules of the game. It gave me a lot of perspective,” she says. But when the quarantine lockdowns of 2020 began going into effect, her old love for actually creating music began to well up inside of her.
“I stopped smoking weed for a week,” she laughs, saying she began playing around with programs like Ableton and Splice Beatmaker. “I studied math and physics. I’m a very brainy person. I love picking things apart and learning things the hard way.” She challenged herself to create songs from scratch on these programs she’d never used. Within a month, she had what eventually became her first singles, “Adicto a Mí,” “Perreo Contra La Depresión,” and “Feeling Like I’m Gay.” “Most of the first songs I released were all from within that first month, just trying shit. And I showed them to my friends, and they were like, ‘What the fuck? This is a good vibe, this is weird, what is this?’ And I thought, ‘Wow, I think I’m doing something here,’” she notes.
“It sometimes feels like it’s a political [choice] to be a female producer… You have to get out there, and if you like doing it, then not doing it feels like you’re letting down society a bit. You have to because we need more.”
The experience was so fulfilling that she faced a conundrum. As she colorfully explains, “I reached a wall where I had to decide, do I want to be a businesswoman or [do I] go more into this music shit and see what the fuck happens and give it my all?” For her, the choice was not just about professional fulfillment but a surprisingly moral one as well. “There are four female music producers in Miami. Such a low number! So part of me also felt like I had to,” she says. “It sometimes feels like it’s a political [choice] to be a female producer. You have to be one; you have to try. You have to get out there, and if you like doing it, then not doing it feels like you’re letting down society a bit. You have to because we need more.”
Now embarking on a new side of the industry, she has new avenues to express herself she didn’t have access to before — something she uses to full effect in Amor en Los Tiempos de Odio. The four-track EP is inspired by the Raptor house genre that originated in Venezuela and even features the style’s originator, DJ Babatr, on her first single, “Frida Kahlo.” The project was made alongside fellow producer Nick León and, as a whole, the four songs encompass a different manifestation of expressing love.
As MJ approached them, “Bubalú” is love towards a partner in the romantic sense, while “Ahora Empezó” is more carnal love and passion. “Rottweiler,” in turn, is about the complicated love between family members and neighbors. The track was inspired by a recent trip to Peru, where half of her family is from, to bury her late grandmother. “I was there, and my whole family was just being so anxious and dramatic and loving each other but also fighting each other, and I was actually inspired,” she shares. “We all have so many [inner battles], and all I could think is, ‘This is my tribe — we’re all anxious, but look at us all still here, meeting up.’” Finally, “Frida Kahlo” is an ode to oneself and an endorsement of what you can accomplish when you bet on your talent and drive. MJ hopes the song’s cheeky chorus isn’t taken the wrong way and interpreted as an insult to the celebrated Mexican painter, instead intending it as “move aside Frida, I’m also a badass.”
As for her next steps, she’s already in the planning stages for a few more EP releases she wants to stagger across 2023, including a concept album/opera following an alter ego of her own creation named Fiona. She tours as a DJ and performer as well, with an upcoming show in Puerto Rico, Isla del Terror Soundsystem, MC’d by fellow singer-producer Enyel C, whom she collaborated with on his song “Nuestra Canción.”
Her innate smarts and natural intuitiveness have made her well aware that she’ll have to scale uphill to succeed — and she is already running into some of the many sexist speed bumps other female artists have long spoken about. “It’s become so much more obvious how many more things I need to do to be seen as respectable as a man at my same level,” she says. “Even though this guy is doing something, and it’s dope, as a woman, I feel like I have to do three times as much. You have to prove yourself way more.”
Hand-in-hand with the business acumen and creative wherewithal she gained working in the industry, she also saw some ugly truths that she’s now facing head-on, including body shaming. “The Latinx music industry is super sexist — it just is. And things are changing; people are finally into [queer and Black artists] and beyond,” she remarks. “At first, it was just like, ‘You’re not anorexic-looking enough, you’re not polishing yourself enough to look presentable to men,’ and shit like that. I’m not doing that, and you’re going to take me less seriously? Because I’m not getting work done on my face, or not doing the things that you think that a female artist should do? [It] doesn’t mean I’m less good.”
Having finally found her calling, MJ is determined to add her voice to a genre sorely lacking it — and isn’t going to allow those who underestimate her to disillusion her. “I’m just not gonna put myself in rooms where, as [an artist], I’m not feeling welcome,” she declares. “I know what I’m doing, and I’m focusing on that.”
Listen to Amor en Los Tiempos de Odio below.