With reggaeton’s popularity at an all-time-high, it was only appropriate that one of the genre’s biggest stars, J Balvin, paid tribute to his forebears at his historic Coachella set by performing an intoxicating medley of its biggest breakthrough hits. The voices of Daddy Yankee, Wisin & Yandel, and two sisters from Astoria, Queens all echoed from Coachella’s main stage, as thousands of revelers anointed themselves in perreo’s cleansing power. The crowd heeded Balvin’s call to sing along, and shouted out the words Natalie and Nicole Albino once laid down on tape, almost 15 years ago. “Boricua, Morena, Dominicano, Colombiano” rang out across the fields at Indio’s Empire Polo club, reminding the world of Nina Sky’s staying power.
Many girls in the late 80s and early 90s played with Barbie and the Rockers dolls, but identical twins Natalie and Nicole Albino assumed the role of actual rockstars. One fateful Christmas, the sisters asked for a karaoke machine, which they used to tune into New York radio station Hot 97 and record themselves singing along to songs like Mary J Blige’s 1992 track “Real Love,” among other hits of the day. That’s when the seeds for Nina Sky took root.
“I definitely remember always feeling like we were going to be doing music,“ says Nicole, whose admiration for DJ Coco Chanelle – one of the women DJs on Hot 97 – inspired her to learn the craft. “I’d never heard a female DJ scratch and you know, beyond the mind and the soul, [be] technically talented. So I was like, why don’t I know other women who DJ? I’m like, I’m going to learn how to DJ. I’m going to be the other woman who DJs.”
“I’m going to learn how to DJ. I’m going to be the other woman who DJs.”
With their stepfather being a selector himself, the girls grew up with a vast musical primer. “We had a lot of house parties on Sundays. Everyone would come over, we’d play music and the kids would play [while] the parents would congregate and do their thing,” said Nicole. Depending on the mood, he’d play hip hop, reggae, salsa, and of course, freestyle.
And while the girls were still teenagers, they started making music professionally. “I went to professional performing art school at the time, and they would give us these auditions. There was a board by the school’s office and there was an audition for someone, and that’s how we met Elijah aka producer The Jettsonz,” said Natalie.
With the support and approval of their mom, the ladies started going to The Jettszon’s studio, where they eventually crafted the demo for their first singe, “Move Ya Body,” which used Scatta Burrell’s “Coolie Dance Riddim” (at the suggestion of hip-hop veteran Cipha Sounds).
As we all know, “Move Ya Body” became an instant success, which led to one of the most iconic collaborations of all time: “Oye Mi Canto,” for which Puerto Nuyorican rapper N.O.R.E. recruited the Albino sisters personally. “Oye Mi Canto” almost instantly became part of the reggaeton canon. “I always say ‘Oye Mi Canto’ was special to us before we knew it was going to have a lasting impact,” says Nicole.
“Working with N.O.R.E and Daddy Yankee was amazing, and to see the success was like ‘Woah.’ To be a part of the crossover success was major for us,” Natalie added. They also acknowledge that part of the song’s success was due to its inclusion for people who didn’t speak Spanish.
“I think when it comes to pushing the genre forward [N.O.R.E.] was such a visionary in that he really stood behind the reggaeton sound,” said Natalie. “The song starts ‘If you’re proud to be Latino stand the fuck up.’ This is a moment, stand up, we’re here.”
“The song starts ‘If you’re proud to be Latino stand the fuck up.’ This is a moment, stand up, we’re here.”
While the track rose up the charts, the twins also worked on their mixtape La Conexion, collaborating with La Caballota, Ivy Queen, for their single “Ladies Night.”
“She’s so passionate and we worked off of her energy when we were writing that song. It was an unreal experience at the time. If there was one artist from the whole movement that we admired – I mean, all of them – but her being a woman at the forefront of this movement was this major plus to be in the studio with her,” says Nicole.
And though they’ve experienced label troubles throughout the years, it’s as independent artists that they’ve felt most liberated. After various label shuffles, they signed a new recording contract with Warner Music Group’s independent recording label Tommy Boy Entertainment in 2016, and most recently dropped “No Passion” with Panamanian duo Los Rakas, who they last collaborated with on “One More Time.”
“We love how melodic they are, and the vibe has always been there. We connected really well with them. So we wrote this song and we knew we wanted to get a feature on it. They’re really talented,” says Natalie.
With a new single in the books, the Albino sisters are set to embark on a 15th anniversary tour, on which they’ll play some of their classics, along with new songs, with the help of a live band. Tour dates include stops in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Diego. And as their first show approaches, they are looking forward to connecting with the hardcore fans the most. The venues are all purposely intimate to fuel the connection, and Nicole will even be stepping in to play guitar on songs from their first album like “Temperatures Rising,” ‘Good-Bye,” and “Faded Memory.”
As the sisters reflect on their sense of place in the music industry, they’re aware of the industry’s often-rigid lines. “There are no rules when it comes to evolving and finding inspiration, and there are no rules to making art…that’s why we collaborate in so many different genres. We have done reggaeton, done reggae, we make R&B. That’s who we are at our core.
“I think that the most empowering thing that we ever did was strip ourselves down of all of the labels and things that people were trying to give us. It’s just like be true to ourselves and just, you know, be Natalie and Nicole and do what makes us happy and create music that we felt good about. And I think that’s why we’ve been able to create for 15 years. We do things, you know, that we feel strongly about.” said Natalie.
And the ladies are more empowered now than ever. Over the years they’ve built a strong support system while balancing music, touring, and motherhood. “Being a mother empowers you to work harder and makes you feel like you can take on anything,” says Nicole. Just at that moment, Natalie’s nine-month-old son wakes up from a nap. “That’s how you balance it out,” she jokes. “You do interviews while they’re napping.”
You can buy tickets for their anniversary tour here.