We’ve been forecasting R&B’s takeover of the Latin American underground for years. For Dominican electronic collective MITEL DICO, R&B and future bass are favorite rhythms of their production arsenal, while in Chile, the current generation of musicians is mixing R&B with trap and dembow, ushering in an exciting post-indie pop era. However, R&B’s growing popularity stems from more than a simple rhythmic influence. In Brazil, rich Afro-diasporic heritage has kept R&B and soul as a permanent staple of the national zeitgeist, with notable acts Liniker e os Caramelows and Tuyo echoing themes of race, gender and politics that are as relevant today as when they were first set to song by pioneers like James Brown and Aretha Franklin.
Mexico has also experienced a spike in R&B flavored projects, with Girl Ultra, Jesse Baez (who is Guatemalan but hit his stride in Mexico), and the team behind Monterrey’s Finesse Records becoming some of the genre’s most visible proponents. But take a closer look at Mexico’s vibrant DIY underground and you’ll find that some of the most fascinating young musicians making R&B nationwide remain hidden gems.
To bust this treasure trove wide open, we’ve compiled a list of brilliant young artists enriching Mexico’s sonic landscape with beats, lyrics, and aesthetics that reflect their diverse corners of the country. The mainstream gaze tends to linger over Mexico City a bit too heavily, so today we invite you to dive a little deeper.
The Yucatán Peninsula is rapidly emerging as a haven for earnest hip-hop and expansive electronic music, and the Montehood collective produces some of the most exciting sounds in the land. Based in Mérida and Playa del Carmen, Montehood founders Javier Cali, Pedro Honda, Guzmán UVE and Kikks have pooled their resources and musical know-how to mobilize an independent coalition, grooming bright local talent like Dewitt Sound and Dannyy. The crew is like a musical Rubik’s Cube, where each member’s experiences in the worlds of rap, house and even psych pop spin into a prismatic and continuously evolving entity.
Think of Fer Casillas as a smoky lounge singer for the Instagram age. Merging jazz and soul vocal traditions with robust orchestrations of guitars, keys and horns, Casillas is delivering a rich new-school sound without overly relying on current electronic production trends. Casillas’ lyrics bounce between heartbreak, stoic healing and delightfully groovy dance pieces, with some of her finest work hitting the airwaves over the past year ahead of a flashy appearance at SXSW and forthcoming EP Imágenes de Olga (Lado B).
Méne - Monterrey
The kids are more than alright. For living proof, look no further than Méne, one of the brightest stars out of Monterrey’s blossoming R&B and trap ecosystem. Hit underground singles “Nunca Es Tu Piel” and “Contándoles” have catapulted the 19-year-old to the top of a local competitive scene breeding fresh and dazzling talent at a breakneck pace.
From rowdy pop-punk roots, to cheeky R&B heartthrobs, the sonic evolution leading to the formation of E.N.V.E.S. may be the most unexpected on this list. Pako Aldama, vocalist for Guadalajara-based band Say Ocean, and Javier Trapero, drummer and bassist for Culiacán staple Diez Veces Yo, came together at the end of 2018 as a surreal experiment yielding spectacular results. Aldama’s charisma and clever wordplay shine on singles “Error” and “Mientes,” while Trapero’s production creates enveloping soundscapes perfect for late night grinding and inebriated sing-alongs.
In November 2017, Foudequesh, Lee Flame, Kalifrn and BearMacklin came together to form Kiddie Gang, a super group of vocal and production whiz kids melding R&B, chill trap, and even indie rock. The alluring waviness of their break out single “Morfina” will draw you deep into the Monterrey crew’s SoundCloud rabbit hole. And even though most members are also exploring solo runs, it’s their combined forces that will keep you hooked for the long run.
Swerving between English and Spanish lyrics and operating under the moniker of PILLGRIM, Asael Zamora’s upbringing in the border city of Mexicali shaped his approach to jagged, trap-flavored R&B. PILLGRIM has released an EP and full-length album, 2015’s The Thrill and 2017’s Love Lust, characterized by the bass-heavy urgency of his beats and sorrowful vocal style. Recent releases like “No Mientas” and “Bien” suggest we haven’t heard the full extent of his sad boy tales – something to look forward to on his upcoming record out on Take Over later this year.
Smith - Reynosa
A unique strain of hip-hop and R&B is brewing in Reynosa, capital of the northern state of Tamaulipas, characterized by bilingual lyrics and brash, almost industrial production. Notable talents like Leech Orphan and Godking have emerged, but it was Smith’s full-length debut Canciones Dedicadas a Ellas, released in February, that caught our attention as a cocky and surprisingly spry manifesto of romance and turn up anthems.
Impeccable style and gauzy, innocent vocals make CATALINA a compelling new force in the game. The distant synths and skeletal dembow riddim of her debut single “HELENA” will creep under your skin in the best way, leading you to sway and brood along – causing inevitable repeat listens.
Monterrey crooner Tuzeint is currently in the studio crafting his debut EP 23 under the watchful guise of Mexican production wunderkind Wet Baes. But the 26-year-old has already made an impressive splash with popular singles “Rest Will Shine” and “Honey,” which showcase Tuzeint’s groovy flirtations with sunny guitars, jazzy keys and hedonistic lyricism. And as if he wasn’t already poised for stardom, a recent performance at this year’s massive Pa’l Norte festival put Tuzeint on the radar for thousands of new fans.
Young, lo-fi and ready to take Mexico’s R&B scene by storm, Babe Mija is the alter ego of María Palencia, a satin-voiced chanteuse born and raised on the US-Mexico border. After four years of cutting her teeth in Mexico City’s competitive art circles, Palencia returned to the Mexicali-Calexico desert she calls home, releasing her first official demo “Physic-al Love” earlier in the year and is currently in the studio finessing her debut mixtape.