It seems every year has at least one meteoric rise in the urbano universe, and 2019’s has arrived early in the form of Guaynaa.
Born Jean Carlos Santiago, the 26-year-old became an internet sensation in late 2017. In the aftermath of Hurricane María’s battering of Puerto Rico, the Carolina native released a freestyle titled “María” in which, tongue planted firmly in cheek, he lampooned the adversity and misfortune he went through during the months of blackouts and criticized President Trump’s maligned visit to the island.
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After going viral and impressing fans with his wordplay, Guaynaa began to field offers to do more tracks and guest verses. In January, he released the single “ReBoTa,” which became an instant hit with the track’s humorous throwback perreo vibe and Guaynaa’s goofy demeanor. In March, none other than Bad Bunny brought him onstage during his massive three-night run at San Juan’s El Choliseo, giving Guaynaa an instant popularity boost that now has him doing nonstop press and working with some of the top names in the movement.
We talked with Guaynaa to learn more about him. Here’s a primer on urbano’s wackiest rapper.
The story behind his artist name.
While he stylizes it as “Guaynaa” the term “guayna” is a common abbreviation of the word “guaynabicho,” a Puerto Rican slang term that refers to residents of the city of Guaynabo. Folks from there have a reputation (warranted or not) of being snobby, superficial, and high-class. Guaynaa himself was born in Caguas and raised between Carolina and Canóvanas, but due to his extroverted personality and sense of style he was often called a “guayna” by friends.
He freestyled from an early age.
Guaynaa’s grandfather was a trovador, but until he was born, no one else in his family dabbled in music. Around the age of 10, he started to entertain himself and his friends by writing songs and performing. “In the beginning we would just [improvise] spontaneous lyrics, mostly reggaetón,” he tells Remezcla over the phone. He credits listening to popular artists in his youth as inspiring him to always be “rapping and freestyling” with his friends.
He wanted to be a jockey.
After graduating from high school, Guaynaa started college in Puerto Rico and joined the school’s baseball team before shifting to equestrianism, a decision he attributes to peaking early in college baseball. “I’ve always liked racing horses, and one day I had a great game — I struck out 16 of 21 batters — and said, ‘That’s enough; I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to race horses,’ and switched sports.” He spent four years in Boston trying to make it as a jockey, but ultimately decided to withdraw. “I had trouble making the necessary weight, so eventually I just decided to leave it,” he says. He moved back to Puerto Rico where he began to study chemical engineering with his eyes on a degree.
He once rapped under a different name.
Years before his “María” freestyle debut, Guaynaa made an initial attempt at breaking into the music scene in 2015. Under the moniker Janko (a play on his name, Jean Carlos), he released two music videos in which he leaned into a malianteo persona. “I signed with a label called Real Music and tried to do the style I’d see in other artists instead of being myself, [but] it didn’t really work out and I stopped making music like that.” When asked who he identified with most, bad boy Janko or mischievous Guaynaa, he replied, “Definitely Guaynaa, he’s closer to who Jean Carlos really is.”
He’s drawn comparisons to witty old school reggaetoneros and rappers.
While being quickly embraced by listeners, Guaynaa has also inevitably been likened to old school reggaetón artists who share his jokester wit, such as Wiso G and Ranking Stone, and more recent ones like Jowell and Jamsha, all of whom are known for their irreverent lyrics. Guaynaa doesn’t mind the comparisons and acknowledges that that the playful style is fully part of his writing approach. “It doesn’t bother me at all, and I’m conscious that that’s the style of music I’ve decided to do. People will always make comparisons and that’s fine, I respect it.”
He doesn't intend on exploring politics in his career.
Guaynaa burst onto the scene with the timely “María,” which was a humorous-yet-honest take on life on the island post-hurricane. Since his large audience debut during the X100PRE tour, he has been frequently associated with Bad Bunny, who hasn’t shied away from talking about domestic violence, masculinity, and local politics. But when asked if he’d consider following suit and exploring politics more deeply, Guaynaa demurs, saying, “If someone asks me my opinion about something I’ll tell them, as long as I don’t offend.” For now, though, he doesn’t expect to be mixing his politics with his music; he only wants to concentrate on entertaining his fans.
He doesn't intend on being a one-hit wonder.
Guaynaa is currently in the middle of a strong publicity push and promoting his current single, “Mi Leona” alongside Ñejo. Soon, though, he anticipates getting back in the studio and recording new material. Next on the docket: a star-studded remix of “ReBoTa,” which he promises will delight eager fans. When pressed for details, he laughs and says, “Nope, I can’t tell you ANYTHING. We want to maintain the surprise!” Consider this a statement on the forthcoming remix, as well as whatever promising future awaits this young star and his followers.