In the 90s and early 2000s, Orlando had one of the most influential music scenes in the country. The City Beautiful birthed the careers of everyone from candy-sweet pop stars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Mandy Moore to boy bands like the Backstreet Boys, *N’SYNC, and Matchbox 20. But when the era of bubblegum pop faded after the millennium, so did Orlando’s force in the global music market. Nearly two decades later, there are signs of a revival – and it’s largely thanks to Central Florida’s burgeoning Latinx population.
The Orlando metro area has become one of the fastest-growing havens for Latinxs and Latin Americans in the country. While Puerto Ricans are the overwhelming majority in the area, with the population rapidly increasing after Hurricane María, the city is also home to hundreds of thousands of Dominicans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians, Brazilians, and more from South and Central America. As these newly arrived Floridians settle in the city, they are bringing their music, talent, and hustle with them.
“Orlando has a magic to its city that has been around since the pop age of the 90s,” Stephanie Santiago-Rolon, the founder and CEO of the local boutique brand and management firm Royal Vibes Agency, told Remezcla. “It’s time for the Latinos to take over and revive that spark, and it’s slowly but surely happening. Our mark is being placed [on] our city and the music is bringing Latinos from all over together.”
Much of the moves happen behind the scenes. Glad Empire, a company founded by MC Ceja that specializes in digital distribution and music publishing, production and marketing, boosts the careers of urbano hitmakers like Nio Garcia, Darell, Miky Woodz, Myke Towers, J Alvarez, Alex Rose, Lenny Taverez, and more. Meanwhile, Orlando native Spiff TV has orchestrated some of the biggest collaborations between reggaeton and hip-hop artists of our generation, working with performers like Bad Bunny, Anuel AA, Future, Prince Royce, Chris Brown, Fabolous, Meek Mill, Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Fetty Wap and more.
On the swampy Orlando grounds, there’s even more magic happening. Here are some of the urbano artists responsible for putting the O’ back on the musical map.
Born in Moca, Puerto Rico and raised in East Orlando, Catalyna is one of the most exciting young women in Latin trap and reggaeton. In 2018, she was signed to Yandel’s Y Entertainment, which is housed in Orlando. Since then, the 20-year-old has dropped back-to-back bangers. Her latest: “Alma Desnuda Remix,” featuring colombiana rapera Farina, and “Cama Ajena.”
Blending hip-hop with Brazilian rhythms to create a sound he calls “tropicool,” Niko Is is without a doubt one of the most talented rappers to come out of the O’. The Rio de Janeiro-born Orlando emcee, who is signed to Talib Kweli’s Javotti Media, has worked with talents like Jadakiss, Styles P, Tego Calderon, Curren$y and Kweli himself, among others. He dropped his latest LP Uniko last November.
Nohemy is one of the artists locals are most excited about, and with the Orlando Boricua set to play the #RocDaCourt Latin celebrity basketball game alongside Bad Bunny, Anuel AA, Becky G and other chart-toppers on April 24, her reach will expand beyond the Sunshine State. It’s all moving fast for the soft-voiced Spanish-language singer-rapper, who released her debut song “Repetir” last month.
Straight out of East Orlando, Rob GZ is one the most anticipated voices in Florida’s gangsta rap en español scene. A part of Anuel AA’s Real Hasta La Muerte team, the proud Semoran rapero has been teasing fans with new music that he has yet to disclose when he’ll release.
You can’t talk Orlando hip-hop without mentioning battle rap, and when it comes to freestyling, MyVerse is one of the dopest in the game. The O-Town Puerto Rican-Panamanian emcee, who just dropped her latest mixtape Natalia Did That, hosted by Tony Touch, shares her quick-witted lyrical talents as a member of both the Wild ‘N Out cast and the Rock Steady Crew.
Born in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico but making his musical debut in Orlando, El Bles is a local producer mixing old-school isla rhythms with hip-hop beats. The artist has produced music for Cosculluela and the late Mexicano 777 while also building his own catalog of soulful instrumentals.
The biggest name out of Orlando is also the artist who has been in the game the longest: DJ Nasty. A beloved radio DJ in the city, the cubano is part of Nasty Beatmakerz, the biggest Latino music production duo in hip-hop. The pair, composed of brothers DJ Nasty and LVM, are behind hits from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Fat Joe, Ludacris, Cam’ron, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Smilez and Southstar, and DJ Khaled, among scores of other rap heavyweights.
Aguadilla, Puerto Rico-born Isai is bringing Spanish soul to Orlando. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter grew up in church, and his childhood years singing gospel permeate through his stirring rifts. These days, he’s more likely to be singing about love and relationships, whether it’s a ballad, like his latest “Primer Amor,” or over a reggaeton beat.