Puerto Rico’s Alvaro Diaz Is the Real Deal
The world after “Despacito” is a strange one. We are currently four-wheeling into a post-apocalyptic barren wasteland where music industry mutants are crawling from the sewer radiating with the opportunistic glow that only a Justin Bieber-assisted global smash can provide. All of a sudden, it’s fashionable to have a reggaeton rhythm, a Spanglish hook and a tropical steel drum driving the melody of the latest disposable pop song. The summer truly belonged to drunken white women throwing back mojitos and dancing awkwardly to the sounds of born again pop star Luis Fonsi. Hell, even DJ Khaled pulled out the Ouija board to summon the ghost of Carlos Santana’s “Maria Maria” for “Wild Thoughts.” Everybody loves a good Spanish guitar riff, but come the fuck on. For the first time since the “Latin explosion” of the late ’90s everybody is trying to get a taste of the flavor. I’m here to tell to y’all kindly to fuck off.
While you were busy incoherently singing along to the Biebs in your worst broken Spanglish, a new voice was bubbling on the tiny island of Puerto Rico. For the past few years San Juan’s Alvaro Diaz has steadily built a devoted following with an impressive collection of independent releases and a stream of beautifully-curated video clips to complement his meticulous sound. Diaz’s 2016 opus San Juan Grand Prix arrived with the stylistic force of a Felix “Tito” Trinidad left hook to the jaw. With a dazzling display of diverse production and unmatched ear for big hook songwriting, Alvarito has captured the ears and hearts of Spanish speaking rap fans. With a recently announced signing to Universal and his eyes set on world domination, this is what you need to know about Young Luis Miguel.
Have you ever had a group of scantily-clad drunk 20-something boricua girls scream the lyrics to “Carro Rapido” at you at 3 a.m. while you DJ a Mexico City dance hall? Well, I have, and I kindly oblige because the underground hit goes the fuck off and is a testament to the songwriting and popularity of Diaz. “Rapid Car,” as it’s called in English, is the ultimate rich girl, bad boy love story with enough designer brand name drops to make the flossiest American trap rapper blush. The clip has clocked in almost half-a-million views on YouTube and was one of the stand out tracks on December’s San Juan Grand Prix. A perfect piece of progressive Spanish language trap and melodic songwriting, it was inescapable at house parties and dive bars, and booming from every tienda and passing car throughout the spring, a telltale sign that the boy had the eyes of the streets before he signed his name on the dotted line.
The power of the modern music artist lies in the artist’s visual connection with the audience. The ability to curate a mini, living, breathing world that gives dimension and new life to the already existing ideas a song contains.The conscious decision to thematically tie in both the visual and auditory component of music separates the good from the great. In this regard, Diaz is a great.
Take, for instance, the artwork and graphic design of the single “Una Vez Mas.” Taking a cue from ’90s R&B stars Ginuwine, Keith Sweat and Mexican heartthrob Luis Miguel, Diaz was able to create a throwback image of silkier musical times to match the sultry vibration of the track. To pull off this feat without abusing the nostalgia factor takes a delicate eye and steady hand. He succeeds.
When approaching newer cuts like the dancehall inspired “Es Tarde Ya,” Alvaro gives a slick wink to reggaeton’s Jamaican roots and recreates a vintage VHS style visual that could have easily come from the minds of Buju Banton or Mad Cobra. Complete with button to the top Polos, classic Fila tees and the waters of a glistening beach in the background, the scene is set to a united Caribbean rhythm. The ability to pay homage, connect the dots and bridge the gap between dancehall and reggaeton shows a deep appreciation and cultural awareness for the influence Jamaica has had on Latin music, one that is obvious but often gets overlooked.
As we entered the 2010s rappers took a page out of the streetwear playbook and began looking for other means to generate revenue and expand their business. Tyler, the Creator and Odd Future were first in the new wave of touring pop up shops with exclusive merchandise in big market cities to coincide with sold out shows. Watching everyone from OVO, 2 Chainz and, yes, even Kanye follow suit in the Fairfax gold rush was particularly odd, but a logical step in a world where records don’t sell like they used to.
Diligently taking notes, Diaz has created a line of collectible gear and one offs that come across more as must-have fashion garments than your mom and dad’s Bon Jovi tour t-shirt from ’89. The long lines stretching down the street of Mexico City’s Centro Historico added to the frenzy and demand of the gear. While most rapper-oriented merch these days seems to revolve around the DAD CAP, the Lv Ciudvd line cleverly flips the luxury car dealership racing hat and puts fans on a budget into the driver’s seat of cool. Rounding out the collection are glow in the dark Adidas Climalite Jerseys, long-sleeved racing helmet tees and a vintage-inspired Formula 1 track jacket that looks like it could have come off the rack in a Daytona thrift store. Palm trees? Neon colors? French race cars? Genius marketing.
Back in 1996, JAY-Z mused that if everyone in your clique is rich, your clique is rugged, nobody will fall cause everyone will be each other’s crutches. The collective mentality is one of the tried and true ways to kick down the door and generate noise. Running with a powerful team of likeminded musicians and creatives only gives your movement that much more force, and Diaz creates, collaborates and moves with some of Latin America’s top-tier talent. Homegrown Mafia / La Trampa records has become Mexico’s hotbed for progressive rap, and Alvaro’s affiliation with them runs deep. Appearing on Yoga Fire & Fntxy’s neck snapping “Backstage” from the duo’s Wavy Super Latin EP, Diaz lends his voice to a not just a song, but a movement of emerging Spanish language rappers set to make their mark globally. The collaborations within the Homegrown family run deep and stand out tunes like “Envidia” put Alemán, arguably Mexico’s best rapper, side-by-side with the rising star from PR. Set those two voices to the the production of virtuoso BrunOG and you have a certified banger. From underground internet hits to polished radio-ready club anthems, Diaz effortlessly rides between realm of cult hero and pop star, all while carrying the banner of Latin music and representing for a new generation on the rise.