Tell Me Más: Gyanma Is Breaking All of Reggaetón's Rules
In our Q&A /feature series Tell Me Más, we ask some of our favorite Latine artists to answer the questions only their BFFs know about them, revealing everything from their most recent read to the songs that get them hyped. This month, indie rap wondercon Gyanma drops in and gives us his take on the current state of Puerto Rico's music scene.
In Puerto Rico, reggaetón is king. And while that fact has given multiple generations plenty of opportunities and anthems pa' perrear, it's also meant that alternative sounds, or even music that was reggaetón-adjacent, didn't get much love outside of the underground. But today, even amidst a new trap wave and a resurgence of the old school-reggaetón sound, a new guard of up-and-coming emcees is shifting the paradigm on the island. They are fusing genres and making music that breaks from the established formula. Case and point: Gyanma, a tongue-in-cheek lyricist from Bayamón using his witty bars and R&B-soul style on a genre more closely associated with the streets.
"Reggaetón specifically, that world is very much from the streets," the 29-year-old emcee tells POPSUGAR in a mix of English and Spanish, both of which he is fluent in. "And a lot of times it's like you have to be approved by the streets to make use of the international trampoline that Puerto Rico can be. But if you're not, you're what they call here 'los loquitos.'"
"Haciendo la música de los loquitos" or "making crazy people music" is a saying thrown around by purists in Puerto Rico to disparage genres and subgenres that fall outside of what has become a pretty stringent formula for making hit records over the past decade. But as artists like RaiNao, Tommy Blanco, and Pink Pablo continue to build followings and headline shows in historic neighborhoods like La Perla and Santurce — barrios where reggaetón legends like DJ Negro, Arcángel, De La Ghetto, and more cut their teeth —it is becoming clear that "los loquitos" are making an impact.
"It's trippy because now, the music of los loquitos is what a lot of mainstream artists are trying to emulate," Gyanma says."So [it just shows you that] sometimes you have to prove yourself in other ways and do the most to get the respect."
For the artist — whose real name Gyan Henriquez Rodriguez — proving himself meant leaving the island and starting from the ground up at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
"Before going to Berklee, I wasn't formally trained in music. I was very intuitive and could play by ear . . . but I was more of a songwriter. My voice was my instrument," he shares.
Gyanma grew up in a musical household. His father is also a musician so by the age of 12, the young emcee was writing songs and learning to play the guitar, violin, and piano. But his time at Berklee would see him expand his knowledge of music fundamentals. It would also be the place that cemented his love for hip-hop. Prior to his time there, Gyanma describes his musical trajectory as being more of a singer-songwriter. It was at Berklee that he discovered his penchant for writing raps.
"I really got into like Kendrick, Frank Ocean, more hip-hop and R&B. And that kind of started shaping my sound," he says.
It's a sound that the artist says has come a long way. After graduating from Berklee before the latest Latin Boom and the success of the SoundCloud generation, Gyanma originally wrote his rhymes in English. But eventually, he realized that his wordplay in Spanish was stronger and had to ask himself why he was continuing to, "dribble with his left hand," as he puts it. After six years in Boston, Gyanma headed back home, determined to share his music with his people and build an organic following in Puerto Rico. And so far, he's been successful at doing just that, lacing smooth vocals and poetic lyrics over handcrafted beats that incorporate everything from funk to disco to jazz to create the kind of seductive vibe that is making musicheads take notice.
His latest project is an EP with long-time collaborator and equally talented co-emcee Enyel C, "Duo Deleite." Over the course of eight tracks, the two high school friends craft an album that sounds like star-soaked nights and palm-tree-lined boulevards, capturing the essence of island life while pushing the soundscape associated with it — something Gyanma feels is necessary for a thriving, healthy music scene.
"It's no hate, but I feel like the market here feels really saturated because a lot of people are doing the same thing," the rapper says. "A lot of it sounds like the same type of beats, the same type of energy, you know."
That's why, along with developing his own career, he also helps aspiring local artists develop theirs. The brainchild of another close friend, Raúl Santos, ALAS (Ante La Adversidad, Sigue) has grown from an event planning partnership between the two into a hybrid record label, recording studio, and talent incubator.
"A lot of people come with very raw potential and raw energy that at the end of the day still needs developing . . . We try to help them shape their sound, tell them how to start off their projects, [and] how to start off their career," Gyanma says.
The project also speaks to the Puerto Rican ideal of auto-gestion which roughly translates to self-management. Auto-gestion reflects an attitude of self-sufficiency that islanders have had to develop in the face of natural disasters and government corruption — learning to elevate themselves rather than wait to be elevated. So, it makes sense that ALAS really came into its own during a global crisis.
"ALAS was a pandemic baby," says Santos. "It's [me and Gyanma's] response to everything we lived through during our 20s here in PR . . . trying to live and create through hurricanes, corrupt government, pandemic, etc. Through our music and events, we embody a message of independence and perseverance "
As a label and incubator, the guidance ALAS provides is tailored to each artist. Sometimes it's production-oriented, sometimes it's about crafting the visuals around a project (along with the recording studio in Santurce, ALAS also runs a photo studio), and sometimes it's more managerial. But the goal is always the same: help young artists overcome the hurdles of the music industry while making good music.
Santos sees this approach as continuing to cement their position in the industry and help bring new color to the Latin music soundscape while helping artists carve their own paths. And for Gyanma, that path is one of many hats, as he guides not only his own career, but helps push the alternative scene from behind the scenes as an artist, producer, and label owner. It's no wonder that, since returning to the island, he's been able to cultivate a faithful following of fans, collaborating with like-minded peers and alt-perreo hitmakers such as RaiNao.
"We might not have the biggest number of digital followers, but our events are very well-received. We have good turn out. It's very grassroots, very organic," he says.
Making everything organic, making everything flow, seems to be the guiding principle by which Gyanma conducts himself. For instance, one of the tracks off the "Duo Deleite" project, "To lo Gantel," switches seamlessly towards its end from a kind of California G-funk-inspired song to a throwback reggaetón de la mata and it just works. But organic also describes his approach to the future. He's gotten some offers from record labels but says it has to make sense — the deal has to be right. Until then, he'll keep feeding the people with a steady supply of EPs, two of which are on the way: a 3-track pure perreo project and another more experimental project that pulls from anime and kawaii culture.
"I've always loved EPs. I can't really think of things as a single, I always have to be like 'OK, so what's the project that's coming with it?'" Gyanma says,
But no matter the project, subject matter, or genre he chooses, fans can be assured that the end result will have that quintessential Gyanma touch, his sometimes dirty, sometimes poetic lyrics, and sound like nothing else out there.
And now that you've got Gyanma and his partner Enyel C on your radar, keep reading to find out who he's got on his personal playlist, what he's been watching lately, and more.
POPSUGAR: How do you take your coffee?
Gyanma: Oat milk and brown sugar.
POPSUGAR: What show or anime are you watching right now?
Gyanma: I'm finishing "Naruto" right now, but I also just finished "Moving," a K-Drama about superheroes.
POPSUGAR: What album or artist are you obsessed with right now?
Gyanma: Jordan Ward.
POPSUGAR: Describe your music in one word.
POPSUGAR: What's the best thing about being an up-and-coming artist?
Gyanma: Being creative as a job.
POPSUGAR: What's the worst thing about being an up-and-coming artist?
Gyanma: Being creative as a job.
POPSUGAR: Who do you want to collaborate with most?
Gyanma: Tainy would be dope.
POPSUGAR:Finish the sentence: Puerto Rico está . . .