Tommy Blanco: the Puerto Rican Alt-Trap Rapper You Need to Have on Your Radar
Ricardo Bermúdez remembers his father, whom he didn't have the closest relationship with, leaving behind tapes of car racing compilations the few times he deigned to visit. This wasn't unusual because his father worked with cars, so little Ricardo would often sit down and watch the tapes out of curiosity and to pass the time. It was here, via the video's rollicking soundtracks, that he discovered artists like Wu-Tang Clan, DMX, and others. Bermúdez was already a fan of reggaetón, as are most kids who grow up in Puerto Rico. But American hip-hop began to captivate him just as much. Years later, that mix of influences would eventually trace his arc towards new musical ambitions and a new moniker most people know him by today: Tommy Blanco.
These days Blanco is part of a rapidly growing crop of Latin trap stars that have been slowly making themselves heard in Puerto Rico's music scene, with his newest full-length mixtape, "SCOTTY2HOTTY," dropping earlier this month. Anuel AA recently exclaimed "Trap is back!" but for Blanco and his trapping compatriots, it never left.
Far from being a gangsta trap rapper, such as the likes of YOVNGCHIMI or Dei V with their more street-level diatribes and storytelling, Blanco is more akin to Puerto Rico's answer to J.I.D or Smino. This is best appreciated in his mixtape's tracks "rey mysterio" and "dan marino," where the so-called ratchet vibes paired with irreverent rhymes truly shine.
"If I tried to describe my music I think I'd struggle to find the words because there are so many words I could use."
"If I tried to describe my music I think I'd struggle to find the words because there are so many words I could use," Blanco tells POPSUGAR. "And maybe that's on purpose because I don't want to chain myself to any one style or genre of music. While [I'm] experimenting I discover new ideas and new ways of communicating the music I wanna make."
Whereas reggaetón emerged in the mid-90s from the amalgamation of American rap, Jamaican ragga, and Panamanian reggae en español (with a dash of assorted Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms), the influence of outside sounds didn't stop crossing over to the Caribbean archipelago. Almost as soon as trap started entering the mainstream in the United States, Puerto Rican artists started to adopt it, with acts like Yaga & Mackie and De La Ghetto becoming some of the first to introduce it into the local sonic vernacular in the late-2000s.
By the early 2010s, it had become a hot subgenre with a bevy of new talents gaining traction and fans, including trio Füete Billēte, collective LA CIVDAD, young gun Myke Towers, and others from the local indie scene who were greasing the gears of the sound. It was around this time that Blanco, then living in New Jersey after moving there in his early teens, was introduced to the Latin trap movement during one of his visits.
"That whole underground scene of those years had a big influence," he shares. He laments spending his formative teen years away from Puerto Rico, or as he succinctly calls them "that phase [of life] where you start hanging out more often." Critically, it's a time in a teenager's life when they're exposed to a wider palette of culture, but thankfully Blanco flew down for a visit when the going was good for Latin trap.
"One summer that I was visiting I remember a friend introduced me to [the music of] Álvaro Díaz, Myke Towers, and Jazz Bandana," he says.
The influence of Bandana, one of the chill trap pioneers of Puerto Rico, comes through in the "SCOTTY2HOTTY" opening track, "florida". Accompanying him on the album are his cohorts FANTA ROSARIO and VEI HABACHE, two fan favorites who specialize in what can best be described as angst trap. In fact, both FANTA and VEI were key players in Blanco's introduction to the scene.
"My first 'featuring' was with FANTA, and I was his first too. We just clicked from the beginning, and then shortly after that, VEI showed up," he says. "VEI's brother was the dude who would record us, so naturally we all just clicked." Another artist with whom Blanco had some very early collaborations is none other than current megastar Villano Antillano.
Blanco is one of the featured artists on Villano's sophomore EP, "Ketaprincesa", and Villano herself shows up on Blanco's debut EP, the underrated "ADULTSWIM." Both were released in 2020 and already on "ADULTSWIM" you can hear how Blanco's music was starting to experiment with electronic and house music, fusing them with traditional trap beats much before that sound became mainstream.
It's a process he continued over several singles the following year, such as "La Recompensa" and "Funeral". Seeing sounds that were born in the indie scene become staples of bigger acts like Rauw Alejandro, with nary any credit for the scene that birthed them, doesn't sting Blanco all too much. He sees it as part of the process, matter-of-factly saying: "All these genres that are mainstream now weren't always mainstream, there were always people who innovated them [first]."
Blanco was born in the east coast town of Fajardo but was raised in the island municipality of Vieques. That town, known by tourists for its award-winning and internationally recognized beaches, is better known to locals as the site of a United States Navy training facility, where live rounds and bombs were routinely dropped for decades, much to the local population's consternation. After a civilian employee was killed by a dropped bomb in 1999, protests intensified until the facility was permanently closed down in 2003. Since then, the island has been wracked with some of Puerto Rico's lowest poverty rates. There has also been displacement of locals by foreign investors buying up land, taking advantage of the controversial Act 60 looking for beneficial tax breaks offered by the government. The lack of a delivery room, or indeed a hospital at all, is what forced Blanco's family to travel to Fajardo for his birth.
Being from and living in Vieques allows you to experience both the beautiful side of life and the more anger-inducing dispiriting parts as well. Recently, Blanco ended his relationship with a management team he felt dissatisfied with and feared was holding him back during a potentially pivotal phase of his career. This mixtape, he says, is an answer to anyone who would ask "How does it feel to finally be independent again?" Undoubtedly grabbing from his family's experience as Vieques residents, Blanco pushes back on those who'd criticize his music as being nonsense or with no redeeming substance.
"I used to be that kind of artist that thought a project had to have a 'message,' and not necessarily like conscious music, but more like 'well if I don't have anything to say then what's the point' but I eventually felt that was [holding me back]," he says. To him, the joy and flippancy is the substance, and he's confident those who should understand that will.
"To me, to the people who were around making it, it was fun. And going back to the basics, and going back to having fun with my friends while recording music motivated me to keep doing it," he shares. "When you've been under bad management for a long time and working for people who weren't looking out for my best interests, [it made me] go back to basics and be with people who make me feel like I'm doing things the right way."
The fun is certainly there, from the slick "bichote freestyle" to the faux-gothic stylings of "umaga." Even the stories behind the making of some of the tracks are filled with amusing anecdotes. Take "finsta," the album's sole alt-R&B take, for instance, which features JeanGa (who also produced some tracks) and Bigg Boki on vocals. Tommy and JeanGa were kickin' it at the studio, recording a tentative chorus and bars for the beat.
"Boki showed up straight from work, still wearing his Domino's uniform, and when he heard the beat we were working on he said 'I wanna hop on this,'" Blanco shares. "And honestly, at first, I was like 'Damn, you just got here and you're already trying to get on tracks we're working on?' But then he did a chorus and we were like 'Ok wait, no, we need to redo this song with THAT chorus'. Best f**king decision ever. It was just like that one meme!"
Blanco knows he might be an acquired taste, but he also knows where he's from and what he's capable of. The kid who started singing in hardcore rock bands in New Jersey became a trap rapper in Puerto Rico and had an ear for urbano/electronic fusion before it became common, finds it relatively easy to bet on himself. By all accounts it seems to be paying off — his single "Soñé Contigo" alongside Erre of trap-soul band Los Rarxs, has crossed over 1 million streams on Spotify. Again, faced with the question about how he'd describe himself to listeners who don't know him, he thinks for a beat. "If I had to, I'd say 'all-purpose'," he says with a laugh. "Like Armor All."