Joyce Santana is a Puerto Rican rapper and community activist from the ever-buzzing city of Carolina. Recently signed to the independent record label leading in global music streams, RIMAS Entertainment, the conscious emcee is laying the groundwork to tackle aspects of industry colorism and developing in the mainstream. Since the release of the artist’s debut album, Luz En La Oscuridad (Light In The Darkness), Santana has been gifting listeners with the renounced histories of his beloved Borikén.
The on-the-rise talent is positioned beside Bad Bunny, the first-ever all-Spanish-language lyricist to have an LP spend several weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, despite the magazine’s recorded resistance to acknowledging Latinx genres and artistry. Though frequently omitted from the conversation, Black Puerto Ricans are among the predominantly Caribbean community that founded hip hop in the Bronx, New York. Santana‘s evolving ambitions, like his new EP, A Quien Pueda Interesar (To Whom It May Concern), persist in upholding these traditions for La Isla del Encanto (The Island of Enchantment).
Moreover, the songwriter has established himself as a public speaker in the world’s oldest colony, where Boricuas’ Spanish linguistics are emulated yet commonly diminished to being improper. “Music is not everything I want … It will be how I do something for this island, my people, and the world,” Santana detailed during our exclusive Zoom interview.
Santana‘s singles acknowledge corruption as an integral part of Borikén’s governmental conventions, what’s happening in the streets, and the plagues of machismo (male chauvinism). For Black Music Month, REVOLT connected with Joyce Santana to discuss his forthcoming projects, Puerto Rico’s African musical traditions, and the ongoing barring of Black Latinxs within the music industry.
Your debut album, Luz En La Oscuridad (Light In The Darkness), established you in Spanish-language hip hop markets. Your songs are habitually of substance. Why is storytelling so important to you?
I always try to be honest with my audience and real with the stories that I tell. When I am not the person experiencing the story I am rapping about, I am detailing what I see happening in front of me. Storytelling is always something that will be there. I like to connect with people — the best way to do that is to make listeners feel like you are human. You are one of them. There is no difference between the artist and the public. I want them to relate to my music.
Carolina, Puerto Rico, is known for lyricists such as Anuel AA, Lito MC Cassidy, Héctor el Father, and many others. What pride do you take in being a part of that conversation?
Well, it is like when a person is very patriotic (laughs). People always love the city they are from. I love being Puerto Rican, but what I love most is that I am a Boricua from Carolina! I know there are a lot of artists that come from here. I want to help grow its resources. I want to help kids and young people search for something [of interest] in a positive way. I think some options can take them out of the streets. I am so grateful to be a part of the conversation when they talk about the lyricists from Carolina. What no one knows is that I want to do something for the city. I care about it and its people.
Your three-track EP, A Quien Pueda Interesar (To Whom It May Concern), arrived beside RIMAS Entertainment this year. What is on the way after the success of this project?
We will be dropping two EPs this year. One is called Después Siempre Tarde. It roughly translates to ‘Later is always late.’ The other upcoming project, Too Late, will be with my producer and brother, Young Martino. That project specifically was supposed to be one of the first projects to come out. So, we titled it Too Late because we had to wait a little bit (laughs). I think that project will be big because of its collaborations and the sounds within the EP. They are special because it is my first project playing more commercial types of music and reggaetón. People are not used to hearing me in that way. They will be surprised to hear all the new songs and collaborators on the EP.
You got into trouble because you were raised by strict parents who found your earliest written raps. How does your family feel about your music today?
My mom is my number one fan (laughs). Yes! In her house, she has a lot of pictures of important moments throughout my career. She has them on her doors, and everyone who comes hears stories. Everyone can see that it is her son. It is so incredible. I am sure my mom thought I was crazy at a certain point. Like, ‘Wow! He wants to drop out of school and pursue a career in music. That is too difficult.’ But God is amazing.
My mother did not get to do what she loved because she had to raise me. I think the way I can repay her [is through my music]. She can see that it is possible.
RIMAS Entertainment is best known for Bad Bunny — Spotify’s two-time most-streamed artist globally. In what ways has your new team elevated your craft?
RIMAS motivates me. Bad Bunny is not just an artist, he is the person who motivates me the most. I have known him since the beginning of his career. To see how he has achieved so much success through music is inspiring. You see that and begin to say, ‘Okay! This is possible. A rapper can really do that.’ And I kept that in my mind and heart. I have never seen something like that up-close in my life. Now that I am with the same team, it makes me proud but mostly tranquilo (calm). I am around the right people. I have the right team to do the things that I dream of. I’m a hard worker, so I know it is not all on them…
Your latest single, “Sin Limite (Unlimited),” is building momentum. It arrived after your collaborator Ankhal suffered gunshot wounds earlier this year. What has this song made you appreciative of?
Life! Life itself is so sensitive and fragile. We filmed that video two days before the incident. That moment made me feel like, ‘Wow! We are here right now but do not know anything about what will happen next.’ That made me appreciate the time that I spend with people a lot. It made me thankful for how people try to create all these [partnerships] with me.
Nobody knows what problems an artist has privately… I know it can kill [people] to think about money because they want to be successful. You can have your mind 24-seven on this thing, but other things matter more, such as your health, quality of life, and family.
What concerns do you have for artists in Puerto Rico?
To start in music, to get your career moving in Puerto Rico, and to be successful, you have to operate in the streets. You need that approval even if you are not a street type of person. At the same time, once you get the approval of one crowd, there is a possibility there is another crowd who is an enemy of the one that supported you. So, now you are the enemy of them. That puts you in an uncomfortable position.
Do you feel these circumstances come with the territory?
Nah, I think sometimes artists pursue a music career with a street mentality. That is what can put you in danger. You have to decide if you want to be an artist or in the streets. That is when problems begin. I do have concerns for artists, but not for me. I’m too focused on the things I want. What I want is music and to be successful. I want to be a superstar. I want the opportunity to represent my island and Black Latinxs. The world is so fucked up, and I feel like there are racists on every corner.
So, it is time to be a liberal presentation of Black people from Puerto Rico. Right now, everyone [in the mainstream] is white (laughs). That’s not to say they’re bad, but something is happening. Why is there no Black person among the elite of Latinx music? That is some type of hidden racism. It is somewhere.
Mental Health Awareness Month just came to an end, and you frequently highlight the need for access to mental health resources on the island. Please explain your concerns for the Latinx community as a whole.
On the island, the roads and streets have potholes. So, when you [drive over one] in your car, you can damage the vehicle. People get the same holes on the street in a mental health crisis. But, when you are [dealing with] your headspace, there will be no government assistance. They do not help anybody. Much like the street, we will keep having those holes. People will still get in their damaged car. And when I talk about cars, I’m talking about your mind. [My biggest] concern about mental health in this country is that even if people want to heal, it becomes difficult because we do not have the tools.
We do not have the resources. The people who are the leaders of the island do not care about mental health. Every day it becomes more difficult for people from here to live on the island … People do not want to leave. People want to live in Puerto Rico, but the government is pulling them out. That is another way to make people sick and harm their minds. You know?
People have killed themselves because they do not know what to do. That makes me sad. That is one of the reasons I need to be in a position of power — if the politicians do not care about people, we artists who care can be [impactful].
Do you believe in seeking solutions such as therapy?
Yes! We have to continue to have conversations about mental health. It is 2022. People need to open their minds to adapt to the world we live in now. Mental health, sexual health, and more — all those things are important. People do not want to talk about it because it makes them uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is not a bad thing. It can be good. It takes misconceptions out of the conversation, which is when change comes. That is the first step toward change.
You are a Black Boricua. Reggaetón has many white Latinxs in the mainstream. You have acknowledged that racism exists throughout the industry. What does representation mean to you during Black Music Month?
Black Latinxs created reggaetón. We created everything! I do not know if every Spanish-language genre has a Black [pioneer].
Black people founded most Spanish-language music genres. So, to your point, there is a bigger conversation there.
Yes! It feels a bit weird. It is cool to acknowledge [the month]. I am grateful to have a Black Music Month. We do not need a month as much as we need people to recognize we exist. We do reggaetón! We created all that music. I think we need a Black year. The world has been so evil toward Black people. The fact they give us a month [falls short]. It is not enough. Sometimes, it feels like the industry spits on our faces. But that is the world we live in.
So, what is your hope for diversity within your genre?
I hope for the day there will be no limitations for people who want to pursue their dreams. This is an industry of men. Sometimes [gatekeepers] do not let women shine as they should. It is what they are supposed to do. This also happens with gay people. I hope for the day the machismo in the music industry ends. That day is going to be the day the industry is going to grow to its maximum potential. In the meantime, we are limited to a generation of men and male chauvinism. Only the women that are perceived to be pretty are able to succeed. And that is not the way it should be.
Bomba reflects the African heritage of Puerto Rico. It is often encompassed within reggaeton. What should listeners know about the music?
The listeners in Puerto Rico know a lot about it because it is traditional, but other places in the world may not know as much about it Black people created that sound, and it is something here that people love. Maybe they do not like to talk about it, but they know. You cannot hide the sun with your thumb.
Why is it important for our histories to be recorded accurately?
It is important because we are going to be here forever. That history is for our children, brothers, and sisters who will be here when we are no longer living. You cannot erase the history of music from the world. We have to record this with precision.
Which Black artists have influenced your sound the most?
It is Tego. Tego Calderón!
I love Tego.
There were others before him like Ismael Rivera and Rolando Laserie. There are many people, but Tego Calderón mostly influenced me.
Who are your top 5 MCs?
Joyce Santana, Joyce Santana, Joyce Santana, Joyce Santana, and Joyce Santana (laughs)!
Who is Joyce Santana?
I am an ordinary guy with a not-so-ordinary life. I am a Black Puerto Rican man. I am going to be the next superstar in the world. So, you should remember that name.