Noisey

Puerto Rican Hitmaker Jhay Cortez Doesn't Need American Hip-Hop’s Approval

The writer behind Cardi B's "I Like It" and other bangers is ready to top the charts under his own name.

by Gary Suarez
Jun 27 2019, 6:47pm

John Parra/Getty Images for Universal Music Latin

Supported by Master & Dynamic

Trap music dominates in rap right now, regardless of language, and each month Cultura explores the Latin side of hip-hop's hottest sound.

You already know Jhay Cortez. The Puerto Rican singer has been urbano's secret hitmaking weapon for a minute; he's credited as a writer on Billboard-charting singles like Anuel AA’s "Amanece," Natti Natasha and Ozuna's "Criminal," and Bad Bunny’s "RLNDT," to name but a few. At least two of the biggest bilingual singles of the past couple years—Cardi B's "I Like It" and the Benny Blanco and Tainy’s team-up "I Can’t Get Enough"—benefitted from his work behind the scenes. And he's been as essential to the stateside ascent of J Balvin as has the Colombian reggaetonero's longtime producer Sky El Rompiendo. But in his mind, he's still a kid in the studio, hungry for his own time to rock the mic.

"It's weird," Cortez says of such successes, nursing a cold glass of white wine at the bar of Henry at Life Hotel on a dreary New York afternoon. "Those achievements, even though I worked on them, I don’t take them as mine."

As the Drake song "Blem" plays softly over the restaurant’s speakers, he describes his existential discontent over being seen primarily as a writer rather than an artist in his own right. "People talk more about it than I do," he says dismissively of the optics surrounding his come-up via penning bars for others. "I see them more like a collaboration with the artists."

Tired of waiting in the wings, Cortez dropped his second project last month. A robust mix of reggaeton and trap, with a smattering of pop for good measure, Famouz presents him as a fully formed performer with a firm grasp on his process and the execution of his ideas. From opener "Subiendo El Nivel" onward, his experience shines through on these songs. Being embedded in the industry for as long as he has, Cortez has the polish that most in the game would kill for, which suits his predominantly romantic tracks. Such R&B-adjacent material endears him to an audience larger than those who turn to trap for tough talk and luxury drops. Though he claims some urged him to include more guest appearances from his famous friends to ensure its commercial prospects, he sought instead to push himself to fill out whole tracks on his own. "Of course you’re gonna be good if you do only one verse in a song," he quips. "I really wanted to push myself that, with or without features, it’s always going to be me."

The album has given him his biggest hit as a lead artist to date. With a pair of verses from Bad Bunny and J Balvin, the "No Me Conoce" remix showcases his skills as both popwise hooksmith and adept spitter more than capable of contending with two of urbano's best known acts. Barely a month old, the single crossed the 100 million YouTube view mark with ease, rising in mere weeks onto the streaming platform's domestic top 10 ranking. Its Billboard Hot 100 prospects seem all-but certain.

Like many Spanish-language rappers of note nowadays, Cortez started out making reggaeton, which explains his ease on "No Me Conoce." He says Álvaro Díaz and Myke Towers were some of the the first Latin rappers he was turned onto, and after listening to them and others he's figured out how to operates comfortably in the trap format, as evidenced by singles like 2017’s "Se Supone" with Darell and 2018's "Costear" with Almighty. (The track subsequently received multiple remix treatments, including one with Miami-bred up-and-comer Mariah and another with Towers himself.) Pioneers like Díaz and Towerz demonstrate what Cortez considers a relatively Americanized approach to rapping, but he credits Anuel AA and Bryant Myers for developing a more Puerto Rican-centric style, one that speaks not just to him but to other young people living in his country.

"I just think the island has its own sound," Cortez says, citing the lyrics and flows as something unique compared to the rest of the wider trap music scene. "It’s all slang. Some people don't understand what we’re saying, but it's all dope."

His distinction between the trap booming through the streets of San Juan versus what comes out of Atlanta poses a nationalist counterpoint to arguments about unifying these geographically honed styles into one. While he doesn’t appear to take issue with Anuel hopping on Gucci Mane’s latest album or Jon Z getting some shine on a hot YG single, he takes no small amount of pride in Puerto Rico’s contributions for being distinctly representative of its own culture.

Crossover, a commercial feat he's already achieved numerous times in the U.S. for others, holds seemingly less value to Cortez than maintaining credibility and staying true to that Puerto Rican sound. "It's a war against what people want, what the company wants," he says, notably within earshot of a Universal Music rep. "For me, it's about the streets first. I don't care too much about the radio."

Los Favoritos Del Mes:

Anuel AA, "Por Ley"

Returning to his roots after a series of collaborative Latin pop hits, the Real Hasta La Muerte rapper delivers a comparatively darker solo banger full of unabashed drug and gun talk.

Ele A El Dominio featuring Myke Towers, Jamby El Favo, and Juanka, "Raspo Y Endeco"

Perhaps best known for his tiraeras, here the eerily monotone Puerto Rican rapper and his pals offer an unflinching look at the trap house experience and its violent underpinnings.

Jon Z and Baby Rasta, "Ya No Eres Mia"

An up-and-coming trapero and a reggaeton legend team up to kick their respective exes to the curb, with no chance of reconciliation.

Myke Towers, "Traicionera "

Fixated on a so-called witchy woman, the trapero drops bars over a hazy RKO beat somewhat reminiscent of the forgotten cloud rap sound.

Pru, Sayder, and Rickstarr featuring Rik-A and Sebastian LVDA, " Tira Un DM (Remix)"

An international assortment of rappers and singers carry out this slickly executed trap cut positioned for the social media set.