Prince Royce Talks Being the Rebound on New Single 'El Clavo,' Mental Health & Cardi B's Success

Prince Royce, "El Calvo"
Carlos Perez

Prince Royce, "El Calvo"

The Dominican crooner ditches the bachata ballads for a scandalous new track that will have fellas clinging a little tighter to their woman. If not, Royce will be there to catch her.

About an hour north of Los Angeles on a remote ranch, Latin megastar Prince Royce -- typically adorned in a suave blazer or sleeveless leather jacket -- is sporting sweatpants as he lounges in an artist trailer in between scenes on the set of his new music video for his latest single “El Clavo.” Despite the relaxed wardrobe, his perfectly molded mane still rivals that of those aspirational hair model posters found on barbershop walls.

Directed by Carlos Perez -- the mastermind behind Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” and Fonsi and Demi Lovato’s “Echame La Culpa” music videos, among others -- the desert nightscape of the "El Clavo" video is a vast departure from the hot girls-meet-sports cars concept. It’s a mind game for both men who took advantage of their ladies, and the girl’s male friend who’s been friend-zoned for far too long and is ready to rebound.

Prince Royce invited Billboard exclusively to the 15-hour production for a glimpse into how he brought “El Clavo” to life, Latin music’s crossover resurgence, wanting to collaborate with fellow Bronx native Cardi B and much more.

Your new single “El Clavo” has a theme a lot of couples can relate to. What inspired the lyrics and how do you personally relate to them?

It really empowers women, or just relationships in general. You really get stuck to a relationship. In Spanish, it’s like costumbre [habit] sometimes instead of love. Sometimes you’re just used to somebody or used to the same schedule with them and you’re afraid to move on or afraid to meet somebody new. I notice this a lot with girls in general. Sometimes I talk to girls and they’re like, "Yeah, I’m with my boyfriend for three years, but I’m not feeling him as much." So then why are you with him if you ain’t feeling him? Or if you don’t like him? Or if you’re not in love? I think that happens with a lot of people. People stick around for whatever reason, but if you’re not really happy, then what’s the point? On this song, it’s the guy being like, "Don’t tell me you’re still with him. Don’t tell me after he’s done this and that, you’re with him." So, in the hook, he’s like -- I like to talk in third person, but I’m him -- "If your boyfriend gets rid of you tonight, you let him know I’m here, ready to go, you know?"

I’m going to be like Shaq on the rebound! I think it’s a cool record that girls can maybe identify with if they’re having trouble with their man, to know that there’s going to be somebody else there, don’t trip. And also for the guy, it’s a song they can dedicate to the girl like, "Hey, man! If that guy’s not treating you right, I’m ready." It’s also a message for the boyfriends nowadays -- you gotta be on top of your girl or that next dude is ready to go. Friend-zoning, on deck! Ready to be that shoulder to cry on.

The tempo of the song is not fast, it’s not slow, it has a little groove to it. We start off right away, no intro -- just this R&B ballad, acoustic vibe then the beat comes in.

It’s midnight out here in the middle of the desert on the set of your video shoot. How will the track’s message translate visually?

In the video we’re shooting tonight, we went a very different direction. We didn’t want it to be the same old club scene, popping bottles, 50 girls partying -- we’ve got subliminal messages in the video and we have exactly that message I just said. There’s three people involved: the girl that feels some type of way, the guy that is ready to do more than her boyfriend, and it’s also the boyfriend that kind of has to defend the turf. It’s a message to those boyfriends and husbands that no matter how much time you all got together, you still gotta be on it.

The vibe of this record is sort of reminiscent of your 2015 album Double Vision, which explored more of your crossover versatility singing in English, Spanish and Spanglish. Are you in that same sonic mind-set right now?

Even vocally, at first I start very cool, and then there’s a part where I’m kind of almost talking or singing or rapping fast. So it’s almost like I’m angry -- I’m like, "If he’s calling you in the middle of the night, he’s probably drunk. He’s going to say he’s sorry but he’s going to do the same shit again." I think there’s also different personalities of myself, vocally, in the song, and lyrically. It’s almost as if I’m switching back and forth between different personas. I’m working on a lot of new music, and in 2015 I released an English one that was urban, that was R&B-ish -- we had J.Lo, Snoop, Pitbull, Tyga. With this new music -- I released a bachata album last year -- I’m experimenting even further with what I started in 2015. So, it’s urban, R&B flavors. It’s new York flavors, with Spanish and Spanglish.

How do you navigate maintaining your style or brand while flexing your creative freedom?

Back in the day, when I got started in 2009, social media was just starting and I had Myspace and Twitter eventually. But I feel like nowadays we have so many platforms, not only social media, but also streaming. There’s so many places we can upload music now and I don’t want to say radio is not important anymore, it is, but as an artist we don’t have to create music just for radio the same way we had that pressure back in the day. I feel like switching things up is something I’ve done my whole life. Music is like getting a new pair of sneakers, you go to the store and maybe you love a certain brand but you want to get a new color or a new pair. Sometimes you get the new pair but then you want just a brand new one. That’s how music is for me.

Whether the genre changes or the language changes, it’s still me, it’s still my brand but it’s just a new pair of sneakers. This year might be similar to last year or it might be different. Or we might throw it back to like the 2009 sneakers that first came out – the retro’s! I don’t necessarily see it as "he’s leaving this or that" -- I like to just do music. Going back to streaming, I have the ability now, or maybe more artistic freedom, to upload a record that isn’t as commercial but more artistic and more musical.

Latin music’s fusion with more mainstream genres like pop and hip hop has ballooned more so than ever in recent memory. Do you think English-speaking audiences have fully embraced the merge?

Latin music’s been great and it’s cool to see that growth and be a part of it and see it changing. I look back and I see Ricky Martin and Enrique [Iglesias], Shakira and what’s been happening now and that Latin explosion that’s come back. It’s great to see Latin music doing its thing and getting more attention now, and in the world.

I think there’s a lot of work to be done. I don’t think that Latin music was ever not taken seriously, I just think that it’s another language, we have to understand that. Growing up in the U.S., maybe I can tell the difference between Spanish and English, like this song is fire and this one is not. But I always put myself in people’s shoes that don’t know Spanish. When I listen to music in Portuguese, it’s similar to Spanish but very different when I hear a song in French or Japanese. At the same time, it’s difficult because there’s a language barrier for someone who doesn’t speak Spanish to like every single song. There has to be something about that song that’s not the language, it could be the music. There are just certain songs that connect with people who don’t know Spanish, and there’s others that don’t. I don’t think you could orchestrate or craft a crossover hit -- labels and people are always going to want that -- but a random song pops up where the intent wasn’t to cross over and it crosses over. As an artist that speaks English, grew up in the Bronx, for me it’s just about making music that comes naturally and that I think people will enjoy.

Your fifth studio album Five came out just last year. No pressure, but any plans of another new album down the pipeline? Or maybe plans of a surprise or unexpected side project?

I’ve got a [release] concept that I’m working on that I don’t want to talk about yet. But I have a concept of what a new project could be. Nowadays, you can wake up one morning and say "Yo, I want to drop a track next month." I like the whole surprise element. I like the idea of switching things up. For now, I’m just recording music -- there’s no plans of a true album per say. You know, we live in a world where it’s OK to drop singles all day. I think that’s what it is right now. I’m doing R&B, urban, English tracks, Spanish tracks, I’m still doing bachata records. I got a studio in my house, so we’re just there all day recording.

What collaborations have you hyped right now? Any major features on the bucket list you’d like to make happen?

Two months ago, we released a song with Bad Bunny and J Balvin called “Sensualidad,” which just hit 450 million [YouTube] views. That’s a cool, different vibe. A song that’s not really getting major radio play but killing it on streams and on YouTube, which goes back to what we were saying. Then we released a song with Noriel and Bryan Mars and that’s really a whole other realm -- it’s trap, it’s very hip hop. You hear my voice and you’re not going to know it’s me. If someone hears it, they’re probably not going to know it’s Prince Royce immediately. The essence of the song lets me hit different notes, you know, and a different type of tone. We’ve got a lot of collaborations coming though.

Any chance you’d be down for a collaboration with your hometown girl, Cardi B?

For sure! We’re very proud of Cardi. She’s Dominican, I’m Dominican. I feel like Dominicans and just people from New York -- not only the Bronx, but I feel like people who are just from the 'hood identify. Like, I grew up in Patterson projects, and I feel like I identify with her not just because I’m a Dominican from New York. It’s a great story that truly anybody can relate to, that anybody can come up and do their thing and do music and follow their dreams. Whether it’s music or acting, no matter what language you speak or where you’re from, it’s a success story. We’re all very proud of her.

With so much of the music business centered around what feels like more business than music, how do you stay inspired and aligned with your artistry?

At first, it was difficult. When I first started, I remember my second album was a very difficult album to create because I was in the middle of making money and touring, and you want to tour, tour, tour. You want to make money, make money. And then there was a point where I said, "Oh fuck. I need to do more music." And I wasn’t in the studio for a while. I remember I wasn’t recording for a while. Like two and a half years passed by so quick and I felt very stuck. I got back to the studio and had writer’s block. Ever since then I kind of never stopped writing and recording. Once I got used to the cycle of it and the norm of it, I already knew what to expect. If I have an album, I know there’s going to be promo. There’s going to be press and a tour after. I think I found the balance between my personal life, the business. For me, it was never about the money, it’s about the music. And right now, I feel very solid mentally. It starts with the music. You can’t get a hit without the music, you can’t get played in the club without the music and go on tour without the music.

How do you take care of your mental health while touring and promoting your music?

I’m in the gym a lot. I just ran a marathon in New York. In November, I ran the Miami half-marathon. I golf a little bit. And just having a personal life -- family. I try not to get too caught up with the business and let it consume me. That second album I was like locked up in the house, not going out, it was very difficult getting used to fame. Right now, I feel very comfortable. I’m famous, it is what it is. I’m going to go out to the beach if I want to go to the beach. You know what I mean? I try not to let it control my personal life and I think it’s worked out.

I do music almost every other day -- we lay down ideas and have producers come over to the house and they stay over. Music has become like going to the gym -- you work the muscle out and I feel like I always get better, at least for me. I always get better vocally, get better lyrically because I’m working the muscle all the time. Ever since that second album, I haven’t really run into a writer’s block problem because we’re constantly recording.

How has the mental preparation of running marathons translated over to how you approach life and music?

I don’t like running. People swear they love to run. It’s something I grew to like and then grew to love. I could never do cardio, I couldn’t run one mile and this was just a new challenge. I just love new challenges and I wanted to challenge myself and see what it would feel like. Honestly, it’s made me so strong as a person, as a human being. It’s almost like growing up and wanting to do music -- you can’t give up. It’s literally that. You push yourself to the limit, 26.2 miles. It’s really mental a lot of it -- yes, a lot of it is physical -- but once you train, you’re ready. But the mental is pretty brutal. And you can’t stop because if you stop, you’re going to start feeling pains and shit. It strengthened me a lot as a human being. I’m not the most religious, but even spiritually, you feel like you can battle and overcome anything once you get to that finish line. I still don’t know how I even finish, really. It’s definitely an accomplishment checked off the bucket list. Respect to the runners though, it’s tough!