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20 Questions With Rauw Alejandro: On Braids, Michael Jackson, His Mom & Debut Album 'Afrodisiaco'

Rauw Alejandro’s high, crooning tenor and now-signature braids started popping up in reggaetón videos two years ago, alongside stars like Ozuna. By 2019, he broke through with “Fantasías,” alongside Farruko, which peaked at No. 25 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. This year, “Tattoo” with Camilo peaked at No. 7, and also made its way to the Global Ex U.S. chart, where it’s stayed for nine weeks.

Now, Alejandro (real name Raúl Alejandro Ocasio Ruiz) is up for the best new artist Latin Grammy and is ready to fly solo with his first album, Afrodisiaco, dropping Nov. 13. Featuring 16 tracks -- including collaborations with Anuel, Zion & Lennox and J Balvin (“De Cora,” featuring Balvin, is out today) -- the set is reggaetón with a lot of melody, and plenty of nods to old-school romance.

Prior to the release of Afrodisíaco, the 27-year-old rising Puerto Rican star answered 20 questions for Billboard.

1. Why did you title the album Afrodisíaco?

Many know I’m a ladies man. I started singing R&B, then I switched to the dancehall world and ended up doing reggaeton. Afrodisíaco comes from people saying, “Rauw’s voice is something else.” My voice brings pleasure. It’s sexy. I’m a singer so I’m about melody. My music is pleasure for your ears. First official album!

2. Who was it easier to work with in the studio: Anuel or Zion & Lennox?

I think Anuel. We started together and we’ve known each other since we were kids. We went to school together. Zion & Lennox are rock stars, they’re legends! I had to work harder to trap them. They have a lot of energy in the studio, especially Zion.

3. Who does your braids?

Anaïs Cruz at Braids by Shorty in Puerto Rico. She’s done them ever since I started. I’ve spent two years with braids. I’m always changing the style, but the braids have become part of my identity, and they’re part of my culture. I can’t picture myself braid-less.

4. What was your first musical break?

I’m a proud Soundcloud artist. That’s where I come from. The first song I recorded, I think it was a song called “Inevitable.” It was the first time I went to a recording studio.

5. What was the first concert you paid to go to?

The first concert I actually paid to go to was Zion & Lennox. I was 16 or 17.

6. What did your parents do when you were growing up?

My family has always worked hard. They’re workaholics. My dad moved to Florida when I was 10 and he was always hustling. My mom [in Puerto Rico] used to have three jobs at the same time. We were a middle-class family, but we always had everything we needed thanks to my mom. She’s the real deal. Ella es la dura. I was raised mostly with my mom, my grandmother and my sister and I was always around ladies. To me, women are queens.

7. What was the first gift you got your mom with your first big paycheck?

I paid all her debts. She’s living the good life right now. She’s my queen. She deserves it.

8. Who made you realize you could be an artist?

Inspiration from a lot of artists. But it was my friends. I was always in talent shows, in theaters. When I started to write music I had a roommate in Florida, and he and my close friends would always encourage me to take that [music] road. I started doing music seriously at 21, and I think it was my friends who pushed me and said I had nothing to lose. After that, the public reaction led me to seize the opportunity.

9. What was the last song you listened to?

“Sabor a mi.” The version by Eydie Gormé and Trío Los Panchos. That version is deep. I feel it. Boleros relax me.

10. What artist, dead or alive, would you like to see in concert?

I would love to see a Michael Jackson concert. That’s the goal in performance. Obviously he’s not with us. So now, I’d also like to see a Travis [Scott show]. I went to Daddy Yankee’s latest show and it was amazing. I’d love to see Rihanna or Beyonce; queens. But for sure for sure, James Brown and Michael Jackson.

11. What song makes you cry?

Old reggaetón nostalgic songs that I played back in the day when I was heartbroken in high school. Now I’m 27, I’ve learned my lessons.

12. What's your favorite karaoke song?

I used to do a lot of karaoke with my mom. Remember “Summer Lovin’” from the movie Grease? My mom was Sandy, and I was John Travolta. I’d dance and she’d laugh a lot.

13. What series have you binged-watched during the pandemic?

I’m terrible with names, but I’ve watched a lot of older movies. I saw White Chicks a few days ago. It’s really, really funny. I like to watch movies I watched 10 years ago and see them from a different perspective.

14. If you weren’t a musician, what would you do?

I think I’d be an architect. I like to design and create and draw.

15. What's something about yourself that your fans don’t know and would surprise us?

I’m very transparent with my people. A lot of people know I’m afraid of flying. I’m an artist and I fly a lot, but I hate planes. Every time I get on a plane I pray, I sleep. My mom gives me Dramamine to help me sleep. I do my meditation two hours before, I drink hot tea, I pray. I try to sleep so I won’t hear the sound of take-off.

16. What do you spend too much money on?

I like to buy stupid stuff. Sometime I’m on Amazon or eBay and I buy electronic stuff, studio stuff. And I love sneakers a lot. Nike is one of my favorite brands.

17. Who’s on your bucket list to collaborate with?

Daddy Yankee. The legend, the big boss. We have a good relationship but we’re waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect timing and the perfect song.

18. What advice would you give your younger self?

Time goes fast. Don’t waste it in stupid stuff.

19. What's your favorite sport?

Ten years ago I was playing soccer for the national team and I had scholarship offers. It was my passion. But the music was always inside me. And when I was like 20 I decided to take another road. I used to play constantly before the pandemic. Now, I can’t wait to start playing again. It helps me to stay in shape for performances.

20. Who is your favorite player?

My favorite player is Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is my idol.

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