Conquering the music industry is only the start of her ambitions in entertainment, though. She envisions herself as a multihyphenate, just like her idols, Rihanna and Selena; she even has tattoos of the pop star and the late Tejano icon on her right arm. “I’m super focused on becoming an entrepreneur, launching a makeup brand, clothing lines and making my debut on the big screen,” says Karol. “I want to see how far I can get as an artist and as a businesswoman. I want to be at a point in my life when I can say, ‘I’ve done it all, there’s nothing else I can do.’ ”
It’s a mission she takes very seriously: Right next to the Rihanna and Selena tattoos is one of her own face.
Karol G was 18 years old when she considered quitting the music business. In 2007, following an unsuccessful audition for Colombia’s X Factor equivalent, she signed a multiyear recording contract with Puerto Rican label Diamond Music. She recorded some songs, but after two years, she says she hadn’t seen much success for her efforts. (Diamond Music could not be reached for comment.) That’s when her manager-father, Guillermo Giraldo — known to her fans as Papá G — decided to buy out the contract. “It was a bad contract,” Karol says now, “but we also didn’t know much about what was a good or bad contract back then.”
Feeling lost and defeated, Karol sought a fresh start in New York, where she planned to study marketing. But one day, while riding the subway, she noticed an ad for a music-business conference in Boston and couldn’t resist giving it one more try. “I attended the conference and that’s when I knew: I really do love music, and I can actually make a living off this and look at it as my own business,” she says. “I went back home with this new knowledge, and that’s when I made a commitment to myself to give music another chance. My dad and I created a home studio where I started writing and recording songs.”
That ignited a spark: She started to think of herself as more than just an artist and stopped waiting around for her big break. While studying music at the University of Antioquia, she released songs independently and played every stage she could book — nightclubs, colleges, festivals. She also realized that collaborations and male co-signs could make careers in reggaetón, so she became a savvy networker. She worked as a backup singer for Reykon and approached Balvin and Nicky Jam at different events in hopes of getting into the studio with them. They would eventually become some of her biggest champions. “I was at a show in Medellín, and she asked me if she could hop on the stage with me — and she did,” remembers Nicky Jam, who later collaborated with her on the R&B-tinged 2013 track “Amor de Dos.” “Even back then, she was a dreamer. She had a clear vision of what she wanted and has worked relentlessly to achieve it.”
It was also during this time that she made perhaps her most important connection yet — with producer Ovy on the Drums, who would become her closest collaborator and produce most of her solo music to date. He was impressed by her hustle early on. “We hit it off right away,” says the producer (real name: Daniel Echavarría Oviedo). “I loved her energy, her mentality, and that motivated me to propose an idea. I told her, ‘I’d love it if you gave me the opportunity to be your producer and become a team like Maluma with the Rude Boyz and J Balvin with Sky [Rompiendo].’ I knew Karol would be a major artist, and I wanted to be part of her team.”