Despite being a major name in Latin music today, the artist born Raúl Alejandro Ocasio Ruiz never envisioned a career in music. Instead, he dedicated much of his early life to soccer, even landing a sports scholarship to the University of Puerto Rico and later playing for the national team in his native Puerto Rico. While his soccer career didn’t launch him to global stardom, his athlete’s mentality has become a key part of his strategy for success.
“I see [music] as a sport,” says Alejandro, 28. “If you are doing the job well — you are disciplined and you are focused — the coach will give you an opportunity to play an important game. Music is the same. When you are [putting up] the numbers, working hard and making good music, [when] you are disciplined, have a clear vision and defend your art to the death, people will realize that and want to work with you.”
Alejandro earned his first Billboard chart entry in 2018 thanks to his feature on Alex Rose’s “Toda.” The rising Latin star also scored collaborations with Nicky Jam and Farruko and last year earned his first top 10 on the Hot Latin Songs chart thanks to his team-up with Camilo on “Tattoo (Remix).” In January, he nabbed his first major crossover collaboration on Selena Gomez’s “Baila Conmigo,” which peaked at No. 4 on Hot Latin Songs. And now, Alejandro is enjoying his biggest chart success to date — without any assist. In May, the singer, who now lives in Miami, released his grooviest track thus far — the summer anthem “Todo de Ti.” It peaked at No. 3 on Hot Latin Songs and topped the Latin Airplay chart for two weeks, while also becoming his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100.
Alejandro first began uploading music on SoundCloud and YouTube in 2013, posting every Friday, while also making connections in the local hip-hop and trap scene with artists and producers like Caleb Calloway, Myke Towers and Lyanno. Eric Perez, the artist’s manager and CEO of Duars Entertainment, discovered Alejandro online in 2016, drawn by his voice and attitude. Perez offered him a 360 deal that same year to “measure opportunities,” as he puts it. “During that time, I was looking for allies who were interested in the project, but no label showed interest — and I tried to do business with everyone,” says Perez.
Two years later, former Sony Music U.S. Latin president Nir Seroussi helped Duars form a distribution deal with Sony’s The Orchard. In 2020, Duars signed a joint venture with Sony Music U.S. Latin, which became a label partner for Alejandro. He says that Perez in particular “always understood my vision and what I wanted to do. He taught me that I had to first gain my public’s attention — and then I can start experimenting.” That’s exactly what has helped set Alejandro — who hops from Latin R&B to a hard-hitting reggaetón beat to rhythmic pop to ballads — apart from a growing class of pop-leaning reggaetoneros like Bad Bunny and Karol G.
“Rauw Alejandro has always been an atypical artist in the urban genre,” says Sony Music U.S. Latin president Alex Gallardo. “He has never been afraid to experiment and try out other styles. That’s why the musical leap is something that did not surprise us. I think the fans are eager to listen to new concepts, with different sounds and production styles.”
Alejandro is already working on his third studio album in addition to the release of Trap Cake, Vol. 2, an “intimate project” for his hardcore fan base that loves his fusions of R&B and trap. But as much as he’s grateful for those fans, he’s equally thankful for the team that helped him get here. “They shed blood and tears to take me to the next level.”
Now, after performing a series of virtual concerts while breaking out amid the pandemic, Alejandro is finally seeing those hardcore fans face-to-face on his current world tour that includes four dates at the emblematic Coliseo de Puerto Rico in October. And while the experience of performing in front of packed stadiums is a familiar one from his soccer days, nothing could have prepared him for what he has experienced so far.
“Panties and bras thrown onstage — I never expected that,” says Alejandro. “It’s an energy that I needed and a feeling that’s hard to describe. That sensation I feel when I’m onstage… To be able to share that with my fans is beautiful.”
This year’s edition of the annual Billboard Latin Music Week, happening Sept. 20-25 in Miami, will include special performances and discussions from Rauw Alejandro and Natti Natasha, as well as the Chartbreaker for September, Jay Wheeler.
This story originally appeared in the Sept. 18, 2021, issue of Billboard.