Dylan Fuentes is giving Latin music a global makeover. The Colombian singer-songwriter teamed up with Nigerian artist Daramola for his debut EP Arena, where they sonically blended their styles, influences, and cultures. On their hit “Wahala,” sleek Afro-beats meet the hard edge of Latin trap music. Fuentes is also making his mark as a protégé of Puerto Rican hit-maker Marco “Tainy” Masís on his NEON16 label, and as a featured artist in Amazon Music’s ROMPE program.
The 24-year-old Fuentes hails from Barranquilla, the home of superstar Shakira. He was inspired to get into music by his father, who led a local band—the very one Fuentes would sing and rap with from ages nine to 12. Growing up, Fuentes was exposed to a variety of worldly sounds, drawing inspiration from reggaeton pioneers Wisin y Yandel, R&B star Chris Brown, and Canadian singer Justin Bieber.
Fuentes wrote and recorded on his own, which led to his breakthrough hit “Ajena” with Puerto Rican rapper Myke Towers in 2018. Later that year, he branched out into acting in the hit Netflix show Siempre Bruja, where he performed his music.
In 2018, Fuentes made noise globally with his Myke Towers-assisted hit, “Ajena.” The track caught the attention of Tainy, who recently surpassed 100 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Latin Producers chart. Once Tainy and his business partner Lex Borrero created the label NEON16, they tapped Fuentes to join its burgeoning roster.
With the support of a superstar producer like Tainy behind him, Fuentes isn’t solely using his platform to build his brand–he’s leveraging his voice for the good of his fans. In this year’s single “DF,” he opened up about his battle with anxiety and depression and highlighted the importance of mental health awareness.
Now, Fuentes is pushing the boundaries of Latin music and expanding his reach as an artist, recently teaming up with Swedish producer Concrete for the song “Drown in Me.” In an interview with Billboard, Fuentes talked about his journey as an artist, working with Daramola, and what to expect next.
This interview has been translated and edited for length and clarity:
Your first big hit was “Ajena” with Myke Towers. How did your world change after releasing that song?
Before “Ajena,” I was a little bit more focused on doing romantic trap. This song opened my eyes and made me feel confident, like, “Wow, bro, you can really get people in a club dancing to your music.” That collaboration was huge. I have a lot of admiration for Myke Towers. I feel like this song changed my career so much, and so far, it’s my biggest song in terms of numbers.
What was it like acting in Siempre Bruja?
Recording this Netflix series was a dream for me. I enjoyed it so much. Acting comes to me in a very spontaneous way. I didn’t study it or anything. On the nights before [I arrived to set], I didn’t read or memorize anything, but everything stayed with me. It was like I was already the character, and everything flowed. I don’t want to do any acting [right now] because I have all my energy directed towards music, but I feel like down the road, I will. After 35, I want to do my own series with my best friend about our lives.
NEON16 has many artists from Puerto Rico. How do you feel about representing Colombia on the label?
In the beginning, I was scared, [laughs]. I was like, “Wow, they literally created reggaeton.” Now, I realize that I have to learn a lot from it. I grew up with reggaeton, and I have always listened to reggaeton. I also bring things to the table that are more from the Caribbean, more from dance, singing, more from Colombia’s African influence. I have a lot of that essence—that fusion and energy of reggaeton but with different melodies.
Your song “DF” is very powerful. Why did you want to open up about mental health in that song?
I went through 10 months of anxiety last year. I wasn’t well, not a single day, even though everything was going well in my career. Everything was moving forward, and everything was happening, but the anxiety [stopped me from realizing] the importance of what was happening in my career. When I did that song, I released so much emotion, like I had taken a weight off my shoulders. I felt like, “This is a hug for every follower of mine and for every person that connects with this song. It’s a hug for when they’re going through a bad time.”
“Wahala” recently landed on Amazon Music’s Rompe playlist, and the track is a standout on your EP Arena. Can you tell me about the project and your experience of working with Daramola?
I met Daramola two years ago before signing with NEON. I made music with him about three months before. I tell you, I don’t speak English very well. Right now, my English is [at] 40%, and at that time, it was like 20%.
Dramola’s Spanish was nothing. It was 10%. We got into the studio, and we didn’t speak the same language, but we still made incredible music. It’s a very nice project that connects a lot to the culture I grew up with.
I grew up in Barranquilla with champeta. That [sound] came from Africa, but we also adapted and created it in Colombia. We also have dancehall; I grew up with all that.
You did a crossover song with Discrete, Ouse, and Kiesza called “Drown In Me“. How did that come together?
That was major. When they told me, I knew that through my music, I was fulfilling my dreams and getting into places I never thought I would. I didn’t imagine it. We blended our cultures through my music, and though we don’t speak the same language, they connected with my melodies and what I was feeling.
Who else do you like to collaborate with in the future?
My favorite artist is Post Malone. I want to gain respect and make a connection so we can work together someday.
Talking about reggaeton, from Colombia, J Balvin is an icon. I have always admired him. Right now, there are also new artists coming out of Colombia—Ryan Castro, who I love, and Blessd.
From Puerto Rico, Jhay Cortez is an inspiration for me right now. I would love to work with him. From Argentina, I would love to work with Maria Becerra.
What can we expect from you next?
We’re preparing my album. I’ve been working on it for two weeks now, making and finishing the music. That’s what’s coming, 13 or 14 songs. You’re going to feel that Dylan energy with all the songs. Each song is different, but all with my energy.