WOST was a 15-year-old bedroom producer living with his parents in San Cristóbal, a city in western Venezuela, when Waxploitation Records founder Jeff Antebi stumbled upon his music online in 2016. Antebi was in the middle of a “deep musical dive” and especially curious about the underground electronic music scene in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. “I was listening to SoundCloud in the background,” he recalls, “and a song just kind of popped out with a cool moombahton beat.”
Antebi promptly emailed expressing his admiration, and WOST, born Kelvin Ruiz, responded asking if he would like to buy the track outright for $7, as he was trying to save up $200 to buy his own laptop. “It was painful for me to see,” says Antebi, who founded Los Angeles-based Waxploitation in 1996 (he also managed Danger Mouse from 2004 to 2010). Antebi did WOST one better: He smuggled him a laptop and later that year signed the artist-producer to a recording and publishing contract.
Soon after, Waxploitation helped WOST land synchs on Showtime’s The Chi, HBO’s Native Son, video game FIFA 20 and an adidas soccer TV ad. Most recently, Pepsi contacted Antebi asking if he had anything in his catalog for an upcoming campaign. WOST had just finished the track “Presidente,” a lively fusion of house music and reggaetón with vocals from New York-based R&B singer Ginette Claudette; now, it soundtracks “Play Never Stops,” a global TV spot for Pepsi Max that premiered Feb. 20. The 60-second commercial stars soccer legends Paul Pogba, Leo Messi, Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling and is airing in over 80 countries worldwide. “I haven’t seen a Venezuelan artist working on a scale like this,” says WOST, now 19. “It’s a big moment for me and my people.”
His growing list of achievements are all the more impressive when considering the economic and political upheaval engulfing Venezuela, where hyperinflation, shortages of food and medicine and constant power outages have plunged the country into crisis. Kidnapping is also rife in Venezuela, while Ruiz lives in the knowledge that he could be forcibly conscripted into the army at any point. “He’s surrounded by challenges few of us can understand, and he’s adapted to it with grace,” says Antebi. “One thing that is impressive about WOST is how much he’s managed to get accomplished considering how little music he’s been able to create. Whereas other artists and producers can work 24/7, 365 days a year, WOST often goes for a week or more with no power, internet or phone due to the blackouts.” When Ruiz turned 18, Waxploitation arranged for him to get an expedited passport and temporary travel visa out of Venezuela. He now divides his time between his home country and Colombia, where “there’s better infrastructure and it’s a little safer,” says Antebi.
Currently WOST — who cites Diplo and his group Major Lazer as inspiration, as well as music from Nigeria and the Netherlands — is looking to expand his creative network; he has collaborations with Chicago rapper Rockie Fresh and Dominican Republic freestyler Mozart La Para on the way, as well as his debut EP. “To be an artist in Venezuela is very difficult,” says Ruiz. “We don’t have a lot of people trying to do music. So the ones that are — like me — are working hard. I want to represent all my Venezuelan and Latino people around the world. That’s my goal.”