Born and raised in Hermosillo, located in the state of Sonora, Mexico, Natanael Cano says his childhood was like any other kid’s in his neighborhood. “I lived with my parents. Went to school, played fútbol and I loved to play video games,” Cano tells Billboard. He also grew up listening to corridos, Mexico’s regional folk ballads and a popular music style in the region of Sonora. At 13, Cano turned to YouTube to learn how to play the guitar by watching tutorial videos.
“The first song I learned to play on the guitar I think was Maná’s ‘Rayando El Sol’,” he says. “But my musical inspiration at that time was Ariel Camacho.” Camacho was a corrido singer from Sinaloa who died in a car accident in 2015 at the age of 23. “His songs inspired me,” says Cano, “and after watching a couple of his videos on YouTube, I learned how to play the guitar well.”
It was then that Nata — that’s what his friends and family call him — realized he wanted to be a musician. “I played the guitar in local bands, and it was fun. It was like a hobby or a game for my friends, and all we wanted was to have a good time,” Cano says.
A few years later, Cano’s hobby became serious business. By the age of 16, “I had a whole list of songs that I had written,” says Cano. “That’s when I decided to actually record my first song. I uploaded it on YouTube and it was a hit.” The song he refers to is “El De Los Lentes Gucci” which, in a few months, reached 1 million views on YouTube in 2018. The track is a corrido tumbado — a spinoff of the traditional regional Mexican corrido that incorporates hip-hop with honest lyrics about life in the streets.
The now 18-year-old singer, who moved to Los Angeles last March and signed to urban regional Mexican label Rancho Humilde, is ushering in the trap corridos movement with songs that have gained popularity among young listeners and music videos with millions of YouTube views. On the Billboard charts, Cano first charted with “El Drip” on Regional Mexican Digital Song Sales dated Nov. 2, 2019. He later debuted at No. 34 on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart (dated Jan. 18), thanks to four breakout singles on the Hot Latin Songs chart — including his high-profile collaboration with Bad Bunny, a remix to “Soy El Diablo,” which arrived at No. 16.
In October, Bad Bunny posted a video on Instagram of himself drinking tequila while singing along to Cano’s solo version of the rollicking “Soy El Diablo.” Cano was hanging out with friends in his apartment when Bad Bunny posted the clip; all of a sudden, scores of people were sending him the post.
“I never thought something like that would happen,” shares Cano. “I was like, what is going on here?” A few days later, a remix of the song was created, with Cano laying down his part in L.A. while Bad Bunny recorded in his native Puerto Rico. The pair met when Bad Bunny invited Cano to join him onstage at The Forum last November; of their creative partnership, Cano simply says, “I’m very thankful.”
In 2020, Cano promises more music, his first tour and more “crazy collaborations”; in the meantime, he has kicked off the year with the single “Amor Tumbado,” a melancholic song about young love and heartbreak which is currently charting on Hot Latin Songs peaking at No. 10. “It was one of the last songs I wrote for the album Mi Nuevo Yo,” he says of his 2019 project. “I wrote that song for a girl, and that song has become a hit because it’s real. It happened to me. It’s my favorite song because it’s my song.”
The rising singer-songwriter, who looks up to Latin trap and reggaetón hitmakers like Ozuna and Jhay Cortez, dreams of collaborating one day with Anuel AA. “In this stage of my career, trap and urbano artists inspire me more. Those artists are killing it in the game and I admire what they’re doing,” Cano adds.
As one of the frontrunners in the trap corridos movement, Cano says that, more than feeling a sense of responsibility for steering a sound, he’s focused on enjoying the journey. “It’s a responsibility if you decide to see it that way,” he says. “I see it as something that I have fun with and is work at the same time. I like to take it easy, and that’s how it has worked for me.”