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How Eslabon Armado Made Billboard 200 History With ‘Nostalgia’

"What's happening right now marks a new chapter for Eslabon [Armado]."

Two years ago during a phone interview, Angel del Villar told Billboard to be on the lookout for “the next big thing” in Regional Mexican music: Eslabon Armado.

It was the Mexican-American teenage group he had just signed to his indie label, DEL Records. Back then, the sierreño ensemble had one album under its belt, the 2020 debut set Tu Veneno Mortal, which was quickly followed by back-to-back-to-back releases of Vibras de Noche, Corta Venas and Tu Veneno Mortal, Vol. 2, all released within a two year period, all of which peaked at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Regional Mexican Albums chart. A rapid-fire pace that was part of del Villar’s strategy to match the speed that has been driving releases in today’s music industry.

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But it was the group’s 2022 release, Nostalgia, that would take them to new heights: the 14-track set debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 (dated May 21) this week, making history as the first top 10-charting Regional Mexican album ever on the tally. And it helps del Villar earn the title of Billboard‘s Executive of the Week.

Del Villar’s DEL Records has been home to chart-topping artists such as Gerardo Ortiz, the late Ariel Camacho, Lenin Ramírez and Ulices Chaidez. “[But] I’ve been doing this for 14 years and it’s the first time I’ve seen anything like this,” the executive says. “We knew the album would do well but it exceeded our expectations.”

Del Villar cites many factors that led to this history-making debut. One example was sending Pedro Tovar, Eslabon Armado’s frontman and songwriter, to a local resort for a staycation in California where he could recharge and get inspiration. It’s where he wrote 80% of the album, says del Villar. Another was deciding to feature collaborations on this album, including duets with young sierreño hitmakers Ivan Cornejo, Junior H and DannyLux, a first for Eslabon. Out of their four previous albums, only Corta Venas had featured a collaboration, which was “Jugaste Y Sufrí” with DannyLux. The strategy, “allows us to capture new audiences,” adds del Villar.

Here, the DEL Records CEO breaks down the strategy and marketing campaigns that went into making Nostalgia a huge debut, what sets Eslabon Armado apart and what having a top 10 spot on the Billboard 200 — in the same week that Bad Bunny debuted at No. 1 with Un Verano Sin Ti, the first time that two all-Spanish albums have placed in the top 10 simultaneously — means for Latin music.

With a No. 9 debut, Eslabon Armado’s Nostalgia makes history as the first top 10-charting Regional Mexican album ever on the Billboard 200. What key decision did you make to help make this  achievement happen?

Well, my team and I are very involved with every decision, from who’s mixing the album to picking the songs. But I’d say something that was key was sending Pedro to a resort, called The Pelican Resort, where he could write songs for the album. I think he wrote 80% of the whole album while staying there. Pedro is a water sign, he’s a Cancer like myself, we’re only days apart in our birthdays. Every time I go to a resort, I connect with Mother Nature and the water helps with creativity. That type of environment makes a difference for him as well.

Were there any new or go-to strategies that you and your team used to help it achieve such a huge — and historic — debut?

Collaborations. This is the first album where we featured a bunch of collaborations and it was something that really helped us. It’s a strategy that allows us to capture new audiences. That was a big part for this album: to tap other artists and their fan bases. The artists we collaborated with are big in their own lane and are young like Eslabon: DannyLux, Ivan Cornejo, Fuerza Regida, Junior H.

What kind of marketing campaigns did you put your dollars into that you think helped get such a huge response?

We did a big marketing plan for this particular album. We bought a lot of billboards and we invested a lot of money on hiring influencers who were posting on all social media platforms in anticipation of the release. Especially TikTok: I think in today’s reality, it’s the biggest platform there is. It’s not the first time we worked with influencers but this time around they had a bigger role. We didn’t set a budget for this release, we went all out. What also helps is that Pedro is really active on social media. In reality, he markets himself when he does a live on TikTok and you have 20,000 people tuning in.

Two years ago, you told me to look out for Eslabon Armado. What did you see in them that you thought would set them apart?

When I met Eslabon, I saw that spark. Pedro is a gifted songwriter, he’s a producer, he’s disciplined, he works hard, he has a family that backs him up — they have it all. It makes our job much easier. What’s happening right now marks a new chapter for Eslabon. We’re working on our end to do bigger collabs, we want to do a crossover. We’re ready for that chapter in their career.

For the first time ever, we have two all-Spanish albums in the top 10 on the Billboard 200: Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti and Eslabon Armado’s Nostalgia. What’s your initial reaction to that? 

Honestly, I was surprised and shocked. We knew the album would do well but it exceeded our expectations. I know the hard work that was put in this particular album, so I mean, it’s just a big blessing. As an independent record label, I feel mega blessed to be part of history. This is a moment that will go down in the books. To see a guy like Bad Bunny who’s leading music in general and to be right there with him, it’s crazy. I’ve tried to reach out to Noah [Assad, Bad Bunny’s manager] so that we can do something between Bad Bunny and Eslabon. It would be huge.

What lesson does having two all-Spanish albums in the top 10 teach us about not only regional, but Latin music in general?

That we are big supporters of music. I feel so proud to see the impact this album is having. Dreams do come true. Eslabon Armado started two years ago. Their growth in just two years is unheard of. I’ve been doing this for 14 years and it’s the first time I’ve seen anything like this. I know Pedro. He’s going to come out with something better than Nostalgia. He’s already writing songs for the next album and we just released this one. He’s 19, he’s very talented. It goes back to the group’s discipline, their hard work and being humble, which is a huge part of their success. To achieve great things, you have to be consistent. We don’t believe in one-hit wonders at DEL Records.