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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Myke Towers is seizing his moment

The rapper Myke Towers in Miami, March 10, 2023. In just a few years, the rapper has become one of the most sought-after collaborators in Latin music. His new album, “La Vida Es Una,” surveys his many aesthetics.

By Cat Cardenas

Myke Towers could tell you that he never knew he would make it big, but that wouldn’t be true. Because in 2014, six years before the rapper would put out his debut, he was preparing for a make-or-break show in his hometown, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and breaking wasn’t an option.

“Puerto Rico is the most difficult crowd to please,” he said this month, video-chatting from a Miami hotel room a few weeks before the release of his new album, “La Vida Es Una” (“Life Is One,” a reminder that we only live once). “They don’t just give out approval, you have to show that you are good enough. If you make it in PR, you’re going to make it anywhere.”

Over the course of two back-to-back albums, he did just that. “Easy Moaney Baby” (2020) went triple platinum, building off the success of his 2016 mixtape, “El Final del Principio” (“The End of the Beginning”), while incorporating reggaeton, Brazilian funk and Colombian melodies. “Lyke Mike” (2021) was a firm statement of purpose that strung together harder trap bangers. It peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart and cracked the Top 50 on the all-genre Top 200. With his new album, released Thursday, Towers, 29, aimed to marry the two approaches, striking a balance that illustrates his creative flexibility.

“In this album, I want to make music to perform live,” he said, speaking animatedly in a casual white tee and a gold chain. “I want to give energy to people so they can go out and forget about their problems, forget about what’s stressing them.”

Almost a decade ago, Towers was still waiting for his shot. Raised in the barrio of Caimito in south San Juan, he grew up surrounded by music, mainly his grandmother’s: salsa, merengue, old school boleros — if it was classic Latin music, she was playing it. But Towers wanted to cut his own path in rap, and by the time he graduated from high school, he had started releasing music on SoundCloud, initially fairly anonymously. “At the beginning, I didn’t even want to show my face,” he said with a laugh. “I just wanted to show my skills. I knew that I had to put in a lot of work to be in the mix.”

He didn’t just practice music, he analyzed it, dissecting every move idols such as Daddy Yankee and Jay-Z made, and seeing how he could apply them to his own life. “I studied the game,” he said. “I have my own identity, but I started with them, and the respect that I had for them.”

As his SoundCloud releases gained more traction, he began putting his name on the tracks — styling “Mike” as “Myke” — and performing around the city. He viewed his first shows as tests, and by 2014, he was ready for graduation: that important hometown performance, in La Perla.

For artists who grew up in the area, performing in La Perla, the island’s famous slum — located on a stretch of rocky coastline in Old San Juan — is a rite of passage. In video of Towers’ set posted to YouTube, he is dressed in all black, standing under a white beach canopy as he confidently delivers the verses of the aspirational “Dinero En Mano.” (He later released the track, filled with ominous strings, on “El Final del Principio.”) By the end of the song, the crowd is singing along with him.

“It was one of my most important shows,” he recalled. He shook his head and grinned, almost as if he was still in disbelief that he had pulled it off. “A lot of people, they didn’t even know my songs, but they were like, ‘Who’s that? Why is he confident performing like that?’”

Even before he released his first full-length album, Towers had already teamed up with Bad Bunny and Becky G, laying the groundwork that would make him one of Latin music’s most in-demand collaborators. Since then, Towers’ features with Rauw Alejandro, Luis Fonsi and Farruko have all been certified platinum.

With “La Vida Es Una,” Towers agonized over the track list, sifting among more than 50 songs to select the set that could demonstrate his transition from a vanguard of Puerto Rico’s grassroots trap scene to a self-assured hitmaker. His versatility is what first grabbed the attention of Orlando Cepeda, known as Jova, one of Towers’ frequent co-writers and a co-founder of the Puerto Rican label that first signed him in 2018. After hearing his rap music, Cepeda asked if Towers had anything more commercial. Cepeda was impressed.

“He’s an artist without limits,” Cepeda said in a phone interview. “He’s a writer, he’s a composer, he’s a lyricist. I think that hearing someone who comes from the hood like he does, when you listen to his music, it inspires, it excites, it makes people want to work with him.”

In addition to tapping some of his past collaborators, including Ozuna and J Balvin, for “La Vida Es Una,” Towers also enlisted producers from across the Latin music diaspora, including Sky Rompiendo (from Colombia) and Tainy (Puerto Rico). “I want to show my fans the difference between ‘Mike’ and ‘Myke,’” he said, explaining his efforts to blend his grittier rap roots with his mainstream ambitions. “In the beginning, my fans would say things like, ‘Oh, you went commercial. What are you doing?’ Those comments would get in my head, and I felt like I was losing who I am, but I like to challenge myself. I took a lot of risks on this album, but I feel confident that when people listen to it, they’ll hear something they needed from me before.”

The new album includes songs for his more pop-minded fans: “Sábado” and the Daddy Yankee collaboration “Ulala (Ooh La La),” two dance-floor-ready tracks produced by Texas duo Play-N-Skillz. Towers heats things up on “El Calentón,” a sparse track that begins as a reggaeton jam before building to a display of his lyrical dexterity. And as its title might suggest, “Flow Jamaican,” produced by Di Genius, dives into reggae rhythms, with Towers switching up his flow in the lead-up to the song’s earworm of a hook.

The album was primarily recorded in Puerto Rico, a place with such a long, diverse musical history, Towers said, that anyone who taps into it comes away overflowing with ideas, influences and potential: “Wherever I go, I make music from Puerto Rico. When I’m making music, I’m listening to the people who came before me.” He lit up, a wide smile spreading across his face as he described his usual routine of returning home from tour to his wife and son, and then heading to the studio.

“My family is my home base,” Towers said. “Going back to them is spiritual to me. Before I had my son, I would be in the studio until 7 a.m., every day. I’ll always have that hustler spirit, but when I found out I was going to have a kid, it was about working smarter, not harder.”

Towers ends the album with a triumphant celebration, “Lo Logré” (“I Made It”). “It’s an anthem that a lot of people are going to relate to,” he said.

“People think I made it and it was easy. They forget the process, everything that it took to make it happen. I value every moment in my career because years ago, I was even crying trying to make it come true. There are trials you go through, but when you come out on the other side, people just see that you made it. And I have, but I haven’t. I have more dreams to achieve.”

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