Ozuna: ‘I grew up with reggaeton in my subconscious’

The Puerto Rican artist is adored by pop stars such as Shakira and Rosalía, has 12 Grammys and is the most-viewed musician on YouTube. But he insists that he leads a family life far from that of a ‘rockstar’

Ozuna, posing in a Madrid hotel in May.Jaime Villanueva

As a child, Juan Carlos Ozuna Rosado wanted to be a basketball player. “My height and music didn’t let me,” says the 31-year-old artist from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Undoubtedly, he came out on top. Since he rose to fame in 2016, Ozuna has become one of the most popular artists in reggaeton, the Latin genre that dominates the global music charts. In 2018, he was named YouTube’s most-viewed artist globally; he holds the record for having the most music videos with over 1 billion views. His long list of achievements also includes buying a team in his country’s national basketball league. “They’re called the Osos de Manatí and my brother plays with them. I did it to help him and others,” he says proudly.

Ozuna has been touring Europe since July (Paris, Milan, Barcelona...) and still has several stops left in Spanish music festivals (this Friday, August 4, in Cádiz; Saturday in Nigrán, Galicia, and Sunday in Torrevieja). In October, he released Ozutochi, his fifth album in six years. He is currently preparing an EP, and among his many collaborations he has sung with RosalíaYo x ti, tú x mí, which earned them a Latin Grammy — and with Shakira in Monotonía, the first song the Colombian singer released after her breakup with Gerard Piqué.

The Puerto Rican artist’s omnipresence makes him a well-oiled money-making machine — something that becomes palpable when he enters a room. He arrives an hour late for a press conference in Madrid (last May), accompanied by an entourage that never leaves his side. The airs of a superstar, which evaporate when he sits down to talk and delivers, with a permanent smile, a discourse that is reminiscent of that of some professional athletes.

“I grew up with reggaeton in my subconscious from day one. From a very young age I was listening to Baby Rasta & Gringo, later Wisin y Yandel, Don Omar, Daddy Yankee...,” he explains. Ozuna represents a generation of reggaeton artists who came after the pioneers who paved the way. His father, who was murdered when he was only three years old, was one of the dancers for another legend of the genre, Vico C. Despite that tragedy, Ozuna remembers his childhood with great fondness. “I grew up with my grandmother, my mom and my uncle, between Santurce [a neighborhood in San Juan] and Río Piedras, playing all types of sports. I even played chess. My grandmother, thank God, was always by my side. She taught me that for every dollar you spend, you have to think about what you spend it on [and] value what it costs. That car you bought, for example, take care of it so it lasts.”

The arms of the Puerto Rican singer, last May in Madrid.
The arms of the Puerto Rican singer, last May in Madrid.Jaime Villanueva

Perhaps because of his origins, when he speaks he uses “we” more than “I” — something unusual for urban and rap artists. “My family always supported me in music,” he says. “If I wanted to set up a studio, my uncle helped me with the sound card, my grandmother bought me the microphone... Everyone contributed something. I was never told, ‘don’t do that,’ and look where we are now.” Where we are, to be clear, is 12 Latin Grammy Awards later — an achievement that, as the aspiring athlete that he was, Ozuna attributes to effort. “All my peers in urban music have worked so hard that they have managed to keep our genre at the very top for 25 or 30 years.”

For him, the album-tour-album-tour cycle is the norm: “The moment a song becomes a hit and you have a chance for the world to hear you, you take advantage of that opportunity. If you don’t release songs in three months, you think the world is going to forget about you, even if you already have 200 songs out.”

Despite the fact that Ozuna strictly complies with the aesthetic codes of the urban music star (jewelry, designer clothes and sports cars), he insists that he is a family man at heart. “For me, luxury is investing time in them... [But] sometimes you reward yourself. You say, ‘This month I worked a lot,’ and so you buy yourself that car you love. I don’t see it as a whim, but rather as a way of rewarding yourself for all your hard work,” he says. Married since 2012 and with two children, he breaks with the papichulo image that is so common among the alpha males of the genre. “It’s not about projecting an image, it’s about being real with yourself,” he says. “If you live the life of a rockstar, perfect, it doesn’t matter, but I made a commitment before I was famous that I can’t break. Maybe people wonder why Ozuna doesn’t let loose and go out every day, but that’s not me. It’s not my rhythm, it’s not my style.”

It’s a lifestyle that clashes with that of some of his peers, such as his friend and collaborator Anuel AA, who are more loyal to the street and its codes. However, his mentality is also what has made him the perfect reggaeton artist to collaborate with pop stars looking to get into Latin music. From Selena Gomez to Black Eyed Peas to Chayanne, someone is always trying to reach Ozuna, looking to secure a hit in the era of reggaeton domination.

His career, however, has had its fair share of controversial moments: in 2017, his car was found near the place where drug trafficker Carlos Baez Rosa was shot dead in San Juan, although the subsequent investigation found no indication that he was linked to the crime.

Ozuna y Rosalía
Ozuna and Rosalía perform at the MTV Video Music Awards in August 2019.

An even more complex episode dates back to 2011, when he recorded a sex tape before becoming famous. The story came to light in 2017 after the murder of Kevin Fret, the first openly gay Puerto Rican trap artist. Allegedly, Fret had been extorting Ozuna by threatening to release the recording. In this case he was not legally charged either, but he did have to come forward and acknowledge the existence of the video, which he called a “mistake of the past.” The mere mention of the incident momentarily breaks the harmony of the interview. His manager intervenes: “No, not that question.” Ozuna adds: “Everyone has their own opinion and I have to respect it, but 100% of the things people say about artists are not real. Not only about me, but about others. It has even happened to me with other artists, and it has changed the image I had of them after meeting them.” Controversy, which his peers in the music genre seem to embrace, has no room in Ozuna’s business model.

He and his team don’t like to close doors for themselves. “I do a little bit of everything in my music, we have to try to appeal to all audiences. Versatility is important.” He admits, however, that there will come a time for him to step away from the music industry: “Later on I see myself producing, in other businesses, working in sports in Puerto Rico… But for now, I am only 31 years old, so I think we will keep doing what we’re doing for five or six more years.”

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