“I have contributed a lot to the future of this music, for four generations. I always say that a true legacy is about the people you have made successful. It is not based on your success or winning prizes; that is just data. You leave a legacy when you reach people who want to be like you,” Austin Agustín Santos, AKA Arcángel, pioneer and a key figure in the world’s reggaeton conquest history, says confidently to Contrast Magazine.
Giving space and recognition that pioneers and cultural key pieces deserve is necessary and not always done. It is impossible to talk or go through reggaeton history without navigating Santos’ work.
Arcángel is the kind of artist that your favorite artists admire. His incredibly iconic voice. The hooks of his songs. His melodies. An artist who knows how to navigate between making commercial music, with songs that end up being classics of the genre, or a bit more underground music. He successfully navigates through waters without compromising his legacy. “There is no style within the genre that I haven’t done. I am just doing what I know how to do. If you follow my career, I have a lot of commercial songs, but I also have the same number of non-commercial songs. Thank God, I have the virtue of composing and floating in any musical composition they put me in a studio,” says Santos.
It is not unusual to see artists that are close to the genre talk about the influence of Arcángel in their music. His legacy is tangible and relevant, not to mention he is also part of the iconic duo Arcángel y De La Ghetto; authors of hymns such as “Mi Fanática”, “Ven Pégate” and “Aparentemente.”
But it would be unfair to say that Arcángel is just a legacy. As if talking about an artist who no longer appears on the charts nowadays. His latest solo albums Historias de Un Capricornio, Ares, or the most recent one Los Favoritos 2, are proof that he is in such great shape. Reinventing himself and exploring new sound shades. Perhaps, improving and becoming his best version. Achieving world hits such as “Sigues con él ft. Sech” (2019), which got 540 million views in less than a year. This song is probably a great example of what a song needs to be at the top of the charts today; a perfect mix between pop and reggaeton. Also, “Amantes y Amigos”, a single from Los Favoritos 2, is undoubtedly one of the best songs of the Puerto Rican (born in New York) career: a melody that shows him at his best.
“I feel at the best moment of my career. I am on a lot of things right now. The best thing is that now I am in control of myself because I used to talk a lot of shit. Now I think before I speak, and that leads me to make better decisions. I am less impulsive; I take a deep breath and give my brain time to channel the ideas, and I am doing much better in the business… I have lost more than I have gained. I consider myself a successful loser (which could be a song title by the way),” says the 34-year-old Puerto Rican.
Reggaeton has reformulated what a hit means. The most successful songs and albums of the genre have countless streams, something that has become commonplace. And Arcángel is aware of his cultural impact. It is something he is proud of and takes very seriously. But he does not let this define who he truly is as an artist or person. Nor are the streams that his music has: “Look, I have had to share the stage with other colleagues, and sometimes I feel like it is a joke. Their songs with 500 million views sound as if they had 1,500 views when we are in a coliseum with 30,000 people. That is when I began to realize that numbers are just data… Good for business tho. But I like to be respected, and I love showing those who have millions of views that someone with 200 can take the stage and make the audience shake. There is something wrong with their numbers; they are not real. But we know that big brands focus on the numbers and not the talent. This is my passion, and according to the parameters that society has set, I know how to make music and do it well. I have the support of millions. Some people say: ‘Your music is great, you should be on another level,’ but those artists in other levels respect me,” reflects Santos.
Popular music is unpredictable. Trends change, and at times, they are difficult to follow. Remaining relevant and being able to adapt to any environment is a challenging and arduous task. Arcángel has managed to stay in the conversation when many other artists of the same time have not. And one of his secrets is to stay rejuvenated by collaborating with what stands out the most of the new generation of Latino artists: “For me, it has always been more than an honor to collaborate with new artists because they carry history. If they mention me, their audience will begin to respect me for having been the inspiration of those who arouse so many emotions in them. So when they ask me what it takes to collaborate with me, I say that I do not have an ego that prevents me from working with new artists. I condemn that attitude, I tell them: ‘You used to look for that opportunity, and now that you are in the position to record with new artists if they are not at your level, do you feel like you are wasting your time? Too bad if you think so! That is what I should have said when I worked with you. ‘Perhaps that is why I am still relevant because I have planted seeds that today are trees… And whoever comes close to a good tree is sheltered by good shade”.
The end of the second half of the 2000s became a catwalk of achievements and records for music in Spanish. Something a bit unrealistic to imagine years ago. And all this takes on much more value because the whole world fell in love with Spanish songs. Songs that have always been based on this language, annihilating the old idea of the “crossover” that many, many Latino artists had to do to have an impact in the United States and the entire world. Today reggaetón does not need that: it sounds in Germany, in Croatia. It sounds anywhere.
Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Tyga, Drake, Madonna, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, are just a few names that have collaborated with Latino artists to make reggaetón: all of them have sung parts of the song in Spanish. It seems like everybody wants to do reggaetón. But, is it good for the genre that so many people want to do the same thing? For Arcángel this is a good thing: “This suits us. They have historically belittled this humble, talented genre, but years later, that same genre triples the numbers of any other. Everyone is eating their words, and I love it! Many musicians have criticized reggaetón, but this genre has brought them out of their musical grave. Out of respect, I will not mention them, and if you listen to their latest hits, they have reggaetón percussion. This genre has overcome that classism.”
He also reflects on a topic that provokes a lot of conversation: most of the lyrics of the genre: “Oh, reggaetón lyrics, their message… What message do parents and priests who rape children hear? What music do politicians who play with the future of millions of people listen to? Not reggaetón! Today this is the genre that has shut most mouths. As much as it grows and grows, it comes from the underworld. We made it up ourselves, tired of so much rejection. This genre comes from a time in Puerto Rico when they would not let us make our music. Puerto Ricans themselves campaigned against reggaetón. And look, today, we are the music that represents not only Puerto Rico but Latin America worldwide. The most pursued and influential genre in the history of Latin America, that is why we are great. Now those who do not like reggaeton are the most screwed up. They got screwed up; we are global!”
After a 16-year career and witnessing everything that has happened with the genre, it is only natural to look back and reflect on the future. Arcángel is a name that has managed to remain relevant and sow influence in new generations. If at any time he decides to stop actively releasing music, his legacy will be in a good place: “It is a 15-year career; my first song hit when I was 18, I was on my way to college and I didn’t go. Now I am 34, and when I stop making music, my career as a human being will begin, and the greatest purpose that God has for me will arrive; I feel like He is watching me, not because I am special — we are all His children — but He is waiting for me to reach my full potential. But in the meantime, I will continue to make music and provide for the people who depend on me. That is also an achievement, my family does not have to suffer any of the needs that I went through”, he concludes.