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Ryan Castro: “I grew up in a super hostile environment”

by News Room
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Ryan Castro wants to make it his own this year. The Colombian reggaeton player has just released his first album, The Ghetto Singer, in which he pays tribute to the neighborhood where he grew up, Pedregal. It was there where he began his career singing on buses at just 17 years old. Today, far from having to make a living on the streets, Bryan David Castro Sosa (Medellín, 1994) has been on the stage at Coachella — as a surprise guest of the Brazilian Ludmilla on the first weekend of this year’s festival and together the Mexican Featherweight the second — and the Latin Music Awards. Now, he is preparing for a European tour this summer and another in the United States in the fall. For him, this meteoric rise has been “a hoot.” “Playing on such important stages for us is like graduating. Being in the game and putting our seal of Medellín, of Colombia, so that we, the new generation of Colombia, can continue climbing,” he says by video call from Miami.

Castro burst onto the urban music scene with his song Womanizer in 2021, a merengue fused with reggaeton, and the following year with Jordan, his most listened to song on Spotify with more than 518 million listens. With his new album — which includes collaborations with major league reggaeton artists like Arcángel, Ñengo Flow and Jowell & Randy — Castro hopes to connect more intimately with his fans. It will be his letter of introduction: a work in which he not only demonstrates what he is capable of musically, experimenting with sounds like salsa and dancehall, but also vindicates his origins, his life in what he calls “the ghetto”, where Violence was daily. “The album comes from all the stories of the neighborhood and everything that I grew up seeing and living,” he says.

Ask. What was the most difficult part of singing on buses in those years?

Answer. Apart from singing, because singing was very difficult, it meant spending all day fighting in the street to be able to do it, you understand? It wasn’t so sporty, like today I’m getting on this bus and I’m going to sing, but there was also an order in the street so one could make a route. Or that the car drivers let you sing, that was the difficult part. It was always a lot of fighting.

P. In the song Big Dreams from the new album, talks about having grown up among evil. How was that experience? What kind of evil?

R. When I was a teenager, in the neighborhood where I grew up there was a lot of violence. Obviously, drugs were seen a lot too… When I was studying there were shootings, when I went to the studio there were also swings. That was the super hostile environment in which I grew up.

P. In the same song he says: “Necessity made us creative, music awakened in us the feeling of being alive.” How did you know that music would be the way, not necessarily to escape from that reality because you are still very connected to it, but to deal with what was around you?

R. Whenever there was a problem in the neighborhood, I wrote about it. He was always writing down what was happening and conveying it in music. So, I say that music also served as a refuge for me to get out of all that storm that was out there.

P. The name of the new album — The Ghetto Singer — comes precisely from those experiences…

R. Of course.

In his first album the Colombian composer pays tribute to Pedregal, the neighborhood where he grew up in Medellín. wkrecords

P. The word “ghetto” in the United States has a racial connotation; it is used primarily in a derogatory way to talk about the African-American community. Obviously, you come from the hood, with all the experiences that entails, but you are not black and yet you chose to use the word “ghetto” instead of “hood.” Because?

R. I basically used it because, as you say, it comes from the urban genre and what educated me was their music. I learned it from that: from rap, from reggaeton, from hip hop, from dancehall, from all that music from the United States, from Jamaica, from Panama… I didn’t see it because of skin color or anything like that, but rather I I saw it more as something that was of the urban genre. For me the ghetto represents the neighborhood, the humble people, the working people, the people of culture. That’s why more than anything I adopted him.

P. His new album has many references to the Puerto Rican salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, starting with the name of the album itself, since Lavoe is known simply as “El Cantante.” Why are you so inspired by him?

R. His way of expressing his life in music caught my attention. Obviously, as a person he is not the best example to follow, but musically it seemed to me that he expressed his pain very well, he expressed his lack of love very well, his things with fame and money… When I started listening to his music and learning more about I really liked him a lot because many times we as artists have pain and we don’t express it as well as he did.

P. Lavoe battled many demons, between drugs and AIDS, which ultimately killed him. What parts of him would you like to emulate? Or improve?

R. I saw him as an example in certain things, but I also saw him as a mirror to not take that path. Because I saw that he, being a superstar, chose a bad path, and I was like, “Wow, someone so talented, how could he go this way?” But in both ways I learned a lot from his career.

P. The album also has songs with heavy hitters of reggaeton, like Arcángel, Ñengo Flow, Jowell & Randy… What was it like working with them?

R. For me it is a source of pride and it means that my process is going well and that I am working in the correct way. They have all been in music for so many years that being accepted by them and having a friendship, being able to make music together, being in tune and in good vibes, the truth is that it is a source of pride for me.

P. Arcángel has spent a lifetime teaching reggaeton. It must be a great experience to learn from him.

R. Too much. Also because he is a gentleman and he knows very well what he does and I think he doesn’t work with just anyone either. He knows how to move.

P. Within reggaeton, and urban music in general, there is a lot of musical offering, especially now. What differentiates you from other reggaeton artists?

R. Be original and make my current different from the rest. In a genre where there are so many artists, one manages to distinguish yourself because you connect with people.

P. Reggaeton lately is going a lot towards techno and electronic music, while you have been working with salsa, with merengue…

R. It’s a different vibe, of course.

P. Why do you find it important to experiment with different sounds?

R. It refreshes and also makes one’s fans cling to one more because they see that I am not attached to fashion. Sometimes it gets tiring to hear the same thing all the time.

Before the new album, Castro had already worked with compatriots like Feid — in Monastery (2021) y Medal Rhythm (2023) — and Karol G, who has had him as a special guest on her world tour Tomorrow will be nice on different occasions, in addition to having sung together in the remix of One Night in Medellin (2023).

P. You are part of a new generation of reggaeton men and women who have left Colombia in recent years. Were you inspired by them?

R. It seems to me that they are exemplary people, really. Karol G and Feid, for me all of them have an impeccable career and they are not people who have become attached to controversy or gossip… For me they are people who are super hardworking and who set an example for us, not only for me, but that to an entire generation, that you can get ahead by doing things well, without bullying, without talking shit about others and none of that. Obviously, they are superstars now and that motivates us to keep going.

P. Would you also like to inspire a new generation of Colombian artists?

R. Of course, that is the intention: to leave a legacy not only musically, but to inspire. That people say “oops, I want to go after Ryan.”

P. Beyond music, what are your simplest pleasures?

R. Being in my neighborhood, sharing with my family, going for a walk, riding a bike… Things of natural life. Obviously being in the studio and doing those things also gives me pleasure, but things other than fame and work make me feel calm.

P. Do you spend a lot of time at home, in Medellín?

R. No, and that’s something that sometimes frustrates me in music. You work, you buy a house and you are never home. But at the end of the day I think that one will know when to stop and how long to give it to enjoy. But no, I don’t spend much time at home, really. (Series.)

P. As you say, the music industry can be overwhelming. Do you have something that keeps you focused or motivated?

R. My friends, my work team. The friends I hang out with all the time, who work with me, have been my partners for a long time. So they are people with whom I can have fun talking about something else that has nothing to do with music and that keeps me level.

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