Photography by Luke Abby
Styling by Adam Ballheim
If there’s one thing Ozuna believes in, it’s the power of hard work. The Puerto Rican artist has been hustling since he wrote his first song at twelve years old, and the two-time Billboard award winner has no plans to stop anytime soon. A frequent collaborator, Ozuna has been featured on hits such as Natti Natasha’s “Criminal,” Daddy Yankee’s “La Rompe Corazones,” and the “Te Boté” remix, while also dominating the charts in his own right with his single, “Escápate Conmigo.” Coming off of his Aura Tour and winning “Artist of the Year” at the Billboard Latin Music Awards, Ozuna is poised to take over the world, or at the very least the Western hemisphere. And most importantly, he believes you can, too.
“I always wanted to be somebody—not necessarily a musician, but an actor, an athlete,” Ozuna said in an exclusive interview. “I was always a leader and put myself out there. I always enjoyed being a leader, too. So I've always put in a lot of hard work in everything I do. I put a lot of work in music, and I became inspired by all musical eras and artists. I'm a big believer that artists create themselves.”
Reggaetón and Latin American music, in general, has more frequently seen radio play north of the border the past few years, thanks to the popularity of artists like Cardi B and Bad Bunny. Ozuna is easily one of the names making leaps to the U.S.; the track “La Modelo” featuring Cardi debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at 52. Ozuna’s music carries all of the hit-making heft of American hip-hop, electrified with reggaetón’s bouncing danceability. It’s club music built from the long history of Caribbean dance halls—pop music from and for the people. As a vocalist, Ozuna can navigate the buoyant hooks characteristic to reggaetón while still preserving a light, deft flow.
Although Ozuna moved to Washington Heights in New York City at a young age, he still identifies heavily with the Latin American community, especially the Afro-Latinx community.
“I'm extremely proud to represent the community,” he said. “As I mentioned earlier, I had no idea this would happen to me, but for some reason, people identified themselves in my music. Songs that were made years ago are stuck in someone's heart because the subject matter came from the heart. They seem new.”
Between Puerto Rico and the U.S., Ozuna’s musical influences also span across borders and genres.
“I grew up listening to urban music, from when I was very little, Ozuna said. “I loved Daddy Yankee, Ivy Queen, lots of artists. It's been cool to see how the music scene has changed over the years. I love keeping up with what's new. Today, music is more digital. Technology. But it's still music.”
As Ozuna gets even bigger and continues to collaborate with American artists, he has no plans to depart from his foundation, which is Latin music.
“With the Latinx community, there's something I don't know how to explain, something I've noticed in the music and I've noticed over the course of my career, and I know it’s something big,” he said. “I like to focus on the Latinos.”
Above all, the singer hopes that the relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. becomes one of collaboration and unification, rather than discord.
“I would want for Puerto Rico and the US to unite more,” Ozuna expressed of his two home countries. “They're the hearts of the world. I think we're missing a lot of union around where we take revenge. We can be from any part of the world, black or white, it doesn't matter. That shouldn't change how we act with one another.”
Recently, the musician has also stepped foot into the acting world in the film Que León, a romantic comedy about a couple positioned in two different socioeconomic worlds. He plays a charismatic albeit rough-around-the-edges love interest bent on winning the approval of his rich girlfriend’s family. Although Ozuna’s worldwide fame has exploded the past two years, he grounds his performance with a cavalier humor that allows us to suspend disbelief that maybe he really is a lovable underdog. Speaking on his transition to film, Ozuna believes it’s important for artists to have outside outlets from their craft, and to be constantly learning in whatever profession they choose.
“I always wanted to learn to act and have that discipline, but I learned that it’s a constant learning process every day, adding in new things as you go,” he said. “For people to love you and to have that admiration as an actor is something complicated for me, but when I'm in it it comes off as natural.”
Despite his wide-reaching fame, Ozuna maintains that family is one of his core values, motivating him to work hard and preserve his success, even with the knowledge that under everything, they’ll be there for him no matter what.
“Family is the most important for a productive day, a day to keep working and keep being, keep fighting for a dream, he assured. “Family is what's there in good moments, in bad moments, in regular moments, in every moment. They're there, continuing to be what you have to value in those good moments, what's giving you that blessing.”
Hard work continued to be the main tenet in Ozuna’s philosophy; the artist stressed it as a main creative component, a grounding mechanism, and the key to finding one’s own path, in any industry.
“The entire world thinks that the heart is clear, but it almost never is,” he said. “Sometimes, the most important thing is to be an artist and continue working no matter what happens, no matter what people say, it doesn't matter.”
When asked what he wanted his legacy to be, Ozuna cited himself as an example of upward mobility, a rags-to-riches success story.
“It doesn't matter where you come from, or what you've been through in your life, you can still work,” he said. “You can work for a better future. I want people to identify themselves in my music, that it forever be that song that gives life to the hearts of the people. For many, many years. I'm telling you that everything can be done. I came from a place that nobody expected, nobody thought I was going to get so big and nobody thought this was going to happen. I think young people should take into consideration how they're going to take arms, how they're going to take off, what path they're going to take. They're going to keep fighting, and it doesn't matter what people say, whether you have to pay or you're never going to be an artist. Don't shy away if you have to keep working and dreaming of what you want.”
Hair: Melissa Adelaide
Grooming: Tatianna Donaldson
Photography Assistant: Cameron Tidball-Sciullo
Production: Abraham Martinez, Yael Quint
Location: Root Studios Brooklyn