The presence of female acts in reggaetón and its various offshoot genres has intermittently crested and abseiled over the past two decades, disappointing many who — quite rightfully — feel that a music scene so indebted to women as both fans and muses should do better to make space for them as artists as well. Even the handful of breakout singers of the 2000s were compromised by not divorcing themselves fully from the male gaze, especially on the occasions men ghostwrote their singles. The heady days of Ivy Queen and La Sista felt more and more relegated to the rearview mirror.
But over the past few years, a new flock of talented young women has made significant inroads into the scene, largely thanks to the same social and technological shifts that have enabled the widening avenues of exposure that introduced some of the genre’s current household names to the world. Standing out from the crowd and emerging as a serious contender for future stardom is Santurce’s own RaiNao, whose debut EP ahora A.K.A. Nao is out now.
Born and raised in the aforementioned San Juan neighborhood, RaiNao — real name Naomi Ramírez — has never known a moment of her life without music being present. Growing up, her father was a vocalist for many popular salsa bands, including that of the late Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, and she took up the saxophone in 6th grade before enrolling in an acclaimed local music school. But before enthralling listeners with her alternative brand of Latine trap and perreo, she offers a scenario where singing wasn’t in the cards: “I never had many opportunities to sing at first,” she tells Remezcla. “I was shy about it, but I always knew I could do it because I’d listen to my dad and copy him. But I never explored it much, and decided instead to take up the saxophone and learn music theory, and left [singing] to the side.”
Years later while studying theater in college and after stints singing at church, she was recruited by fellow music school classmate Rafa Pabön to tour with him as his backup singer. What followed was four years of boot camp for both her vocal cords and shyness, both of which got a much-needed workout. “I was never an insecure person, but I was definitely very shy. And it’s something that I shed over time through my experiences touring with Rafa,” she says. Her trepidation even extended to hearing her own voice, which she confesses also took time to overcome. “At first I didn’t like singing because I hated hearing myself — I felt my voice was too ‘particular.’ But you practice a lot and then when you hear yourself [professionally recorded]… you think, ‘Wow, is that really me?’ It’s a whole process to find your singing voice and feel comfortable with it.”
In 2020, she began putting out her own music in earnest, starting with a soulful cover of Victor Manuelle’s “He Tratado” and then original trap/R&B tracks like “Celular”, “No”, and “Online.” By this point she’d begun to slowly come into her own, feeling more comfortable in her own skin, both literally and figuratively, and pushing herself more with her music and songwriting. After a hit with the jazz/trap/rock cornucopia that was “Me Fui,” the stage was set for her first official album. Rimas Music came calling and a distribution deal was set up with their SONAR label, which was founded last summer specifically to help elevate independent artists.