RaiNao Is Fighting Machismo in Urbano Music By Being Unapologetically Herself
Last summer, as Bad Bunny wrapped his “Un Verano Sin Ti” concerts with back-to-back shows in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Coliseo, he brought out several special guests – including fellow Puerto Rican artists Tommy Torres, Villano Antillano, and Young Miko. And on the third and final night of the tour, he shared the stage with RaiNao (whose real name is Naomi Ramírez). It was a full circle moment for the rising indie artist because it came only weeks after Bad Bunny shared that he had been listening to RaiNao’s song “LUV” all summer long. While performing alongside the No.1 artist in the world was a significant moment in RaiNao’s musical career – one she shares she will always be grateful for – the proudly queer singer and songwriter was already making a name for herself in Puerto Rico’s alt-perreo scene following her debut EP “ahora A.K.A Nao,” which was released in February of last year.
“I jumped on stage at the Choli like a little girl and genuinely connected with Benito, who is one of the most important artists from our country,” RaiNao tells POPSUGAR. “But beyond being an artist, he is a very vocal person about Puerto Rico and everything we go through, and I admire that from him.”
RaiNao looks back at that moment performing alongside Benito as one of the most amazing opportunities in her early career. But the motivation she had to pursue music began long before that. Bad Bunny listening and enjoying her music just speaks to her obvious talent and the hard work she’s been putting in. If anything, one could argue that in believing she was a star, RaiNao manifested that milestone. It’s when we believe in our superpowers that others are also able to recognize them from a mile away.
“My music is my contribution to better this world, and I have [had] that very clear from day one.”
“My music is my contribution to better this world, and I have [had] that very clear from day one,” she says. Like many music artists, RaiNao tapped into her gifts at a relatively young age. She grew up in Santurce, a neighborhood in Puerto Rico’s San Juan known for its music and art scene. Her dad – who was a vocalist for several salsa bands, including that of the late Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez – constantly had salsa music playing in the house. RaiNao quickly took an interest, learning how to play the saxophone in 6th grade, singing in her church’s choir, and eventually enrolling in an acclaimed local music school where she would study music theory.
“I didn’t think about living off of music, but I’ve always been interested,” she shares. “I’ve always been interested, and my family is a very musical family. I think since before I was born I was interested but the decision to create music came after.”
The artist got a taste for the music biz working as an on-stage backup singer for four years. Even though her Christian mom had banned her and her siblings from listening to reggaetón at home, RaiNao always had an appreciation for the genre. Her favorite artists growing up were Hector “El Father,” Vico C, Tego Calderon, Don Omar, and Tainy.
“For me, reggaetón has marked moments in my life,” she says. “There are many tracks that transport me and represent more than a song – they are a memory.”
It was during the early days of the pandemic that RaiNao would start to write and put out her own original music. Her hit single “Me Fui” led to Rimas Music and their SONAR label reaching out to offer her a distribution deal, and on Feb. 24. 2022, she dropped her seven-track album “ahora A.K.A NAO,” which included a collaboration with fellow up-and-comer Villano Antillano, who is a megastar today. While most would categorize RaiNao’s music as alt-perreo, she prefers not to limit herself to one genre. Her music is a story of all the musical experiences of her life, from the sounds she heard at home and in school, to the songs and rhythms she’d hear playing throughout the streets of Santurce.
“Creating and creating specifically music is my superpower and I don’t limit myself at the time that I’m creating,” she says. “I think that’s why I follow ideas that maybe are not perreo or are not trap . . . It’s just my ideas dancing with those elements and those sounds that lead me to do music – Puerto Rican and Caribbean.”
In experimenting with her own sound, RaiNao was able to connect to other indie alt-perreo artists who, like her, create music that you can’t label under any specific box. Last fall, she joined forces with Puerto Rican Latin trap and R&B artist Gyanma on the single “Problema,” an R&B and soul track with Latin trap elements about a complicated relationship.
Around the same time, RaiNao also dropped the single “Dale Play” in collaboration with another fellow Puerto Rican alt-perreo artist, paopao. The two had entertained the idea of collaborating for a while, but things fell into place after they finally met at the Vibra Urbana festival in Miami.
“It’s a magical thing to create and collaborate with someone there in the studio and to share thoughts,” she says. “It’s so much more than collaborating on a song. In that collaboration, we really met each other and had a great day creating.”
In February of this year, RaiNao was featured in a Rolling Stone story along with Young Miko, Villano Antillano, and Chesca titled “Women In Puerto Rico Are Ending Urbano’s Boy’s Club For Good.” The feature highlighted the new generation of women artists emerging on the island and breaking barriers within the genre.
“I didn’t realize how big, how important, and how beautiful it was to be a part of that until we met up at the school where we took the photos for the photo shoot,” she shares. “Everything was very chill. The conversation was over the phone. Everything was very chill. Until we got there, and we all saw each other and were like what? We were all dressed up and were like, we’re doing this. We are all part of this big movement, and we see that we are making noise and changing this s**t. We all know each other, and we all support each other, and it’s beautiful.”
Being part of this generation is also about staying true to her identity. Sexuality and sensuality are big themes in her music, and on April 26, Lesbian Visibility Day, she released her single “Tentretiene,” which focuses on her infatuation with another woman. Media has been taking note; she was also featured with Young Miko and Villano Antillano in a Pitchfork story earlier this summer celebrating the queer femmes in urbano music coming up in Puerto Rico.
“For me, making art and making music is speaking my mind, my spirit, y mi alma (my heart). I cannot ignore my stories [or] the way I feel,” she says. “I need to write them the way they need to be written. I can’t pretend that I’ve never loved a woman. For me, it’s a very natural thing.”
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Today’s generation of femme, Puerto Rican queer artists are, importantly, doing away with the genre’s machismo roots while being unapologetically themselves. Their ability to take up space in a world that has historically objectified women and made it 10 times harder for women MCs like the legendary Ivy Queen to come up is beyond progress – it’s history-making. Many fans and fellow artists believe it has also pushed the male artists who still dominate reggaetón and urbano music to do better.
“I think the same men are realizing that [machismo] is not the way. But that’s some of them. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
“I think the same men are realizing that [machismo] is not the way. But that’s some of them. There’s still a lot of work to do,” RaiNao says. “I think a lot of the men in reggaetón are looking forward to being a part of the change with us. Like we’re here, [but] so are you guys. Let’s do music. Let’s do art. It’s beautiful how the story of reggaetón is changing and how there’s space for every story and every perspective.”
In August, RaiNao dropped a new single with Puerto Rican artist Álvaro Díaz titled “SUKI.” Regarding new music, while the artist couldn’t share much, she admits she’s currently been busy working on a big project bringing together songs she’s created at different moments in her life. She shares that the process has been quite spiritual for her.
“Ultimately, how I’m doing emotionally and spiritually is going to affect my art one way or another, because it’s what I do to live and it’s what makes me happy,” she says. “It’s a very spiritual thing for me. When I create art, I try to make sure all my bodies (mind, body, and spirit) are aligned.”
Indeed, meditation is a big grounding tool for RaiNao in this process. Most importantly, it helps her make sure she’s operating from a place of purpose.
“I think I know my purpose in life is to make this world a better place, and I think I can do that through my music and through my lyrics,” she concludes. “I think I can touch people and uplift through my music – and not just based off of what my music is about, but how it makes them feel.”