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Guaynaa is moving to the beat of his own drum. The 29-year-old artist, whose real name is Jean Carlos Santiago Pérez, has hit major milestones in the last couple of years with his infectious hits. Now, he's celebrating the release of his debut album, La República -- and couldn't be happier.
"It feels very great [to release my album]. It took a lot of trips and a lot of steps to get here and get that knowledge that brought me the inspiration to compose this album," Guaynaa tells ET of his LP, which is a collection of his latest singles and anthems that span the globe. "It is very important to know that we have a lot of different genres and different places that represent our culture. And I'm bringing it all in my first album because I feel like it represents me."
The Puerto Rican rapper first made waves with the 2019 track "ReBoTa," which reached the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. Since then, he's gained fame with his unique "Guaynabichi" sounds and cross-genre tracks. From reggaeton, cumbia, flamenco and more, Guaynaa is all about pushing the culture forward, and that rings true in La República.
"I want people to know and see I'm not just an urban artist. I don't just do reggaeton. I do a lot more things and with time I've been proving that," the artist says. "I got hits with reggaeton [songs], hits with pop, [hits] talking about social problems that affect us as Latin Americans. ...People that know Latin music are going to be like, 'Whoa, you got those people in your first album. My friend, that's a lot!'"
Among the collaborations include songs with Los Angeles Azules, El Alfa, Play-N-Skillz, Pouple, Noel Schajris and Servando & Florentino. One that is significantly personal is the flamenco-infused track "El Payo" with India Martinez. To record the song, he traveled to Seville, Spain, where he took in the gypsy culture.
"It represents a lot to have India Martinez in that collaboration," sharing that the song included talented artists who were more passionate about their music being included than being recognized for their work. "They're just like, 'I just do music. Take my guitar, record my guitar, put it there. But I don't want nothing.' It was such a special and magical night in Seville. Aparte del concepto de la canción y aparte de los que se compuso, it means a lot to the culture. All of the experiences that we got when we went to Seville made it a special song for me."
The 16-track album, Guaynna notes, is a reflection of who he is and the choices he's made as a versatile artist. "It's very important to have something that defines you," Guaynaa says of his work on the album. "This is my passion and I want to keep pushing for the culture."
There's many things to celebrate in Guaynaa's life. Aside from the release of his long-awaited album, he'll be celebrating one year with Pons in just a couple months. The two first sparked romance rumors after they released their September 2020 collaboration, "Se Te Nota." They became official on Dec. 12 of that year.
"I think that she'll be happy with a dinner, but I have to figure it out," the artist says of how they will celebrate their relationship milestone. "One of the good things about Lele is that she's very simple, you know? It's not about showing off or expensive trips or something like that. She's happy with just going to the theater, something low key."
The two have become a much-adored couple on social media, posting funny TikToks, PDA-filled posts and sharing how they are there for each other. Pons recently wrote about how Guaynaa has been a major support amid her mental health struggles.
"All of us have mental health situations at one point in our lives," Guaynaa says about the importance of being open with their fans about their struggles. "All of us passed through depressions or mood swings. So I think that us, with the size of our platforms, we are responsible for bringing that information to the public and to the [fans] because it is a good thing that we can do for them, especially if we are [going] through it. And at the same time, a lot of people can relate to us. So yeah, it's very important."
The singer says he has a strong support system he calls up whenever he needs to get out of "the dark side." However, when it comes to the music industry, he has yet to find a mentor.
"No. Nothing yet, [nobody] yet. That's one of the things that I'm trying to figure out. It's very important to have a mentor, but I don't," he responds, pondering that maybe he "can't relate" to anyone or the right person hasn't been sent his way.
Guaynaa, meanwhile, is also passionate about human rights. In 2017, his song, "María," about life after hurricane María in Puerto Rico went viral. Two years later, he teamed up with Mon Laferte to create "Plata Ta Tá," a song in protest against the repression and police brutality going on in Chile. "My platform is always available for human rights and that's very important for me. Education, health, transportation, food, whatever, you name it," he says. "If the world or Latin America needs me or my platform [about] a situation that is violating human rights, I'm going to be there."
Guaynaa has come a long way from being a kid in Puerto Rico, with a job at an oil refinery, studying to have a career in chemical engineering. His goals for 2022 include a tour -- "That's a dream! I never toured before. So yes, definitely something on my bucket list" -- another album and spending more time with his family. "I miss them so much."
As for what he would tell a young Jean Carlos about the future that awaits him, he answers with a smile. "I would tell him, 'I'm so proud of you because you believed it! All the practices that you did in front of the mirror, trying to be a performer, trying to perform better than the singer, performing on a song you're listening to, all this is worth it. Valió la pena."
La República is now available for purchase and on all major streaming platforms.