Jhay Cortez has been a songwriter for five years, but his debut album, Famouz, shows off his multifaceted talents.

Jhay Cortez New Album Release Party
Credit: (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for Universal Music Latin)

Jhay Cortez is approximately 1,611 miles away from his birthplace of Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. “I love New York. It has a very good vibe,” he tells People CHICA. “It makes me kind of moody — in a good way. Makes me want to make music.”

The reggaeton hitmaker's career trajectory spans five years, and though he's made a name for himself with writing credits on songs for Zion y Lennox, Tito El Bambino, and more Cardi B (“I Like It”) and Natti Natasha (“Criminal”), his down-to-earth personality belies the fact that he's such an important player in urbano music. Since releasing his debut album, Famouz, he's been working hard to prove that he's got what it takes to be both the face and the behind-the-scenes master. “People see me and think I'm a new artist,” he says, “but I've been in the game for a long time.”

Now 27, Cortez started writing his first songs one day when he just 11 years old. “I wrote three songs that day,” he says. “A club song, a love song and a rap song.” He learned to produce at 14 and started recording himself two years later. By the time he was 16, big names in the industry — Eddie Dee and Nely “El Alma Secreta,” for example —had him on their radar, and would eventually give him guidance.

Cortez's latest success is the remix to his single “No Me Conoce,” featuring J Balvin and Bad Bunny. “I was in Madrid filming a video while they were in the studio finishing [Oasis],” says the producer, explaining the remix's origins. The song has since lasted eight weeks on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart, peaking at number eight, and the video has garnered 298 million views since its premiere.

Cortez learned English in second grade when he moved to Camden, New Jersey, where he became an avid Eminem fan. When he moved back to Puerto Rico — this time to Carolina, the mecca of reggaeton — he discovered the Mas Flow frenzy. “I remember walking from school and hearing the music in the cars,” he says of the compilation album by legendary producers Luny Tunes. “That's how you knew an artist was hot. If you're hot, you're in all the cars in Puerto Rico.”

He affirms that his passion for music was passed down by his father and uncle. “My family loved music,” he says. “My uncle produced, so he knew the movement and knew all the artists. He would take me when I was really little to see them.” Dressed as a mini rapper, he was introduced to Don Omar, whom he grew to love and admire.

As a writer, he feels the most creative in Puerto Rico. “I'm really about the feeling of the song,” he says. Though “No Me Conoce” is one of the hottest club bangers of the summer, he admits that he feels the most connected to “Easy,” one of the tracks on the album. “I feel as though it's very Carolina,” he explains. “It's a mixture of old and new [sounds].”

What's next for the star? That is something he still wants to explore. “There's more to life than just music. I want to be able to grow in other ways, in other aspects of life. After making all this music, I want to find myself and feel better about myself. I've done a lot of things, but now it's about figuring out who I am.”