"I was just a regular girl from Miami trying to make it, and it’s happening," Mariah says. "It’s unreal."
As urbano music becomes more commercialized, pure perreo tracks — como en los viejos tiempos — have been in short supply. Rising star Mariah is bringing that sound back with “Perreito,” a classic dembow ode to the old school. “I feel like Latin music needed this — old school vibes,” the 19-year-old tells People CHICA. “Music has evolved a lot, so it’s become more commercial. I just wanted to bring back that vibe of what real reggaeton is.” She may be the perfect candidate for urbano stardom. Born in Miami to Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, Mariah grew up faithfully enjoying perreo tracks like Ivy Queen’s “Yo Quiero Bailar” and Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina,” while also admiring the business-forward Pitbull for successfully building a career on Spanglish lyrics.
Earning buzz as one of the next big female Latin American artists, she hopes to keep calm as the spotlight on her increases. “I definitely feel pressure, but this is the life I chose, this is the lifestyle I wanted,” she says. “This is what I asked for…the industry is very chaotic. It’s real but fake at the same time.” However, the idea of there being room for only one reigning queen is one she entertains. “I believe there’s space for everyone to shine, for everyone to win,” she says, expressing interest in working with artists like Rosalía and Karol G.
Her motivation is unmatched. At just 16 years old, the trapera picked up a bag of her favorite things and ran away from home, leaving for the studio with no look back. “I was a very rebellious kid and I don’t encourage anyone to run away,” she says, emphasizing, “Please don’t run away!” With the help of a friend, Mariah slept in the studio in hopes of getting her big break. “I had a goal and nothing was going to stop me from that goal,” she recalls. “Not my parents, not anyone.”
During that time that she was discovered by Dominican–Puerto Rican producer Nely “El Arma Secreta,” known for his contribution to classic albums like Mas Flow 2; he’s also played a role in Jhay Cortez’s rise to fame. She was initially uninterested in recording in Spanish until she met Nely, who motivated her to explore her flow in the language. In her 2018 hit “Malo,” she incorporated Spanglish lyrics to purposefully prove her flow in both languages, and in April, she hopped on the remix of Cortez’s “Costear,” smoothly switching back and forth once again.
She considers Nely a huge influence on her career. “I thank God that I found someone that believed in me,” she says, noting that she’s often the “only girl” in male-dominated industry spaces. “He was the one that introduced me to the best composers and producers.” Though she believes being a woman in the industry was more challenging in reggaeton’s early years, she hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ivy Queen and maintain control over her own career. “I’ve always felt that as a woman you should be making your own decisions,” Mariah explains. “How else are people going to respect you?”
Recently, the teen made an appearance on the Univision awards show Premios Juventud. There, surrounded by colleagues, she felt she was exactly where she belonged. “Premios Juventud was unforgettable, especially because it was in Miami,” she says. “I represent Miami to the death of me.” The loudest thought in her head that night was that her community would be paying attention. “I know a lot of people were watching me, a lot of people I went to high school with. They were probably shocked I was there.”
She also realized what it would mean for younger viewers to see her on stage, making moves alongside icons. “I was just a regular girl from Miami trying to make it, and it’s happening,” she says, reflecting on what’s surely just the beginning of a long career. “It’s unfolding before my eyes. It’s unreal.”