“I look at myself as a translator,” the 27-year-old shares with CHICA. “I take influences from American music and bring it to the Latin side.”
As we hear Afro-diasporic music evolve in el genero urbano, we can’t avoid the array of influences from the States. Young immigrants and descendants of immigrants not only search for their bicultural identities but must create while sandwiched between two worlds. Take Latin trap, for example, a genre incorporating Atlanta’s trap 808s and swaying bass lines while also drawing on Latin elements. Though the true pioneers and official start date of the style is often debated, Dominican artists like Fuego, Messiah, and Lito Kirino were all spitting bars over American-influenced sounds long before Latin trap was a recognized category.
Add GioBulla to that list of Dominicans embracing the various parts of their identity — those who understand how migration impacts music. “I look at myself as a translator,” the 27-year-old shares with CHICA. “I take influences from American music and bring it to the Latin side.”
A member of the freshman class of rising Latinx artists, he works to originate his own sound: a trap-soul fusion of music like classic merengue and bachata mixed in with the Toronto sounds of The Weeknd, Drake and Partynextdoor.
Over the past four years, he’s earned respect from many in the industry. Opening on 2017’s Trap tour, featuring Bad Bunny among others, in cities like Jacksonville, Charlotte and Toronto; collaborating with both Jhun el Allstar and Lito Kirino; as well as receiving writing credits for Amara La Negra’s “Se Que Soy” (featured on Love and Hip Hop: Miami) all prepared him for this moment.
The artist recently got signed to YahYah Music and made a distribution deal with The The Orchard/Sony. He has over 5 million global streams across various platforms. And soon to explode this summer are tracks with Colombian producer and J Balvin’s right-hand man Sky Rompiendo, DJ Luian and Dominican producer Maffio.
Born Giovaeedk Espinosa, in the Dominican Republic, he lived in Los Minas in Santo Domingo until he migrated to the states at 10 years old.
“I’m not the most hood person ever, but coming up in that environment taught me how to stand my ground and pay attention to details,” he says. Once he moved to the Bronx, the borough that birthed hip-hop, he recalls being drawn to the flashiness of the sneaker culture, not to mention the music that filled the streets.
“Seeing the imagery, urban rap, listening to English music, Nike and Jordans all around — when back home people wore simpler things — it was all a culture shock for me.”
Gio later moved to Philadelphia and explored his creative side in high school. His keen eye for visual art and culture set helped him become one of the Latinx music scene’s most sought after graphic designers and eventually video director. He later had the chance to practice this talent alongside Fernando Lugo for two videos including 2017’s “Para Siempre.”
Friendships formed in Philly turned into workmanships as most of his friends pursued careers in music. Frank Acevedo, the Dominican producer of one of his latest hits “Concentida,” and multiplatinum engineer/producer Hide Miyabi surrounded him with creative energy. “Philly helped make sense of it all. Coming from the Latin culture, DR and Los Minas — mixing that with the New York grittiness and pride. Philly was a mid-ground, it was softer, but it wasn’t as Caribbean.”
Though the city life influenced many aspects of his identity, he is firm when admitting where he feels the most creative: “La Republica Dominicana, 100 percent. The people, the energy that’s always surrounding me — it’s so freeing. I love my country.”
Deciding to move to Miami earlier this year to expand his relationships in the industry, the artist, who identifies as Afro-Dominican, credits his roots as inspiration. “You can see it in my features and the way I style my hair — I keep it super pronounced.” The curator also wants to remain authentic in his music, which includes his Dominican black vernacular.
As with the dembow subgenre, musical innovations that develop in DR sometimes have a hard time breaking out of the island nation. The dialect is said to play a role. “There’s this clichee that Dominicans aren’t international because of their lingo…. There’s a lot of people in the music industry that use Dominican lingo without actually having that background. I want to be able to show people real Dominican lingo. Make it international while everyone understands it.”
His hair, which he wears in dreads, received mixed reactions from familia lejana in the beginning. “It was super challenging. Everyone saw it as dirty. Many have preconceptions that people with dreadlocks don’t wash their hair or that it’s dirty…. My hair is my strength.” He says while making a reference to Samson, the Israelite mentioned in the Bible, who lost his strength once his hair was cut.
His consciousness of social responsibility is best seen on his sci-fi inspired video for “Afro Funk.” For this video, the director-singer wanted to portray a love story of loss and hope. The leading lady — who is played by a black woman with her hair out natural, something rarely seen in Latin videos — is missing, and Gio does all he can to find her. This act reminds us that we are a community of different races and backgrounds, and it’s time for those in the creating process to portray that.
The track is representative of the kind of fusions Gio has in store for us. This is just the beginning: “I’m overly blessed. I’ve lost sleep, friends and relationships because of this dream.”