"I didn’t dream about money — I dreamed of cars passing by blasting my music, or turning the radio on and hearing the announcer say, 'That’s Tito.'”
Before the melodic voices of Amenazzy and Ozuna were everywhere, Tito El Bambino’s sharp vocals were heard in songs like “Felina,” “Dejala Volar,” “and “Baila Morena,” all the way from reggaeton’s underground phase through the early 2000s crossover and beyond.
Born Efraín David Fines Nevares, Tito — nicknamed by his family when he was a child — started recording with local DJs in his hometown of Carolina, Puerto Rico as a preteen. “I come from the years of mixtapes,” he tells People CHICA. “When I first recorded, it would come out on cassettes. They would go for $5 and $10. It was very underground.” These recordings weren’t made at real studios, though — when the DJs’ parents weren’t home, Tito would record in the living room or any space available in the house. “Inside a bathroom was the place to record for you to sound great,” he explains. “It was underground, but to me it was a dream. I didn’t dream about money — I dreamed of cars passing by blasting my music, or turning the radio on and hearing the announcer say, ‘That’s Tito.'”
It was those early years that helped lay the groundwork for urbanos like J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Ozuna to become international sensations. Considering the obstacles artists faced during the genre’s underground era, the sound born out of impoverished caserios (public housing) was not popular among the island’s elites. Once Puerto Rico became the face of the genre, religious conservatives and political leaders condemned the music. This led to now-deceased senator Velda Gonzalez beginning an “anti-pornography” campaign in 2002 that aimed at censoring music and videos as a way to “protect” youth and “exploited” women. “Cops would raid record stores and throw away our cassettes because of the explicit lyrics,” says Tito. Though he and his peers faced difficulties during this period, he admits it was also “exciting” to witness the masses in Puerto Rico support the music regardless.
Tito — who gained the El Bambino portion of his nickname while working on DJ Nelson’s 1997 album The Flow — just released his latest single “Pega Pega.” The colorful video has garnered over 12 million views on YouTube, and will soon be followed by an album, hopefully by the end of the year.
His new project will feature collaborations with El Alfa, Wisin, Cosculluela, Nacho, Jowell y Randy, Rauw Alejandro and Rafa Pabón. “The initiative is to make joints that I’ve never done with artists I’ve never worked with,” he says of his attempt to exchange ideas with musicians of different generations. “New voices fill me with satisfaction, because I’m a fan of their music just as much as they are fans of mine.”
Tito may be expanding his musical horizons, but his signature personal style — dressy button-ups with nice pants — remains the same. These outfits separated him from other artists in the late ’90s and early ’00s, when many of his peers were wearing oversized tees, baggy jeans and fitted hats. Tito was instead known for his suave, Latin-lover look, similar to that of singers like Frankie Ruiz and Héctor Lavoe — two artists he grew up listening to, along with classic merengue acts like Sergio Vargas.
As reggaeton has evolved, accepting newcomers and Latin trap influences seems to have been a bit hard for some veterans. Stars like Don Omar, for example, have spoken out against Latin trap in the past, but for Tito, it’s gratifying to see that these musicians have the opportunity to keep pushing forward. “I see everything as art,” he says. “Every artist has their own touch to music. I respect everyone and I love what they do. I’m not a participant of criticizing what [the new generation] has to offer. because everyone has their own way of expressing themselves with a mic. Instead of criticizing, we have to enjoy.”
Watch “Pega Pega” here: