Yunel Cruz is a singer and songwriter from New York City who burst onto the scene with his Billboard charting bachata hit “Mi Dominicanita,” in 2010. Born Jofre Cruz, he went on to sign to Universal Music Latin Entertainment‘s Machete Music imprint home to Don Omar and other notable latin artists.
After the release of his Something Different EP in 2010, Cruz went on to land four more records on the Billboard tropical songs chart including two No. 1’s with “Ay Amiga” and “No Vuelve.” Most recently he released his first bilingual record featuring R&B star Ne-Yo and reggaeton artist J. Alvarez; garnering millions of Spotify streams and views along the way.
Back in his hometown of NYC while prepping for his performance at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for Soulfrito Fest 2017 alongside some of the hottest names in urban and latin music; SFPL‘s own Arlene Danna chatted with the rising bilingual crooner about his career, love for music, working with Ne-Yo and much more.
Audiences first became acquainted with you back in 2010 with the release of your bachata hit “Mi Dominicanita.” Since you’ve landed on the Billboard charts several times including snagging two No.1’s. How has your life changed since you released your first EP Something Different?
Wow, it’s changed a lot. I think that, you know it’s been a journey that you embark on and you don’t really truly know what to expect. When we released that first single, at least for me I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know the acceptance was going to be so huge. It started off in New York, then the Dominican Republic and then it just went crazy. With that first single I got to travel to places I would have never imagined. I went to Ecuador and other parts of South America. Here in the United States we went to Utah, San Diego, L.A.. So it’s crazy. My life has changed a ton. I got to move from the Northeast in Boston and now I reside in Miami. It’s been a long journey and one that I’ve enjoyed a lot but my life has definitely changed in every way.
Your latest single “Sin Miedo” features reggaetonero J. Alvarez and R&B singer Ne-Yo. How did that collaboration come about?
The collaboration came about because I had the record. I was working with my producer Lenny Medina. He’s worked with Romeo Santos and Enrique Iglesias. We had the record and the minute I heard “Sin Miedo” I loved it. The beat is crazy, and I went you know what let’s reach out and get this fire. We reached out to Ne-Yo and he sent me his verse and it was amazing. When Ne-Yo recorded his part it was beautiful, but it made the song kind of long. So I was trying to figure out what we were going to do with the record. Afterwards I was like you know what let’s put a reggaetonero on it since it would be my first record that’s both english and spanish. Before all the singles that we released were bachata singles. People don’t know that I do R&B, that I do Hip-Hop, that I do all kinds of music. You know I grew up in New York but it’s like a lot of people don’t know that I have all those other genres in me. So I was like you know what let’s reach out to J. Alvarez. We’re good friends and he’s an amazing artist who I respect a lot. He works independently and I respect that. When I started I was an independent artist as well. Now I’m actually signed to Universal. Been with them for a few years but I respect him very much. We we’re going to reach out to Maluma, but at the time he just finished doing a record with Shakira and Ricky Martin so he couldn’t jump on a third single at the time because the release time wasn’t going to work. So J. Alvarez said I’m on it, he recorded the verse it was fire and there it was, that was the record.
So you immediately had Ne-Yo in mind when you heard the record?
Yes, it just sounded like Ne-Yo to me as soon as I heard it. He’s one of the artists that I grew up admiring a ton. R&B artists are Ne-Yo and Usher for me but he’s one of my top favorite artists that I grew up emulating. For me it was an honor to grow up and actually work with him. You know it’s kind of crazy because when you start making music you don’t know where you’re going to be tomorrow. You just make music with love and from the heart. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that I one day I would be recording and working with one of my idols. So that to me was incredible and what made it even more special was how humble and great of a person he is. It’s unreal. We sat down and spent time together. He’s just a unbelieveable soul, so it’s cool.
You guys shot the video in L.A. how was that experience?
I thought it was cool. I wanted L.A. because I wanted a different feel. I had shot “Ay Amiga” in Miami and I wanted a different look and feel to it. It was off the chain. I love the vibe in L.A. I wanted to bring that to the video. It’s kind of crazy because we had a different theme in mind. We kind of wanted to do like a racing thing and then when I read the script I was like okay this is like Fast and Furious no we’re not going to do that. So we went with the party scene and it was dope. Everything worked out.
“Sin Miedo” manages to fuse together multiple genres. It isn’t just bachata, or reggaeton, or pop. How would you describe it?
I would describe “Sin Miedo” as a bilingual latin american song. It’s a dope fusion. If you speak spanish you can vibe to it, if you like english music you can vibe to it. It’s a big fusion of different flavors and that’s what makes it dope. I love the record and people have been responding well to it. If you see the streaming numbers 1.7 million so far, and people on YouTube supporting it; it’s beautiful.
Is this the sound audiences should be expecting on your forthcoming debut Divina Voluntad?
For sure. That’s definitely the sound. I’m working very hard to change the sound of what people are accustomed to hearing from me, you know that romantic side. People are going to be shocked with the new records. I have a couple of other special collaborations that people are going to really dig and enjoy.
Are you able to give us any hints on who you’ve been collaborating with?
We have a couple really big collabs that I can’t say now, but I will make sure I get it to you first. It’s going to be cool. I think people are going to dig the new Yunel and the direction that we’re going. I’m looking forward to you guys hearing the new music.
You wrote your first song at age 9 so it’s safe to say that music has always been your passion. Are there any influences in your life that have pushed you in that direction?
Yes, I’ve been writing my whole life. I think so. When I was younger I started writing because of my Mom. She told me that if I wanted something fun to do that opens your mind just write your emotions. That’s where it came from to write music. I’ve worked with really big artists and songwriters as well and for me I just find I have a passion for writing my own stuff and what I feel. Then to get to perform those songs and to get the support from people it’s pretty cool. You create something from your heart and people vibe with it, it’s one of the coolest feelings ever.
Besides singing do you have any other musical talents?
I play a little guitar, I used to play the trombone when I was younger. I haven’t played it in a long time. Music is my thing so I try to touch different instruments and enjoy the time when I’m in the studio and just play around with them too.
You’ll be performing at Soulfrito Fest 2017 alongside some of the biggest in urban and latin music like Rick Ross and Zion y Lennox. How have you been preparing for your performance?
I’ve been just getting myself ready by figuring out the show. On my end it’s a little more complex because it’s not a show that’s set like this is the set that we’re doing. It’s a change and it’s going to be the first time people are going to see me doing my bilingual thing. Singing in both english and spanish on stage it’s going to be pretty cool for me and I’m just really excited. New York is home so it’s going to be a good time.
You can catch Yunel performing Friday June 9th at Soulfrito Fest 2017 at the Barclays Center alongside Rick Ross, Zion y Lennox, Ivy Queen, Young M.A., Fetty Wap, Cardi B, and more!