Growing up along the Texas-Mexico border, life in the Rio Grande Valley was everything Rafael Garcia had ever known.
In high school, Garcia crossed the International Bridge to Matamoros, Mexico, to perform with his alternative rock band at night. The next morning he would drive back to Brownsville, have breakfast at a taco shop, and get to school on time. These Latinx communities shaped him over the 18 years he spent in South Texas and Mexico. Then ten years ago he headed north to go to college.
“I’m just a child from the Valley trying to reach the world through Dallas,” he says.
Although he lived in the United States and Mexico, his identity as a passing Hispanic placed him between two worlds. He was labeled “not American enough” or “not Mexican enough”. Dallas introduced him to various cultures and he felt even more out of place.
This culture shock and identity crisis inspired Garcia to break stereotypes and show his Mexican-American pride through music.
Under the name Rafa, Garcia makes trap Latin music that mixes his heritage and his romantic and emotional personality. For the past two years he has focused on writing Spanish songs centered around his coming-of-age story and his anguished love. His deep and sober voice is superimposed on an often optimistic musical production. Like his education in the Valley, his music crosses genres and reflects his most authentic self.
“I write songs alone in my room because that’s how I deal with my emotions. It’s my only outlet, my diary, ”he says. “I have a lot of songs in English on the way for English pals, but I have to say what I need to say in Spanish for a while before that.”
Brownsville raised him, but Dallas pushed him to prosper. As a Latinx artist, he wants to create music that is authentic to his heritage, but he doesn’t want to lose touch with where he comes from or the city where he now lives.
He spent his teenage years listening to 2000s emo bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy alongside Mexican 90s rock bands like Pxndx and Molotov. He picked up a guitar when a childhood crush told him she loved guitarists. He started performing in high school talent shows to impress her; this earned him the nickname Jonas Brother.
He left Brownsville at age 18 to study at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he earned a degree in Emerging Media Technologies and Communications. “When I was 18, I had no creative skills,” he says. “But I kept telling myself, I’m creative, until I finally sit down and work on it.” In college, he started to write songs. The musical ability came effortlessly. It didn’t take long before he wrote a song every day.
Two years ago, he started sharing videos on Instagram of himself performing original songs. It has seen a steady increase in followers and commitments.
When he was introduced to Bad Bunny, a switch flipped inside him. Bad Bunny, one of the world’s most popular artists, specializes in Puerto Rican trap music.
“I remember the first time I heard Latinx trap,” he says. “I was like, ‘This sounds like emo music that I grew up with. All the sounds were very familiar to me, so I remember being at home with my guitar and keyboard like I could.
Garcia shared his first Latinx trap song on Instagram, which received more likes than his usual posts. He interpreted this as a green light for the direction he needed to take his music.
“The reason it took me so long to finally start writing in Spanish, I think, [is] because of a deeply ingrained mentality of [Hispanics] that I wasn’t Mexican enough, ”he said. “People can give me all the hate, the keeper being Mexican whatever they want, but I come from two lines of hardworking Mexicans who preserve.”
He lived next door to local singer-songwriter Sudie. After seeing his videos, she recommended that he work with Gomey, a producer who helped Garcia release “Plata Bebe,” his first single, in August 2020. The song put him on a local manager’s radar. who wants to make it evolve towards the next one. great Latinx artist.
Manager Vince Chapa had directed Frank Ocean, Grammy Award-winning rapper Bobby Sessions, and local rapper Snow Tha Product. Despite a musical career steeped in hip-hop, Chapa comes from a family of Chicanx activists who encouraged him to be proud of his heritage and make a difference for his culture.
“Ever since I entered the music business, my grandparents kept asking me when I was going to work with Spanish music,” Chapa says. “I knew working in Latinx music was something I wanted for me, but I had my doubts. The transition to Latinx music would basically be a start over and to be honest my Spanish isn’t the best so I was really intimidated.
Last year Chapa lost both maternal and paternal grandparents. He vowed to start looking for Latinx artists to breed in their honor, but not just any artist. Chapa was looking for someone who could mix genres, languages and themes; someone who has the potential to be the greatest Latinx artist in the world.
After a studio session with Rafa, Chapa knew he had found his artist.
“Rafa’s voice and melodies on Gomey’s musical landscape is something truly unique and I immediately began to see how this artist is not only able to compete with the best in the business, but also has the depth. and the range to be there for a very long time. ,” he says.
Today, a year after “Plata Bebe,” Rafa has assembled an all-Mexican team in Dallas to help him build his platform, which includes his own label. Of the five tracks on his discography, three were added to popular Spotify playlists, including New Urban, Radar US Latin, Trapland, New Music Friday Latin. Urbano Rising featured him as a cover artist in August.
It’s no surprise that Rafa is driving traffic to his music. After all, he strives for the best, he’s unabashedly ambitious, and he does it to support his community.
“I think I can be successful here in Texas and I don’t want to leave,” he says. “I’m happy to be here in Dallas and I want to be a role model for other Latino kids and show them all this music, all these visuals, [are] all made with Mexican hands.
The music video for “Abajo” features scenes from the city’s Latinx culture at Oak Cliff along Jefferson Boulevard. The visual made by German Torres features Rafa in the passenger seat of a lowrider, while Sushiimilk, a local tattoo artist, walks down the Margaret Hill Bridge towards downtown Dallas. The song’s message is similar to Drake’s “Started From The Bottom.” Like the Canadian rapper, Rafa believes he is on the road to success. It also has a more literal translation: “I say ‘I started from the bottom’ because I come literally from the border,” he says.
Rafa plans to release a new track every month until next year, leading to NeoMex, his next EP. The title of the EP refers to the 80s Neo-Mexican movement. NeoMex will feature Rafa’s latest tracks and original illustrations. The EP will be released under his production label, goodjuan studio.
“I just want to make music and be able to pay for my family, for my father to stop working, for my mother to stop working,” he says. “This is the passion that I’m going to use to give back, and if being a musician from all over the world is the star, then I’m going to go for it.”