Natanael Cano strictly records music when he’s in a mood — more specifically, when he’s “destroyed,” as he puts it. So it’s no surprise that his new album, NataKong, out Friday, is a reflection of the raw emotions he was feeling at that very moment, which he narrates with bold and brooding lyrics.
He opens the set with the ultra personal trap song “Free Nata” — which is a song he no longer likes but left it as the first track because “all my friends seem to like it,” the Mexican chart-topping artist tells Billboard. In it, Cano talks about feeling nostalgic and details his comeback. “I don’t feel the emotions I felt when I started. Time passes slowly, I have to hang in there,” he raps. “This song I sing so you can be on the lookout for my comeback and for you to know that money wasn’t the only thing I wanted.”
The set comes less than a year after his album A Mis 20, which topped Billboard‘s Regional Mexican Albums chart, and drops at a time when Cano is going through both professional and personal transitions. He recently launched his own label Los CT — after a very public tiff with his label Rancho Humilde (NataKong will be jointly released under Los CT and Rancho Humilde) — he’s been performing at major festivals, and he’s set to make his debut at Coachella next week. On a personal level, he’s ready to leave behind the kid mentality.
“This album is the separation of the 17-year-old Nata who was just starting. It mirrors who I am now. I can no longer pretend I’m a kid because I never really got the opportunity to be a kid so in reality I was faking it. I don’t want to seem dumb or get into problems. I want to keep doing music because I love it.”
NataKong, half trap and half corridos tumbados, allows the 20-year-old singer-songwriter to live in a state of duality. “I only record trap songs to be able to express what I’m feeling at the moment. I say whatever I want to say. In a corrido, there has to be a song. I’m pretty sure one day I’ll just stick with corridos but right now, I like both styles.”
Throughout the 18-track set, Cano explores different moods that tread in the past and the future, and in “Nataaoki,” produced by Steve Aoki, he experiments for the first time with EDM. From the get-go, Cano knew he’d want to record an electronic song with Aoki. “I don’t mind recording the genre of my collaborator. I respect that because I know I’m young and I would never dare to go in and ask them to record a corrido with me. I always tell them: Let’s do what you do. I don’t want to force anyone to sing in my style.”
Another song with a special meaning is “Toronto,” which was recorded at Drake‘s house. Although he never got to meet the Canadian-born artist, he recorded the track in his studio. The lyrics were born during a freestyle session, which is how the majority of his songs start, with producers who don’t speak Spanish. “They loved whatever I was singing and I just kept going. And they were all from Toronto so I figured that’s what I’d name the song ”
Focusing on what’s to come, Cano also says that he’s now on good terms with his label Rancho Humilde after saying he wanted out of the recording contract during an Instagram Live back in November. At the end of the day, he says, this is a business. “We’re working well right now, which is what’s important. And if this album, the first one to be co-released with my own label, becomes a hit then it’ll be my biggest achievement to date.”
After he releases NataKong on April 8, Cano will take a break from the studio, he says, and put all his energy into an upcoming tour. “I want to stay away from that studio mentality for a bit because every time I go in I have to be destroyed or going through something crazy. Right now, I’m feeling pretty chill.”