PHOTOGRAPHY BY THOMAS RAIMONDI / WORDS BY CHELSEA HERNANDEZ
20-year old Argentinean artist Tiago PZK is one of the rising young disruptors within Reggaeton and Latin Trap surging his range of releases sonically through popular genres like R&B and Pop while remaining authentic to his roots. With already 900M+ streams on his music, his ability to select a hit is inevitably a gold mine. With the release of his project Cato, we caught up with Tiago to talk about his beginnings, rap culture in his hometown and how artists like Travis Scott, Young Thug & Billie Eilish inspire his creativity.
Being from Monte Grande, Argentina, what are things like in your home country?
TIAGO PZK: It’s far away from the capital. There are not a lot of resources, and it’s very difficult to get out. But despite everything, it’s not impossible [to leave] either. With the desire and effort, you can leave Monte Grande. It’s complicated because it’s far from the city, but you can.
What was your neighborhood like? Did you grow up in a nice area or was it a rough neighborhood?
It’s complicated. It has it’s dangerous areas like any place. If you get into an area where no one knows you it can be dangerous. I only interacted with the people that I knew. I never got into any trouble because I’m not a troublemaker but if you get into a neighborhood where no one knows you then things can go wrong.
What struggles did you face growing up there?
I grew up in the same neighborhood as my dad and my dad is someone that had a lot of conflict and problems with the people in my neighborhood. He was involved in shootings and street stuff. Those problems followed me. I had fights with the people in my neighborhood who were angry with my dad just for being his child. When I grew up I realized that I had nothing to do with those problems, so I simply stayed away from those kinds of people and those problems. But once I grew up I decided to be different so that I wouldn’t have these problems. Growing up changed my life a lot. It helped me be better.
Did you like school? Were you a good student?
I did good when I focused. But I never wanted to go to school. Every day I would wake up like ‘ugh again’ because I wanted to make music from a young age. I was already 12 years old, I was rapping, so it was a bit hard for me to go to school because it wasn’t what I was passionate about, but when I was concentrating I was doing well.
Your song ‘Sola’ talks in vivid detail about your father’s abuse towards your mother — what impact did that have on your life?
When I was 7, I saw a lot of violence against my mother. Growing up seeing that made me have a sacred respect for women. Because of all the things I saw and lived through, it also taught me how to be as a person. I believe that there are two options in life: are you just as bad as the one who gave you the example or are you totally the opposite? I think I went for the second option.
When you were 10, you saw the film ‘8 Mile’ starring Eminem and that sparked your love of rap — was that the first encounter with rap music that you had? What music did you listen to as a child?
Oh, no. I had been listening to 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg before — and Ice Cube. When I was 6, I was listening to Snoop Dogg and a bunch of other rappers. When I was 10 I came across Eminem and watched ‘8 Mile.’ That was when I said ‘wow! I want to do this’. I loved rap, but when I saw the movie is when I said ‘I want to do that’.
What about that movie made you want to start rapping? If you grew up listening to 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, why was it that after that movie you decided ‘oh I want to do this now’?
I liked the love that the people in the United States had for rap. When I saw Eminem in that moment competing against others I said ‘WOW! I want to do that!’. I loved that and it became like my dream. I saw the passion they had for rap and how they lived. I was passionate about living that.
How soon after seeing that movie did you start trying to freestyle?
As soon as I turned off the movie I decided to start rapping. I started when I was 10, but my mom wouldn’t let me leave the house until I was 13. So when I was 13, I was able to go to a park and compete. The time between when I was 10 and 13, the only thing I did was rap.
Why did your mom let you start rapping at 13?
That’s still really young.
Because I was very introverted at the age of 10, I didn’t talk to anyone. By the age of 13 I had already started school. Then in school I had friends and I was already going to the parks to play soccer. Then one day I went to play soccer and once we finished playing I saw a group of people who were there in the park so I got closer and it was a competition. If I never left my house, I would have never known that competitions existed in Argentina.
So your mom didn’t know? You would go to the park, play soccer with your friends and then after you were done, you would enter these rap battles in the park?
So you were in serious rap battles? Not just with your friends?
They were serious competitions because there were 20 people in the plaza and the rap movement in Argentina at that time wasn’t big. In Spain for example, there were already large competitions and places to see these competitions but in Argentina there wasn’t that. So at that time, 20 people in the park rapping was a lot of people and it was a serious competition. Then I started going by myself and I took it seriously. I always lost, but I went.
Were you the youngest one competing?
Wow! That must have been scary.
Yeah, my legs were trembling! I was shaking!
What was your first rap competition like? How scary was it? How did you do?
Well, it was just after playing soccer. That day it was a big event and I was just a little kid. There were these big men and I was just this little thing. And I won my first battle. After that I felt like a winner. The first battle I entered, I won.
Why did you transition from battling to song writing?
Oh, because the competitions were very toxic back then. I said I need something to get me fired up but on the other hand, not put people down. The competition was like you had to step on the others head to climb. Literally that’s what it was like. That was the competition. It began to affect me. I said I want to make music and that’s when I found the inspiration and the way to unload what was in my head.
Are you familiar with the history of rap and trap culture in general?
Yes, of course. Rap is the reason why I am who I am musically. I know the origins of rap, of hip hop. I know the history of rap from the Bronx, Afrika Bambaataa, everything started from that. My first inspiration was rap. Beyond that I do other things, other kinds of genres. But I’m familiar with the history.
What attracts you to the culture of hip hop and rap?
It’s something you can do without any tools. You don’t need to sing, you don’t need to study any instruments, you can do it only with inspiration and with ideas and rap skills. That’s what caught my attention.
You said you listened to Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and other American rappers. Did you mainly listen to American music?
Yeah, I listened to other things. I have a lot of influences. When I was 12 years old I listened to Justin Bieber. He was also an inspiration for me. He could sing, play guitar, the piano, the drums. That for me is an artist — a complete artist too. He’s an example.
Who are some artists that inspire you? What music do you listen to?
Travis Scott & Young Thug — I like them a lot too. Oh, and Billie Eilish I like her too. It’s different. And Post Malone.
It’s so interesting that you mention those artists — especially Post Malone because your music tends to genre bend. You switch between genres in your music and Post Malone does the same thing, so you can kind of see the influence there.
Yeah, that is my influence — the versatility in the music. Post Malone does rock, pop, trap. And for me that’s my inspiration.
So, you’ve released a bunch of singles so far. I think the first one you released was ‘Andamo En La Cima’ with Kin — I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve been trying to find it and I can’t.
Oh yeah. It’s the first song that was released on the internet, but it isn’t my first song that I ever recorded. It sounds much better than my first song.
What was Andamo En La Cima about?
It was a trap song. We were different, because at that time the trap was poorly seen in Argentina. There was like a fight between hip hop and trap. Trap and hip hop weren’t joined, but separated. It was like hip hop, rap, underground or trap, money, drugs. It was like those two sides were separate and we were doing trap at that time. In like 2016, 2017, we were already doing trap and people were pointing fingers saying ‘you guys are trap not rap’, so we said we’re different from the rest — we do what we like.
How did it feel putting out your first single? Were you afraid that people wouldn’t like it?
No, in that moment I didn’t think that anything was going to come of it. I thought the song would get 100 views but we got 50,000 views and I was like ‘what the f**k?!’ We didn’t think about what people were going to think about it or what was going to happen to our music because at that time no one made a living from music. In Argentina, there were very few people who made a living from urban music.
Oh, I didn’t know that. So no one from there really made money off of music? It wasn’t something that people thought they could do for a living?
Right. It’s not like in the US where you clearly get money from making music. But now an artist in Argentina can buy a house from music and nothing else. You can support your whole family. It grew very quickly — it’s only been 4 years so in Argentina everything is new. It’s a new world.
How does it feel to be a part of that group of artists from Argentina who are now trailblazing and making a path for other artists because like you said it’s not something that was really done there or recognized there and now you’re one of the first ones making that path. How does that feel?
It’s a responsibility and something that I treat with respect. You have to know what to do. I can’t put out a song and be like ‘woo, I have money’. No, it’s work. It’s constant work. I can’t stop working on my career even for a second. And you also risk a lot and you have to put a lot to the side for it but in the end we’re happy because it’s something that we like to do and we feel responsible for it. Securing a legacy. I’m new. My career exploded in a little over a year. I still have a lot to do and a lot to teach everyone else left after me.
That makes sense with it being so new over there. I feel like over here some artists take things for granted because it’s so easy to blow up and get famous. So it’s interesting the different mindset. It’s work and you have to be dedicated to it. Yeah, you get money but that can be gone and this is why you have to stay focused.
Yeah. In the United States, a million listens on Spotify is $4,000 and here it’s $700. It’s very different. Here we can’t go buy a Lamborghini or Ferrari. We can’t buy a VVS chain. We can’t buy the things that you can over there. So we value it more. Over there it’s very easy because the economy is better and ours is really bad. We have to work twice as hard to get all of those things and even still we can’t buy the things you guys can buy. And because of this, the artists from Argentina aren’t arrogant. We don’t have the chains, luxury cars and all that because that just doesn’t exist.
I want to shift the focus to your two songs Házmelo and Entre Nosotros. Those music videos tell a story with Entre Nosotros being the continuation of Házmelo. What is the story and connection between those songs?
The concept is doors. Doors to different universes. It’s like what we were talking about with Post Malone and switching genres. “Flow De Barrio” is the first track on the album, then “Hazmelo” and “Entre Nosotros.” And then, the next one that’s going to come out is very different as well. They are of different genres. I wanted to continue with the message of the different universes showing that an artist can’t just stay in one world otherwise the artist gets stagnate. When an artist decides ‘ok, I made a trap song and that was a hit so I’m going to do another’, that is good and people will like it the same and you will go just as well, but you have to try so you don’t lock yourself in a single universe. That’s the concept of the doors- that artists open up more and are encouraged not to care what people say.
So you said you’re coming out with an album.
Yes, my album will have the concept of doors and the universe. In fact, in my live shows I will put doors and the screens will be different universes. Then each theme will have its universe for the live show and people will be able to interact.
Do you know when your album will be released?
In October, I’ll go to Boston to have the album mastered and then I’ll perform two shows in Mexico and Miami. I come back in December and in December it is when the record is released that the official presentation is made.
What would you say would be the song that you’re always most excited to perform live?
‘Ademas De Mi’ I like a lot. ‘Sola’ too. It’s a song with a lot of feeling and meaning. The last time I played it live my mom was present and I cried. It was the first song that I sang live so it means a lot to me. ‘Entre Nostros’ on the other hand I’ve never sang live.
‘Loco’ is your most recent release for the movie Cato coming out. In the music video for that song you’re very emotional. Was that acting or was that real emotion that you were experiencing when you recorded?
‘Loco’ is the main song of the movie. I always feel everything that I sing fully and Loco talks about the trauma in the film. At the end of the day it’s something that happens to everyone all over the world. ‘Sola’ also talks about losing a family member. It’s not something easy to perform but it’s real. And well, you’re asking how I cried also in the video? That was it. It was very emotional for me to sing it and make the film. I think it has a beautiful message and I get a similar feeling to Sola when I sing it.Wow, yeah because you were like really crying in that. You were emotional. I think it’s really cool that you put that out there. Yeah, and well, I’m not a person who likes to cry. What I said was true, but I also had to act. The film is a drama. And so the first day, I had to cry for 7 hours. Because of that I feel like I had to open up a part of myself to cry and show my feelings because of the film being a drama.
That’s crazy! How did you cry for 7 hours?
After a while they had to put mint under my eyes so I could cry. The first few times I was able to but then at one point it was like I just couldn’t so that’s why they used mint.Why did you decide to take the opportunity and star in the movie? Because it has a very similar story to me, to my life. A boy who lives in a low class neighborhood. He lives with his sister and mother. He wants to dedicate himself to making music. I didn’t feel that I had to play a character, it was me, it was me acting. Obviously in the movie there are a lot of things that never happened in my life, but it was like a test for me. It was like seeing how a person like me would deal with these situations.
What was it like acting in a movie for the first time?
It was hard. It was challenging. There were days that were very difficult, scenes that are very difficult and I had a bad time. There were times where I wanted to say enough, enough of that movement. There were times I had to cry a lot or I had to get thrown in mud. I had to get in mud at 5 in the morning. So I was like ‘Oh God no, why!’ But it’s what I had to do. But then it was a very, very good experience for me, because I would later go and watch some of the video clips and I was much looser on camera. I was more expressive and I learned a lot.
TIAGO: THE 20 YEAR OLD KID NOT ARTIST
Where do you think you would be if you weren’t doing music?
I would be an artist like drawing and painting.
What are some things that you like to do for fun?
I paint a lot, I draw, I play soccer, and I cook.
What are some things that you like to cook?
Well, I like to make tortillas, cakes and I also really like making pastries.
When did you start baking?
I started when I was 12 years old.
Do you think if you weren’t doing music that you would be a chef?
Yeah! It’s art in the kitchen.
What are some things that you’ve learned about yourself these past few years as you’ve been growing and evolving in the music space?
I didn’t know how to sing at all and I learned only by singing. I never went to a singing class or anything like that. I just learned how from ear. I think that the first thing you have to do is tune your voice. So I think that was like what I worked on the most all this time, because I spent many years working on rap and in recent years I was working on my voice to merge those two things to understand rap and sing.
Atlanta-based music editor and interviewer who loves the idea of introducing people to great artists they may not have heard of yet.