Prince Royce is a ball of energy. He claps and rubs his palms together, Kevin Hart-style, as he starts to speak and he talks with his hands. His eyes sparkle like his beaded Versace sweater and his voice is inflected with charismatic enthusiasm. As one of the biggest voices in contemporary bachata music, what isn't there to be excited about?
The 27-year-old, born Geoffrey Royce Rojas, just released his fifth studio album, aptly titled Five, on February 24. It's his first Spanish-language album since Soy el Mismo in 2013 (though his last LP, Double Vision in 2015, was a crossover). With it, he snagged the number one slot on Billboard's Top Latin Album chart—for the fourth time. But that's just a drop in the ocean compared to his 21 Latin Billboard Awards, 19 Premios Juventud Awards and nine Latin Grammy nominations. That's not even the whole list, and he's determined to add to his collection ("I'm going for more this year!"). He's got a rabid online fanbase, too. For starters, his newest music video, "Deja Vu" with Shakira, garnered 8 million views in one day. By now, three days after its release, the total has doubled to more than 16 million.
Royce was raised in the Bronx, and although he didn't quite grow up with singers and musicians in the family, his knack for poetry and eclectic taste in music (he had an Usher obsession and a "skater phase") led him to write songs on his own. That mix of sounds is especially obvious on Five, where R&B hybridizes with his signature bachata style, and where featured artists range from Zendaya to Latin jazz legend Arturo Sandoval. Returning to his Dominican roots musically is seemingly much more poignant in Trump's America, where people from Latin American countries are especially targeted. "I try and represent where I'm from every time," Royce said. "I think we're in a time where we should promote unity and be together."
In addition to his music career, Royce is also a celebrity judge on Pequeños Gigantes USA, designing a line for Ecko and apparently has some film roles and "acting stuff" coming down the pipe. A few weeks before his album was released, the star talked to www.cnaindy.org about what it was like working on the project, diving into the fashion world and what keeps him going.
"I released my album last year, which had a lot of collaborations with Pitbull, Tyga, etc. I had a lot of fun with that record, so now I'm releasing a Latin album, which is bachata—it comes from the Dominican Republic, it's a very sensual, romantic, sexy type of dance. On this album, I have collaborations with Shakira, Zendaya—her first time singing Spanish, and she killed it—and Chris Brown. It's a really great fusion between bachata and R&B, so I'm really excited. I think it's a cool album that brings a lot of things together. I feel like there's something for everyone in this album."
On what inspired the songs on the album:
"A lot of these songs I wrote at home. I have a studio in my house, New York and LA. Some are experiences, some are just things that happened to my friends and family. Almost every song has some connection with my life experience. If it's not the present, it is the past. So every song is connected to me in some way, shape or form."
On the importance of Latin music in today's political climate:
"I was always connected to Latin music, which is why I started singing in Spanish. People would tell me they didn't even know I spoke English, and I think that represents where I'm from, my community. I think we're in very troubled times, in very rough times, and it's not just about being Latin—it's about being people. I try and represent where I'm from every time. I think we're in a time where we should promote unity and be together. There are so many things happening in politics and instead of being negative, we should be positive and work together [on] how can we change things for the better.
Latins, immigrants and Hispanics are targeted right now, and we could go on and on about that, but like I said, of course that's a problem, but right now it's about being human beings, not being Hispanic or Muslim, or black or white. It's about working together on how this country can be what the country was always promoted as. I mean, you think of the United States as a country that was welcoming people in when we talk about Ellis Island and the American dream. So it doesn't matter where you're from, we should just be united as Americans."
On his favorite part about going on tour:
"It was a hot summer, you know. We did a lot of outside venues and people were hot and sweaty, but I just try to have fun on the road, get a lot of work done. Even when you're done with the show you have to travel, you actually have a lot of time to hang, so I usually do a lot of the writing when I'm on the road. I like the road, I always try to go to the city, and try to learn a little bit about each city when I go out.
I've performed in Italy, France and Spain, but I haven't performed in Brazil yet, and I have some Brazilian fans. I'd like to go over there. I haven't been to Argentina recently, hopefully before the end of the year. I've been Toronto and Montreal, but hopefully we can back there."
On how he found time to write music after being on tour for a year:
"Right now I'm shooting a TV show and I'm a judge on a TV show called Pequeños Gigantes (Little Giants). I finished this album. It's been a lot of work. I'm looking forward to going on tour. I'll be in Latin America and Spain. I like to work. It's a lot of writing on the road, a lot of recording whenever I'm home. Whenever you find the time. When there's a will, there's a way."
On how he feels when he hears his songs on the radio:
"It always feels good to see people support my music. It feels good to write and record, and then hear the finished product. It feels like it's the first time. I think every album, for me, is like the first time. You always get nervous, anxious–that's what this is all about. I think the moment you stop feeling emotion is the moment that you stop doing it. But I always get the drive and get competitive, and I want to be vigorous and intense. This album is gonna be better that the last album! I think that's what it's all about."
On how he's evolved since his first, self-titled album:
"Everything's different. Of course the essence of me is still the same, but every album is different–the creative process, what you were thinking then, and how you're thinking now. Maybe you look back and think, 'What was I thinking when I recorded that song?' [It's] a lot of change."
On his relationship with his fans:
"It's cool to be up close and personal with the fans. When I go on tour, I'll be doing some other-up-close-and-personal things with the fans. I think it's really cool to give people the opportunity to hang out."
On whether he'll ever bring back his man bun:
"For me to go back to the man bun, I gotta grow it back. That was a pain. I just cut it ;ole three days ago. I had the man bun for not even a year, I had to grow it and people were like, 'Oh we like your old hairstyle,' and now that I've cut it people are like, 'Oh, bring us the man bun!' I like short hair. But what I like about the man bun is that it was easy."
On his clothing collaboration with Ecko:
"It's been a slow process. It's not as easy as when people see something that's ready to go, so we've been working on that. Right now we're just on the creative part. They're really like a skateboard brand, and we're trying to do something on a high-end tip, but not crazy expensive. We just want to revamp the whole thing, and hopefully people will be surprised.
On his interest in pursuing fashion:
"I think fashion is part of everyone, even though some people think, 'Oh, I'm not part of fashion.' Everyone has some sort of fashion interest, even when they don't think they do. I always try to be comfortable, it's important. If you don't feel good with the clothing that you have on, then you won't look good. Does that make sense? If you don't feel good, you won't look good. So I think fashion is all just confidence, no matter what you put on. Sometimes you look at something like, 'That's crazy, what the hell!' and then you see someone put it on and he's proud of it and confident, and it makes him look good. I always try to wear cool things and not be afraid of being different."
On how his interest in poetry led to his music career:
"I was in a poetry jam-like class in high school. It was an extracurricular thing I had to take, and we did jam sessions and we started writing and figuring out rhyming and metaphors. I still have the notebook of the poetry I started writing from that. I was writing a lot of English stuff and then I transitioned to writing in Spanish. People were like, 'Oh that's cool!' and I think that helped me a lot. I wrote a lot of poetry before I did songs.
Honestly, it was just an extracurricular activity that I had to do! I wasn't a sports-type of guy growing up; it beats having to lift weights and run everyday, so I was like, 'Let's try it out!' And I always felt creatively inclined and I always liked music, and by that point I was already singing. I felt like it was just cool to get in the creative space."
On who he listened to growing up:
"Everything from Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias, Miguel and hip-hop like Jay Z and R&B like Usher and Michael Jackson. It was a big melting pot for me in New York. I listened to everything, Spanish, English. I had my techno phase, my rock phase, I had a skateboard phase—I had a lot of different musical phases."
On the artist who inspires him the most:
"I love Usher! On my Walkman, when I was younger, I would always listen to that Usher album. I would always sing Usher to the girls at school. He was always an inspiration to me growing up."
On what drives him:
"I'm from the Bronx. I grew up in Patterson Projects; my biggest motivation is not going back to the projects. The motivation is that I know what it feels like to be poor, I know what it feels like to live in the hood. So now I'm successful and making money and able to help my family out, to inspire the youth or people like me, Latinos from the Bronx, or people that grew up like me—they know what I'm talking about with that environment. I think that's my motivation: you continue to work hard because you know what the lavish life is, and you know what it is to struggle. I always try to talk about that story because I think it inspires a lot of people and it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance and believing in yourself. It needs to start with you. If you don't believe in yourself, no one will. So that's what drives me. My family, my friends, my cousins come to Miami and they're able to party and have fun and I get them drinks and whatever, and that's not something I would do back in the day. I think family, friends and my fans are inspiration. I don't want to let anybody down."
On who he wants to collaborate with next:
"Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Drake, The Weeknd—the collabs are endless. It just comes down to the creative opportunities. There are a lot of good people out there. I met Taylor Swift one time. I ended up at her party, and that was really cool. She is really talented."
On whether Taylor Swift can pull off bachata music:
"Maybe. Why not? She was really cool."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.