After a break, Robertito Chong is ready to be a “real artist”

Robertito Chong’s personal story recalls a story, shared for decades, which says: A man visits a doctor and claims he is depressed, wracked with anxiety. The doctor assures him that there is an effective treatment that will immediately make him feel better. “There’s a very popular clown doing a show in town. Go see him, and you’ll feel much better about everything. The patient is motionless. And just then, he tearfully reveals to the doctor, “That’s the problem. I am that clown.

Robertito knows he has a reputation as the “class clown” of the current generation of indie rap artists, a title he shares with a handful of lyricists, from newcomers like Skeptic and PJ Sin Suela to biggest names like Guaynaa and Residente, who also dabble in the absurd and the comic as an approach. It is the one that Robertito admits to having imposed on himself throughout his career. But despite all the fun good words that have made him a fan and peer favorite, he has recently begun to struggle with a lingering cloud that darkens his path. “I have my highs. I have a lot of happy times in my life, and that’s reflected in a lot of my music. But I also carry a lot of existential weight on me,” he told Remezcla. .

He grew up in the Encantada neighborhood of San Juan, “a neighborhood within a neighborhood, a total bubble,” as he describes it. His environment made him something of a problem kid growing up, always getting into trouble and antics that earned him many berates during his teenage years. “Me and my neighbors, all we did was watch ‘Jackass’ and stuff like that, so we were all bored and messed up. We did everything: throw fire extinguishers in swimming pools, throw eggs in houses on Halloween… I got into a lot of trouble with my parents every summer,” he says.

In his early teens, he channeled this penchant for irreverence into his own YouTube channel, called PINGARECORDS, as a riff on Pina Records. Here he and his friends would do parody raps and reggaeton songs full of childish humor. “PINGARECORDS, that was me trying to channel that [rambunctious] energy, thinking maybe if I checked in [doing skits]it would help to control it,” he says. The channel gained a small audience and once he got to high school, he turned that attention to his new rapper persona, Robertito Chong.

Naming himself after comedian and weed maestro Tommy Chong, Robertito used his nickname as an opportunity to highlight his affinity for smoking and its benefits. Once at university, he made friends in musical circles, including the trio that would become Los Rivera Destino, and began devoting more of his free time to releasing songs that were more mainstream hip-hop but still had their comedic edge. It wasn’t long before his popularity on and off campus began to grow after trudging through the experience of half-empty venues and handing out free mixtapes at the mall. His first LP, Hypoglycemiawas a word-of-mouth success that earned him a collaboration with then upstart Eladio Carrión.

But by 2017, Robertito’s budding rise had turned noticeably less rosy behind the scenes. “In 2017, I was broke. I wasn’t making any money from my music at all and had started experimenting with drugs… I was prescribed Adderall which in turn made me anxious so I started to buy Klonopin on the side. I often found myself asking my parents for money,” he says. He made the difficult decision to step away from music, much to the dismay of his fans. But as he confesses, “I was definitely not in the right place those years, spiritually or emotionally.”

The weight of those heady days has never really been revealed publicly until now, but it’s a message he hopes will resonate with the same audiences that followed him throughout his sabbatical and with new ones. listeners too. Robertito has come to feel that the current climate is more “in tune” with artists being open about their mental health issues, which he says contributes to an overall healthier industry. He’s candid about the extent of his condition, saying: ‘My ADHD is so intense, I’ll literally forget the simplest thing if I don’t write it down. It sometimes sounds like ’50 First Dates’. Like every day is a brand new reset for me due to my bad memory.

“I have my highs. I have a lot of happy times in my life, and that’s reflected in a lot of my music. But I also carry a lot of existential weight on me.

After giving up on music, Robertito spent much of the following years trying to find something that could stabilize him. He started coding remotely and moved into real estate and making financial advice videos on YouTube a year later, which became popular in their own right. But something kept gnawing at the back of his mind as he met fans who recognized him and continually asked about new music. He released a mixtape compilation of unreleased tracks, Domingo de Resurrectionbut it was barely enough to satisfy their request.

He was faced with a question that had been hovering in the background for more than two years: was it a bigger existential crisis to focus on music or not focus on the music? “[Those jobs] didn’t really fill the void in me like the music had,” he says. “I began to feel that I wasn’t leaving anything substantial in the world. I was helping people and my services were valuable to them, but I still felt an emptiness inside that I knew only music could fill.

The global pandemic has put things in an even darker perspective, pushing him to make a decision. With enough savings, he decided to step away from his job and get back to making music. It was at this time that he recorded his last two EPs, Arrestau and this year SML (read both as a play on “SUMMER” and also as an acronym for “STORY OF MY LIFE”). It also put him in the orbit of some acts who grew up with his music, like Eniel C, who picked up one of those old mixtapes at the mall at the time. Now they collaborate with “Angelito and Robertito” and Robertito found himself as a mentor figure to the artist and other up-and-coming artists. “I like to help them and motivate them when I can. I don’t want them to end up taking a break like me,” he says.

Now that the restrictions are lifted, he is sowing the seeds for a comeback, delivering more live performances to audiences he feels are more receptive than before. “After [the pandemic], I think people started to appreciate what we have more, and that led to more variety in the music,” he says. “People have been locked up for so long, and now even at shows you see more diverse crowds and people dancing and singing with more enthusiasm.”

The positive reception of SML lit a fire under him and fed the hunger to keep going the extra mile. He now has partners helping him advance his career, and he’s committed to the work necessary to reach the next level. The story of what he went through to get here, however, is one he won’t soon forget. “I hear [my old albums] and I think I was making good music, but also remember how depressed I was inside. At the time, I was on a lot of creative steroids,” he says with a knowing laugh. Today, he hopes all he needs are the lessons he learned and the healing power of doing what he loves. “For me, songwriting is how I remember who I am,” he says.

His gained confidence fuels the drive to become an even bigger presence than before, and his new outlook makes him more optimistic than ever. “Now I’m going to be a real artist,” he says with a smile.