When your rap moniker name means “voltage” in Spanish, you better be confident that your lyrical skills are powerful enough to sizzle, roast and execute the competition. The name befits 28-year-old reggaetón artist Julio Voltio, whose gritty street poetry has garnered comparisons to legendary hip-hop MC Nas. But ironically, Voltio’s name was not the result of a self-assured moment of artistic braggadocio.
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“I had a series of odd jobs while I was trying to make it in the music business,” Voltio says humbly. “I worked for an electrician and, one day, I started doing this job even though I didn’t have the necessary experience. I put my hand where it didn’t belong, and I got shocked. After that, everybody in the ‘hood started calling me everything from ‘Light Bulb’ to ‘Short Circuit,’ until one day they called me ‘Voltio.’ It just became my nickname.”
The story behind Voltio’s name can be encapsulated into an amusing anecdote, but his trajectory in the music business requires traveling along a winding road of unexpected obstacles and label deals gone awry. But through it all, Voltio remained a survivor. And the wait has been more than worth it.
Born Julio Ramos in Santurce, Puerto Rico, the prophetic lyricist was raised in the Parque Ecuestre section of Carolina. At the age of fourteen, Voltio started rapping alongside Hector “El Bambino” and Rey 29, forming the group Masters of Funk. The trio pounced on any opportunity to perform - whether it was in someone’s driveway or at a birthday party in a nearby housing project. Although they never recorded any albums, during its three years of existence, the group gained local fame. Its members became leading constituents of Puerto Rico’s underground scene, the birthplace of the genre that would later be christened “reggaetón.”
In 1997, Voltio forged a partnership with Karel, a neighborhood acquaintance who also harbored musical aspirations. The duo seemed poised for stardom. “We recorded a song as a joke,” Voltio says with a laugh, “and we ended up getting paid for it. DJ Dicky bought it for his album Gold Series. It was good money for a [reggaetón] song at that time - about $400.” Although Karel y Voltio appeared in numerous compilation albums, it took two years for them to land a deal, the result of a social environment that was still resistant to the growing popularity of a musical form reared in the island’s crime-ridden and poverty-stricken barrios.
But the well-known label Pina Records gambled on the promising duo. Or so it seemed. Almost three years later and still waiting for the release of their debut album, Karel y Voltio decided to part ways with the label, hoping for a fresh start at New Records.
In 2003, their masterful album Los Dueños del Estilo (The Owners of Style) was finally released. Although insiders raved about the album’s innovative content, the release wasn’t marketed or promoted appropriately, leading to disappointing sales. “We were stuck in limbo for so long,” Voltio sighs. “And then, to see them not give our record the attention it deserved, it was really difficult. We ended up rupturing our deal with the label and selling them the rights to the album.”
Soon thereafter, Elías de León, the Founder and Owner of White Lion Records, and Tego Calderón, the label’s leading act, approached Voltio, suggesting that he come aboard as a solo artist. “It was fate because, in all honesty, I was seriously thinking about quitting the music business because things just weren’t going well for me,” Voltio says. “I had stepped onto the scene, but my career wasn’t taking off. And then, I met a few people who were so sincere and who truly believed in my talent, and I decided to dive right in and let the future take me wherever it wanted to take me.”
His strong instincts proved reliable. In January, White Lion Records released his solo album, Voltage A/C, which has sold over 200,000 copies to date – a huge feat for any independent record label. The sales were driven by Voltio’s relatable personality and some creative marketing courtesy of White Lion Records.
For Voltio’s song “Julito Maraña,” a cautionary tale about the dismal fate of an unethical, power-hungry man driven by greed and envy, White Lion Records released a DVD of the video which is actually a two-part short movie. Compared to the hugely successful film, “City Of God,” the video for “Julito Maraña,” has been the cornerstone of the foundation for the house that Voltio has built.
Songs like “Julito Maraña,” and “Bumper,” a picaresque ode to the female booty, have thrust Voltio into the limelight. “My way of speaking, my lyrics, my attitude - I represent the street,” Voltio says. “I’m a really simple person. I’m not the type to wear a lot of bling. I have a little something, but I just never wear it.”
Voltio’s approachable nature and artistic versatility have turned him into one of the genre’s frontrunners. “It’s amazing to me that 50,000 copies were sold in Japan,” he says. “I’ve traveled to Spain, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Venezuela, and all these countries. It’s incredible to think I’ve gotten to do all of that having come from nothing.”
And there’s even more success ahead for the street disciple. Having joined forces with White Lion/Sony Norte’/Sony Urban/Epic Records, Voltio is set to release his major label, self-titled, debut, Voltio this October. The new album will include a few fan-favorite songs from his highly successful independent release, Voltage A/C and a slew of new tracks including a dynamic remix to “Bumper” featuring Pitbull and Lil’ Rob. Sexy songs like “El Bonbón” and “Dame de Eso” (Gimme That) promise to spice up dance floors across the nation while the contemplative “Por Un Dedo” (By A Finger) explores the notion of all the catastrophes that could transpire because of one misstep.
“This is a whole new beginning for me,” Voltio says. “Voltio is an entirely new album and this time, I’m coming strong with the choreography and putting my all into making my live shows great.”
The tireless artist also makes a guest appearance in Tego Calderón’s The Underdog and will make his feature film debut in Daddy Yankee’s first film, Talento de Barrio, this November.
“I’m always going to keep working,” Voltio resolves. “Everything is about self-improvement and overcoming obstacles. It’s not about what I want to achieve; it’s about how far I can go. When God tells me, ‘Stop,’ I’ll stop. But I’m going to keep on going until that happens.”
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