Queer kids have long identified with superhero narratives: specifically, stories in which regular people discover a latent power within themselves and fulfill their destinies. For Villano Antillano (“Antillean Villain” in English), the story that most resonated with her was the Powerpuff Girls, three kids engineered to be perfect little girls who are accidentally dosed with an unidentified substance called “Chemical X,” which grants them superpowers. Troubled at first by their power, they soon come to embrace it, able to defeat even the most evil boys with just a kiss on the cheek.
On her debut LP La Sustancia X, she leans into the metaphor, wielding her gender transformation as a weapon and reveling in the powers it grants her. Across 32 minutes of controlled chaos, Villano and her primary co-producer Ismael Cancel weave trap, reggaeton, metal, and pop into an electric synthesis of the sounds of el movimiento. There’s a direct line between her barrio barbie aesthetic and Nicki Minaj, but she also clearly draws from the divine feminine energy of Puerto Rican performers like Iris Chacón and Myrta Silva. From the first to last notes of La Sustancia X, she carries a natural swagger, making femme expression gangster and embodying a fresh model of femininity in the process.
Across 11 tracks, Villano makes the case that she’s a villain worth rooting for. On “Cáscara de coco,” she draws on the power of flaunting femininity in the face of “machos,” leveraging a Boricua expression that correlates human grit to the hard exterior of a coconut shell. Her sexuality is as fluid as her style—she’ll steal your girl or your man—and refuses to feel bad about it, because she knows you want a piece of her, too. The record’s drum programming is immaculate; Villano and Cancel brandish percussion from the Caribbean and the strip club with equal aplomb.
There are also moments of levity; she unapologetically embraces the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll of “Hedonismo,” but later tempers it on “Kaleidoscópica” with the admission that the pills are armor to endure a dystopia hostile to your very existence. And album highlight “Mujer”—featuring a combative verse from the Puerto Rican singer iLe—is both an admonition and a flex, calling out the forces conspiring against women while admitting those threats are no match for their own strength. While Bad Bunny has made Spanish-language rap-rock records all the rage, few could hope to link prog and trap as effortlessly as she does on “Puesta,” featuring Cuban singer La Dame Blanche.
It’s hard to imagine a record like La Sustancia X cracking the mainstream even just 10 years ago, a testament to the Puerto Rican queer community’s hard-fought battles to claim space—and the vocal support of the biggest pop star in the world. Her BZRP Session may have opened the door to the pop world, but now that she’s here, her collaborative choices suggest she’s propping it open and bringing her community with her. “Yo no soy un artista, so un movimiento,” she raps on the album’s first track (“I’m not an artist, I’m a movement”). There’s more at stake here than just one woman’s success.
While La Sustancia X is clearly a forceful character statement, you don’t need to know anything about Villano to move to these bops, or even understand Spanish to recognize her flow is impeccable. But her identity does add an air of authenticity to el movimento’s trademark braggadocio; these are war stories from the front lines, the ultimate flex from a self-actualized superhero.