In many ways, Geoffrey Royce Rojas is like millions of other young Latino Americans. He was raised by Dominican parents who came to New York looking for the American dream and struggled to keep their four children out of trouble in a South Bronx neighborhood rife with gangs and drugs.
Rojas, 24, grew up listening to techno and hip-hop, the Beatles and Jay-Z — and to the sweet, bouncy lilt of Dominican bachata at home and on summer visits to the Dominican Republic. He is matter-of-fact about balancing between two cultures.
“I can’t tell you if I’m Latino or if I’m American,” he says. “I’m both. I speak Spanish just as much as I speak English and I write English just as much as I write Spanish.”
He sings in both, too. Rojas, known to millions as Prince Royce, is the hottest new act in Latin music. He’s a teen girl’s dream of a baby-brown-eyed heartthrob whose sweet and soulful renditions of pop- and R&B-flavored bachata have proved irresistible to young Latinos who share his bicultural identity. In 2010, Royce’s Spanglish, bachata-beat cover of the Ben E. King standard Stand By Me became a surprise hit, turning the singer-songwriter into the first major new star in years in the calcified U.S. Latin pop scene.
“It was exciting, overwhelming, scary, emotional — a little bit of everything,” says Royce, who now calls Miami home.
He’s lounging on a couch in a recording studio at the luxe Setai Miami Beach, assistants scurrying to fetch coffee and schedule promotion for his just-released third album, Soy El Mismo (I’m The Same). On full display are the pouting lips, honey-toned skin and perfectly placed dimples that drive his female followers to tackle concert security guards and tear apart stores where he appears. Not that his looks did the then-shy Royce much good back in high school.
“There were a lot of girls I wouldn’t be able to date and a lot of girls who didn’t like me,” he says, smiling. “I would be like ‘Man, maybe if I was older, maybe if I changed my hair or my clothes.’ ”
Or maybe if he was a pop star.
“It’s weird, but at the same time it feels good,” he says. “When I see the girls screaming and yelling I know it’s because I’ve done something with my music.”
Which includes a string of hit singles, multiple sales and songwriting awards, tours with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias, millions of YouTube views, eight million Facebook and two million Twitter followers who can send Royce trending in an online heartbeat.
His success stems from shrewd instincts, determined hard work, a talent for writing and a strict but supportive family. His father, a taxi driver who started work before dawn, and his mother, a part-time beautician, walked their kids to and from school and kept them home at night, trying to shield them from the 3 a.m. shootouts and gang battles that often erupted in their public-housing project.
“My parents were very strict with me and we brought our children up the same way,” says Royce’s father, Ramon Rojas. “People say it’s impossible to bring up kids like this in the Bronx and not have them come out delinquent. It’s not easy. My son is still the same person he always was. I’m very proud of him. From the beginning he had these aspirations and he always said, ‘I’ll get there, I’ll get there.’ ”