But his lilting, falsetto-voiced Stand By Me propelled his 2010 debut to triple platinum sales in the U.S. “I owe a lot to that recording,” he says. “It’s amazing to see how this song that’s 50 years old, from a whole other generation, can be in a whole other genre and whole other language and still be a hit.”
Since then, his songs have been his own. While many are about romance and heartbreak, others take a more thoughtful and unexpected turn. They include Dulce, about a single teen mother, and Corazon Sin Cara (Heart Without a Face), which he wrote on the subway as a teen, inspired by the anxieties he saw in the women around him.
“I would see so many women that would be so insecure and self-conscious, always in the mirror, I need to save my check to buy this purse because that’s what’s in … my makeup isn’t good, am I getting fat, oh my God, am I too skinny. And I wanted to write a song that told them that it’s OK.”
It has been one of his biggest hits, striking a chord with girls anxious about their weight and looks. One of them is Leslie Filpo, 21, born in New York to Dominican parents and raised in Miami and Chicago, where she is working at a currency exchange as she studies business at Elgin Community College.
“He’s saying, ‘I don’t care how you look, dark or light, fat or skinny’ — which I like because I’m really skinny,” Filpo says. “And I say, ‘See, Prince Royce accepts me!’ ”
The song is one of many reasons Filpo feels a connection with Royce and pride at his success. “His parents are Dominican, he’s from New York — it’s my story,” she says. “I had a customer the other day who said, ‘Where are you from?’ and I said, ‘Dominican Republic,’ and he said, ‘Oh, like Prince Royce.’ ”
The new album touches on another problem Royce saw in the Bronx — Invisible, about growing up without a father. When he sings it mid-interview, his soft, a cappella rendition brings out the poignant details in the Spanish lyrics: “I missed your hand when I was sick, Mamí was working and couldn’t come, so I was alone in my room thinking of you. I dreamed so many times that one day you would pick me up from school, but it never happened.”
“It’s really sad,” Royce says. “I have so many friends, so many close family members who told me, ‘I wish my dad would have been there during my graduation, during this important birthday party, during this crucial moment in my life when I really needed somebody to talk to.’ It was something I’ve always wanted to write about. It’s to show love to those people and let them know they’re not alone, that so many people have experienced this.
“But it’s also a song of hope … that it’s never too late to go back and apologize, to go back into that person’s life.”
The new record also has plenty of more conventional pop fare, like the sensual, reggae-tinged first single, Darte Un Beso (Give You a Kiss) and two songs in English, the booming dance-pop Already Missing You, with Selena Gomez, and the ballad You Are Fire.
Royce, who produced the album in New York and Miami, talks proudly about including saxophone, harmonica and harp, instruments not usually found in bachata, and doo-wop, funk and disco sounds.
“It’s very funky, going back to James Brown and Earth Wind and Fire with bachata,” he says. “I definitely got creative while still keeping it commercial and down to the roots I really love.”
El Mismo leaves Royce poised for a new phase in his career. Last fall he broke with Top Stop; a lawsuit was resolved this spring, and Royce signed with Sony. RCA will release his first English album next year. This week he was nominated for an American Music Award for Favorite Latin Artist along with Anthony and bestselling former Aventura frontman Romeo Santos.
Several months ago he moved to the Coconut Grove area, lured by the way Miami combines the tropical ease of the Dominican Republic and the urban intensity of New York. And he plans to keep following that combination of cultures into his future.
“My music has attracted a lot of kids like me, born and raised in the United States, who still enjoy their Latin roots,” he says. “I was just going with the flow and I’m still kinda going with the flow. I still haven’t really taken it all in, and I don’t want to. I know I’m blessed and I’m so grateful.”