Incredibly smooth on wheels, Esty’s almost always grinning in her viral TikTok and Instagram clips. She dons striking graphic makeup looks. Her fits are comfy but markedly stylish. And her mix of Latinx rhythms with trap and R&B make for bop-along melodies, ranging from silky, high-octave singing to pointedly portentous rapping.
Followers of roller skating — the social media quarantine surge, specifically — already know Esty. Reaching almost 160K social followers, the first-generation Dominican-American stands out not only because she also makes music, but because there’s something, screens be damned, especially joyful about her.
“The people around me are like, why are you so happy?” Esty tells PAPER, laughing. “Or even through skate videos. People see that, and it’s infectious. I love being able to spread that.”
But this is all recent: only in the past year or so has Esty begun to pinpoint her creative niche. Her new EP, Transform, marks a critical point in her journey.
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Around seven years ago, Esty was distinctly unhappy. At the time, she faced the prospect of mega-fame — and chose to walk away from it. “It was my first foot into the music industry and it scared me a little bit, you know?” the artist tells PAPER. “Sometimes people get fear of success, where you kind of see yourself being so close and you’re like, ‘I don’t know, wait a minute. Is this something that I really want?'”
Looking back to the era of her 2014 debut EP, Darkroom, Esty says, “I see my old self, and I’m like, she was so sad.” She’d been squeezed into a style not her own — and a person is not a franchise. “People want you to be one thing and you’re like, well, that’s not what I am,” she says.
Persona-shaping pressures like what Esty experienced are not uncommon; they lurk in every corner of the entertainment industry. And while, when it comes to any creative output, some mentoring can be helpful, there is undeniably a power dynamic at play when a newcomer is taken in by someone well-established. Why wouldn’t someone acquiesce to the guidance of those who’ve already made it? They know what’s best, right? Not necessarily. Getting stuck in someone else’s vision sinks artists all the time.
Everything moved quickly for Esty after attending a Hollywood music school briefly in her late teens; she’d relocated to Los Angeles at 16 from the east coast. She soon fell into a personal assistant gig for an artist signed to Atlantic Records then, at an industry party, she met Tyga’s producer, who invited her to record what ultimately became Darkroom.
A hip-hop website went as far as to describe Esty as Tyga’s protege. While that wasn’t exactly accurate, the two did collaborate, and became, to a degree, friends — which by proxy included hangs with Kylie Jenner.
But Esty feared what living under intense public scrutiny might be like. Moreover, Etsy felt she was at “her most inauthentic” ever. She could feel the situation chipping away at her soul.
She considered leaving LA for the more familiar and familial — her mother and five sisters are in Rhode Island, and the family lived in New York before that. Her father currently lives in the Dominican Republic, where both he and Esty’s mother are from.
POV? ✨ ##fyp ##holidayvibes ##introvideo ##rollerskating ##viral @arianagrande
♬ pov – Ariana Grande
Rather than retreat elsewhere, though, Esty stayed. She did stop making music for a period, though. “I went into hiding,” she says, “to do the self-work.”
Cathartic is the EP released between her first and most recent. It’s mostly love songs, written as her relationship progressed with her now-husband. Esty went back to her first instrument, the guitar, and leaned into an indie soul vibe. She cared little if anyone else heard or liked the music she’d made; she’d written it for herself.
For the first time, writing brought her joy — unlike under the pressure of her first EP. “During that whole Darkroom EP, I didn’t have fun writing at all. I didn’t even know what that was like,” she says, adding that she long tried to bury that time in the back of her mind. (Tyga wasn’t the problem, Esty notes. She describes him as a nice guy.)
But the journey wasn’t over; it never is. Meditating and grounding herself helped: “Just spending more time in my mind,” she says. Skating has been a source of healing, she adds. “All that has made me want to be the most authentic person I can be, because I realized that’s when I’m at my happiest — when I feel free.”
In November of 2019, remembers asking herself: “Who am I? What’s my message? What’s my purpose in life?” Heavy into Sailor Moon, the eponymous character became a starting point from which to write and, in a way, for Esty to see herself. On “Por Ahi,” she calls herself the “Sailor Moon Dominicana.”
When celebrity came calling once again, Esty was ready.
Released late last year, her first Spanish-language single, “Mantequilla,” a percolating pop cut perfect for gliding, and which multiple times references the sport both directly and indirectly, became a catalyst for the career surge.
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Having picked up roller skating nearly three years ago, Esty was enjoying the early days of the ongoing spike in skating content on socials — a phenomenon of the pandemic but, to be clear, is not a revival of the sport itself. (Black skaters have kept the culture thriving in the decades since the Civil Rights era, during which they fought for space and rights at segregated rinks, and continue to own everyone in terms of talent to this day. The end.)
Between creating her own clips, albeit casually, Esty reached out to other skaters, one of them being Ana Coto, who’s often credited with sparking the socials trend and boasts more than 2 million followers. And so she was shocked when Cotto took her up on the suggestion to soundtrack a clip with “Mantequilla.” In rapid succession, waves of fellow skaters echoed the move, sharing their own clips, and engagement on Esty’s own posts soared, too.
At the request of users asking for more content, Esty, surprised and flattered, began creating more clips, primarily with manager (and also one-person production team) Yvonne Rodriguez filming. Her next single, “Por Ahi,” released in April, kept momentum going; the mesmeric track even had its own dance challenge (on skates, obviously).
Esty continued to put her self-work in praxis through music from there. “That’s kind of the beauty of Transform,” she says. “I’m growing into myself and I’m realizing there’s more important things in the world — other than me.”
Over a techy-trap twist on a dembow rhythm, she sings against racial profiling on “Déjenme.” Esty wrote the lyrics after watching an older white woman single out a Black teen for parking at an old nursing home in Venice, in front of the beach where, of course, plenty of other people had also parked, but were not also being harassed.
“He was maybe, like, 18,” Esty says. “You can clearly park out there. Stuff like that just pisses me off. You could tell it was rooted in something else. She came out and was like, ‘You can’t park here. You need to move your car or I’m going to call the police.'”
Like many others, Esty’s gotten more involved in social justice this year, and the things that “make her blood boil” seep into her songwriting now. She’s glad for this; it feels natural. “You want to do something about it and you want to stand up for people and you want to stand up for your family, for the right to be alive and to be in this country. You want fairness and you want justice,” she says. “And that’s kind of, that’s just what that whole EP was about.”
Only just more than five minutes long in total, Transform is an intentional collection that, with “Dejenme” bookended by its eponymous intro, a send-off to bad energies and a prayer for protection, and “Otra Vez,” where Esty is more confrontational, the vibe ominious — like she’s marched right up to this Karen, who verbally pelted that Black boy with prejudice, and tells her to fuck right off.
Another single is on the way very soon, Esty tells PAPER. She describes the new producer she worked with as her musical soulmate.
What matters most, though, is that Esty is steadfast in the life-long pursuit of finding herself, of shaping who she is: “It’s not a character anymore. It’s who I am,” she explains.
We know whatever comes, whether more of the joy she exudes now, another mood altogether, or some combination, will be true and real. We know it will be the Esty in control we’ve come to know this year. It’ll be Esty as she wants us to see and understand her.
“I’m going to keep skating, I’m going to keep writing,” she says. “And I’m going to keep trying to be 100 percent myself and who I was born to be.”
Photography: Blair Cadwell