With ‘Divino Desmadre,’ Jean Dawson is singing in his love language

Jean Dawson
(Photo Illustration by Diana Ramirez/De Los; Photos by Nico Hernandez)

Periodically, the Latinx Files will feature a guest writer. This week, we’ve asked De Los spring reporting intern Cerys Davies to fill in.

To Jean Dawson, making music in Spanish is a labor of love.

It’s the kind of love he feels when his grandmother makes him soup or gives him an extra blanket to sleep with at night so he doesn’t get cold. Singing in Spanish, Dawson says, is not only the most natural way to express this feeling — it’s also the only way some of his family members can truly understand his music.

Born to a Black father and a Mexican mother, and raised in Tijuana and Spring Valley, Calif., the 28-year-old has spent his life traversing borders and cultures. In 2019, Dawson released “Bad Sports,” introducing listeners to his universe of experimental reverb, distorted vocals and unconventional ambient sounds. The self-released record caught the attention of his now-mentor and esteemed producer Rick Rubin, who signed him to his publishing company, American Songs.


Three albums and several tours later, Dawson has worked and put out singles with artists such as Mac DeMarco, SZA, Earl Sweatshirt and A$AP Rocky. In each of these features, Dawson has pushed his collaborators to expand their sound, whether it be putting SZA on an acoustic track or having A$AP Rocky rap over an electric indie beat. His latest release, “Swamp,” is a meditative and slowed down cover of the blues guitar-heavy Talking Heads song, and is featured in “Everyone’s Getting Involved,” a tribute album to the band released last week via A24 Records.

His Mexican heritage, Dawson says, is something he has always held close, though it’s rarely been featured in his music. He’s had Spanish lyrics on tracks like “Mala Mariposa” and “Policia”— a song about his experiences with the police found on his sophomore album, “Pixel Bath”— but the bulk of his creative output has been recorded in English.

In March, Dawson released “Divino Desmadre,” a song recorded entirely in Spanish, as part of his EP, “BooHoo.”

“Spanish isn’t a pony show. It’s not, ‘Hey, come look at me do this trick.’ No, it’s just my existence,” said Dawson.

“Now I’m to a point where I k-now exactly how I want [my Spanish-language music] to sound. The only thing that was stopping me from doing it is that I don’t want to do something for the sake of doing it,” he said. “Maybe I got helped out by the popularity of Latin music, but I think it’s way bigger than that.”


According to a recent report by Luminate Data, Latin music was the second-fastest-growing genre in the U.S. in 2023, making it the fifth-most popular genre in the nation, just behind behind country music.

“Divino Desmadres” kicks off with a steady beat and distorted vocals. It’s a tale of forbidden love. It’s “Romeo and Juliet if they were from [his] barrio,” says Dawson, who sees not only his parent’s relationship, but also his current relationship, in the song. As the chorus picks up, a corrido-style guitar adds to the experimental sonic landscape of electric guitar riffs and synthetic echos.

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With “Divino Desmadre,” Dawson says he can be a more complete version of himself with his audience. As a Black Mexican American, he feels like his Latindad is often overlooked.

“There should be less fear to express yourself in that tongue [a native language]. If you feel like it’s coming from a genuine place or if you feel like you’re just going to do it for money, it’s going to read that way. And that’s okay, if that’s what you’re doing it for, there’s no judgment,” Dawson said. “Why not open yourself up to most of the world? If I could speak 17 languages, I would do music in all 17.”

Dawson credits his ability to be creative and pursue his dreams to his family’s legacy of hard work. Now he has made a song that he can “sing to them in a way that’s going to touch their hearts.”


“My need to do music in Spanish mostly came from the fact that I want my grandmother to hear my records, and be like, ‘Wow, I know exactly what you’re saying.’ She’s a little older in age and if I don’t figure it out, there might be a sad reality where my grandparents never get to understand my music,” Dawson said.

Latinx Files
(Jackie Rivera / For The Times; Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times)

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