Trap music dominates in rap right now, regardless of language, and each month Cultura explores the Latin side of hip-hop’s hottest sound.
Historically and still to this day, hip-hop has embraced the incarcerated rapper as a model of street credibility and earned respect. Many artists in the genre at large either launched or rebooted their music careers to great success following stints and sentences of varying lengths. With innocence and guilt a matter for the courts, acts like Gucci Mane, Meek Mill, and Remy Ma saw their names and renown grow infamous from charges, their bars languishing while behind bars. For rappers at any stage in their musical journey, prison remains a cruel way to make it big, especially for those unfortunate enough to spend their prime years being punished, with parole a distant prospect.
While Bad Bunny flourished on the outside, garnering social media engagement and Billboard charting singles, his success was dogged by the rep of someone on the inside. Look at any online discussion about La Nueva Religion’s Balenciaga-adorned hood pope and inevitably another name would pop up. Anuel AA, they’d say, was the rightful king of Latin trap. From that contrary vantage point, were it not for his April 2016 arrest and subsequent 30 month imprisonment on federal gun charges, the bearded Puerto Rican rapper would assuredly be the one making hits with Cardi B and headlining sports arenas. As with most contemporary rap artists serving time, he a boasted a customary hashtag campaign, #FreeAnuel full stop.
This month, Anuel’s confinement came to a close, liberating not just the man but the legend built in his absence. That said, he wasn’t exactly AWOL from the Latin music scene during that time, with numerous songs dropping with some regularity featuring his voice. Urban star Ozuna had him as a guest on “Bebé” off his hugely successful 2017 album Odisea, which spent 32 consecutive weeks comfortably atop Billboard’s Top Latin Albums. Released in December of 2016, remix of his own “Sola” found noteworthy guests such as Daddy Yankee and Wisin paying tribute to their detained cohort. Other singles sporting Anuel verses in the interim included Arcángel’s “Rojo,” Farruko’s “Liberace,” and Ñengo Flow’s “47.” A handful of these tracks even earned RIAA Latin certifications, no doubt fueled by his swelling notoriety.
Mere hours before his release, Anuel dropped his highly anticipated album Real Hasta La Muerte across the digital download and streaming platforms. With features from a handful of those who had supported him musically during darker days, the record mixed gleaming trap bangers like “Na’ Nuevo” and “Yeezy” with reggaeton crowd pleasers “Hipócrita” and “Pensando En Ti.” As welcome as the surprise full-length was, its very arrival seemed an impossibility, especially since prison isn’t exactly conducive to recording. As indicated in an interview in Miami with Billboard’s Leila Cobo, he took a route known to countless locked up rappers by recording some of his vocals over the phone. Subsequently, Anuel took full advantage of the relative freedom afforded during a brief stretch at a Miami halfway house back in May to complete the album.
The response was categorically and measurably positive. Even with a truncated first week, having emerged on a Tuesday, Real Hasta La Muerte debuted at No. 51 on the Billboard 200 and claimed No. 1 on Top Latin Albums, taking the latter chart’s stalwart Odisea down a notch. A clear frontrunner for a proper single release, having garnered the most YouTube plays of any of his album tracks, the celebratory Ozuna-infused cut “Brindemos” came in at No. 48 on Hot Latin Songs, leaving it plenty of room for growth—especially should a proper music video emerge.
These early gains for Real Hasta La Muerte and “Brindemos” bode well for the likelihood of Anuel fulfilling his promise, one amplified during his detention. He returns as a free man to a post-”Despacito” reality, a hip-hop and urban pop marketplace more broadly accepting of and excited by Spanish-speaking artists. Bad Bunny and J Balvin have tasted the heights of crossover success on the Cardi B smash “I Like It,” a clear contender for Song of the Summer. Essentially a posse cut featuring a half dozen vocalists and not a word of English, “Te Boté” continues to exceed expectations and shatter illusions of Latin music’s mainstream potential. (Not surprisingly, Anuel intends to jump on a new remix of the Hot 100 hit.) Even if none of Real Hasta La Muerte‘s songs make it onto the Hot 100, Anuel’s boosted potential means it’s only a matter of time before he gets there, provided he can avoid the probationary pitfalls of recidivism.
Los Favoritos Del Mes:
Arcángel featuring Bad Bunny – Original
Austin Santos and Benito Martínez Ocasio have collaborated so many times, often producing iconic results–and this impeccable DJ Luían & Mambo Kingz production from Santos’ exceptional new album Ares demonstrates their formidable chemistry.
Becky G. featuring French Montana and Farruko – Zooted
Straddling the English- and Spanish-language divide in order to negate it, the multi-talented Mexican-American singer drops an enticing and poppy bilingual trio cut co-produced by the guy behind “I Like It.”
Messiah featuring Bryant Myers and Miky Woodz – No Te Detengas
A stateside Latin trap pioneer, El Artista dropped a solid mixtape this month entitled B.E.N.I.T.O., and this slick highlight partners the Harlemite with two of Puerto Rico’s finest contemporary rappers.
Mr. Pérez – El Cartero
By special delivery from a fresh face in the Carbon Fiber camp, this engaging Spanish-language entry into the coke rap tradition flexes with a creeping sense of dread.
Neutro Shorty featuring Jon Z. – Cooking Up
Occasionally dipping into English, the Venezuelan spitter comes through with two solid verses of trapaholic braggadocio, his esteemed Puerto Rican guest killing it on the final third.