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Puerto Rican rapper Anuel AA recorded his first album, “Real Hasta La Muerte,” while he was in prison for 30 months on federal gun charges. He’s since become an international trap star, known for a signature line in every song: “BRRR,” simulating an automatic firearm.
“My music is my soul speaking, literally. It’s spiritual. It has a lot of feelings, a lot of pain. It’s my experiences growing up en la calle [in the streets],” he told VICE News.
Before his time in prison, Anuel was a local trap artist in Puerto Rico and had been recording his own music since he was just 14 years old. But that first album, which dropped in July 2018, was what made him a multi-platinum artist — and a global hitmaker with viral songs like “ Ella Quiere Beber” and “ Sola.” He used the rest of his time behind bars to continue releasing previously recorded songs and build a massive online following that patiently awaited his return to the music scene.
As one of Latin trap’s pioneers and a key part of taking the urbano genre mainstream, Anuel dropped his latest track, “China,” on July 19. It debuted at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart and remained in the top two spots for four weeks in a row.
Anuel admitted he’s competitive in the industry — but says it’s a friendly fight with two other top artists that he calls his brothers: Ozuna and reggaetón pioneer Daddy Yankee, who are both featured on “China,” which has 363.9M views on YouTube.
It’s not just Anuel’s music that evolved while he was in prison, but his style, too. He walked into the VICE News studio decked in jewelry: diamond-encrusted eyeglasses and a one-of-a-kind Anuel chain. He was also sporting a G-27 custom-made hat.
“I’ve never had a stylist. My style is very distinctive from where I am from in Puerto Rico: a housing project in Carolina,” he said. “I’d describe my style as street, but with money now, humbly.”
Anuel might be currently obsessed with Valentino and Off-Whites, but he’ll always have a sweet spot for Jordans. (He wore a pair of retro Air Jordan XIIIs into the studio.) He confessed to having several closets full of sneakers, but the one pair he always comes back to are the Jordan Retro IIIs.
“If I wanted to be like someone when I was growing up, it was Tupac. He was always emprendao’ [iced-out],” Anuel continued. “I also like using a ton of Cuban link chains like Meek Mill does.”
Inspired by Lil Wayne, Anuel doesn’t write his songs prior to recording; he just freestyles in the studio after listening to the music. While growing up, his dad worked with salsa legends like Héctor Lavoe and Fania All-Stars. Although he’s not a big salsa fan, the genre sparked an interest in a career in the music industry.
But Anuel doesn’t always listen to his own genre. He mixes it up with bachata from Zacarías Ferreira, dembow from El Alfa and even Ed Sheeran. “Perfect” is one of his favorite songs.
“It’s not that I’m the most romantic, but I get tired of listening to the same thing,” Anuel said. “Sometimes I want to listen to sad music, sometimes something fun and sometimes you’re in romantic mode.”
In VICE News series “Currently Obsessed,” tastemakers from the music, film, TV, and art industries tell us what they’re consuming — or what’s consuming them — right now, and why. Watch more episodes of Currently Obsessed with Danileigh, Foals’ Yannis, Davido, and Chromeo’s Dave 1.
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