NEW YORK (AP) — Anuel AA says he finally felt free to express himself uncensored on his new album since he’d recently finished probation in an illegal weapons possession case for which he also spent 10 months in jail.
“At last I felt the freedom to be able to express whatever I wanted in a song,” the Puerto Rican trap and reggaeton musician said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Released on his 29th birthday on Nov. 26, “Las Leyendas Nunca Mueren” (Legends Never Die) this week topped Billboard’s “Top Latin Albums” and “Latin Rhythm Albums” charts and 10 of its 15 songs appeared on the “Hot Latin Songs” one. The first single, “Dictadura,” has been a hit in countries including the United States, Colombia, Spain, Argentina and Mexico, and its music video has more than 54 million views on YouTube.
It is Anuel AA’s third solo studio album, after “Real Hasta la Muerte” (2018) and “Emmanuel” (2020), and it pays tribute to idols who inspired him throughout his life, especially basketball stars like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. (The singer also released the album “Los Dioses” with Ozuna earlier this year)
The art for this project — including five album covers and several videos — was done with basketball as the concept. Anuel AA is also co-owner of the Capitanes de Arecibo, a team that last month became champion of Puerto Rico’s professional league, the Baloncesto Superior Nacional.
From his home in Miami, where he’s lived since he was released from jail three years ago, the artist spoke on a video call about his music, his creative process and his desire to inspire. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
AP: The album opens with “Real Hasta la Muerte,” an almost 10-minute-long intro with tough lyrics about violence in the barrio.
ANUEL AA: You know that I was known for my trap music, which was wilder, with a lot of adrenaline, more from the street, talking about my past experiences. I wanted to make that kind of music for a long time, but since I was on probation I didn’t feel free, I had to watch my lyrics because even if it’s music, it could be misinterpreted. Now I finally felt the freedom to be able to express whatever I wanted in a song. My biggest fans are from the streets and I wanted them to feel on another level from the beginning of the album, bring them into my world. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
AP: Can you tell us a bit what was it like for you to be on probation?
ANUEL AA: It’s like being half free and half in their hands, the feds, because they have you under surveillance. Those three years I was reporting to them, taking drug tests, which of course I was always clean and well, I never had problems. But it is something that even — I could not leave my country unless I showed the wire transfers that were sent for payments, all my contracts; every month I had to send all the information from my bank account. Psychologically, you don’t feel free; it becomes stressful. Although you are not doing anything, you can be relaxed at and get nervous when the phone rings. Thank God that chapter in my life is over, and well, I learned a lot from that process. It made me stronger and bigger.
AP: Did it inspire you to write these songs?
ANUEL AA: It inspired me a lot. I feel that it was an important part of the process, I mean, to be able to mature as I have matured up to now and to value my work and so many blessings.
AP: In the song “1942,” you sing “money and power demonized me.” Do you feel that way sometimes?
ANUEL AA: You hear that song and it’s like a confession, like when you have that moment of intimacy with your partner. The song is about a person who is mentally ill, is drinking. It’s called “1942” like the (Don Julio) tequila, like I’m talking to her while we’re drinking together and that’s why I say things that are very common but also very strange, crazy things. In real life, if I think about my whole life, about everything I have lived through, it has happened to me. That’s why it sounds so natural. And there is so much feeling, but at the same time there is also madness because the day I recorded it I was drinking. I said: “If I’m going to do a song that deals with 1942 Tequila, then I’m going to drink to feel the same vibe of the song.” (Laughs)
AP: I see you are wearing a Michael Jordan T-shirt and all the album art revolves around basketball. How did the idea for this concept come about?
ANUEL AA: Before I became a singer, my first dream was to be a basketball player. I focused on Kobe and Jordan because they are two of the legends that have inspired me the most, because they are legends who fell 10 times, but got up a million times. My passion for basketball kind of mixed with my music career. I feel that this is the first step on a very long road to be a legend. I want others to be inspired by me as I was inspired by them.
Follow Sigal Ratner-Arias on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sigalratner.