At the helm of trap en español is Dominican-American rapper Fuego, whose melodic, tenebrous grandeur flourishes the entire genre. Born Miguel Duran in Washington, D.C., Fuego turned heads on and offline in 2015 with his immaculate, Spanish-language reimaginings of hip-hop hits from superstars like Future and Drake. When Fuego deployed his Fireboy Forever II project in January 2016, the Miami-based rapper set the stage for an industry on the cusp of transformation. At the time, only a handful of artists had delivered full-length trap en español projects.
Fuego’s singular blend of gritty raps and auto-tuned, loverboy melodies caught the eye of Colombian reggaeton heavyweight J Balvin, who invited Duran on a remix of his breezy, summertime party anthem “35 Pa Las 12” in April, catapulting the Dominican rapper into a new universe of the urbano industry.
Since then, Duran has signed with Pitbull’s label Mr. 305, toured in Spain, and quietly toiled away at the next installment of his Fireboy Forever series, teasing collaborations with R&B singer Jesse Baez, Major Lazer, and more on the way. We spoke to Fuego about his influence on the burgeoning movement and his next chapter. As a godfather of trap en español and someone who has always had a taste for the underground, Fuego remains committed to safeguarding the artistry of the movement at any cost—all before it mushrooms into stale pop territory.
IH: Something that sets you apart from a lot of other trap artists is that you grew up here in the U.S., surrounded by hip-hop. Every interview that I’ve read with you, you talk about growing up and listening to Tupac, Biggie, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, but also Juan Luis Guerra and Frankie Ruiz. Do you feel like your upbringing has been an advantage for you?
FUEGO: When 50 Cent came out, it was all melodic raps. That’s why I like Bone Thugs so much; I was so obsessed with them. I learned how to flow with those guys. I used to print their lyrics out at the library and used to go to school. (Laughs.) I used to change my voice to them. That taught me how to rap, too, how to flow. Besides having musical influence from them, that taught me how to sing-rap.
In a way it’s an advantage because this is what I listened to. My lifestyle has been hip-hop since I was young. I wasn’t bringing out the Playeros. I feel like it’s an advantage because I’m in a whole different box; I’m not even in the Latin industry. They’re not gonna play it on the radio. It’s not the same thing that other people are doing. Now I’m doing a lot more English stuff, too, because I feel like maybe the stuff that I do will get appreciated more in the English industry. Not saying that the Latin industry is not, I just feel like my stuff is a lot more American.
IH: Does it feel more American to you in terms of the beats or the lyrics? Or both?
FUEGO: I can’t sit in the studio and think about making a record for something, like for radio. I just express myself in the moment. If I feel like I want to get into some danceable vibes, then I will. Right now I have a few dancehall vibes, an “Unforgettable” type thing that’s going on… I’m always trying to figure out what’s ahead and what’s next and bring the next wave. Because if everybody’s already doing this… I’m not gonna criticize. All these Latin trap artists are doing good, the reggaetoneros are doing great. But a lot of people use the same lyrics over and over that fulano used over here. Everybody is using the same lyrics and curse words on every record. Nobody is expressing themselves.
IH: For some people, that sound might feel forced, or like it’s trying to imitate a certain vibe. To me, your work is more organic.
FUEGO: I’m going to stick to what I do. I believe in what I’m doing. I’m not going to have that mainstream thing going on right now. I’m going to continue what I’m feeling and people will grasp it sooner or later.
IH: You started working with the producer DVLP a couple of years ago. What do you like about him? How has he helped develop your sound?
FUEGO: I met him working with DJ Chino in the studio one day. He played me something that he did for Lil’ Wayne that was like boom. It was a hit. I wasn’t like “Alright, I’m gonna come out with this hip-hop stuff; this is what I like to do and what I want to do.” I was just crossing over to that. When I heard what DVLP had, I was like, “Yo he produced all of this for Wayne? And ‘Fireman’?” I had to link up with him. I kept in communication with him and over time we became good friends. We’re great friends and we have a lot of love for each other.
He is definitely an influence. His whole sound, his whole perspective – he’s really strict on certain things. He has great quality control; he knows what’s good and what’s not. I’m that type of person too, but sometimes I can be a bit gullible or too humble and nice. I learned a lot from him – that you have to be a little bit more exclusive. I’m working on Fireboy Forever III, really working on focusing on that. I’m working on other stuff I have to handle right now for Fireboy Inc. for it to come out, for me to bring out Fireboy Forever III the right way, a bigger way than Fireboy Forever II. My next move bigger than the last move, like Drizzy says. (Laughs.)
Fireboy Forever II dropped last January. That was right before [De La Ghetto, Arcángel, Ozuna and Anuel AA’s] “La Ocasión” blew up…
No one had a trap album.
IH: No one. No one had anything like that out. It was the early start of that movement. I was curious to hear how you think the trap movement has evolved since then.
FUEGO: I feel like it’s slowly changing a little bit. A lotta cats had the same sounding beats. I believe there’s a little more variety in production in the game right now. Fireboy Forever II probably teed the game up… There’s a lot of artists out there that are dope now: Anuel AA, Bad Bunny, Ozuna, all those guys. It’s about trying to innovate and not trying to stay in the same sound.
IH: Do you feel like Fireboy Forever II set the scene for the movement?
FUEGO: It’s a whole different thing. To anyone that listens to it, it’s a classic album. A lot of people choose to ignore it and I understand why, but I’m focusing on making something else, and some people don’t like that. A lot of people did take it like that, like “Yeah, this set the wave, it’s different, it’s the best shit out.” Not to sound cocky, but people say that.
A lot of artists and people in the industry choose to ignore it. A lot of big artists and people in the industry love it and respect it. Just because of this project, for example, J Balvin came through and hit me up off of the project and the sound. This is what I look for when I’m working on music. I wanna work with these guys, I wanna get on that wave, I wanna work with Diplo.
Right now I’m trying to bring it out on a big scale, do things differently than what I did for Fireboy Forever II. That’s going to help it be more acknowledged. But you know, last year was a whole different thing. A whole different situation. I wasn’t able to work Fireboy Forever II the way that I wanted to. Two, three months on tour with Pitbull was good, but I could’ve had a little more time with Fireboy Forever II.
IH: Do you think there will be more opportunities for Latino artists to go mainstream after “Despacito”? Especially artists like you, who can do things in English and Spanish? You’re versatile.
FUEGO: “Despacito” opened a lot of doors for artists to become mainstream. I’m working on stuff to compete with these type of songs. Honestly, this is a business as well. So I also have music that I make that’s more commercial, but it’s still stuff that I feel special about. I try to keep it genuine and make you feel like you’re in the song in that moment. “Despacito” is a big influence on a lot of people. A lot of people in the industry were happy when they saw the success of that song.
Spiff TV is definitely trying to cross over and make everything bigger when it comes to the hip-hop side of things. He invited me to be a part of his album The Union. Reggaeton artists, they’re good in the business. They make music straight for the radio. But I don’t know, I just make music. I have a cinematic vision for everything.
By Isabelia Herrera
This was originally published in
Tunica Issue 6 F/W 2017