It’s been less than two years since Fuego dropped Fireboy Forever II. The 15-track project saw the Dominican rapper take a final step away from his merengue urbano past and fully embrace his hip-hop roots. A successful artist doing numbers with a string of radio-friendly hits, Fuego took a risk musically and dove headfirst into the trap scene that had enraptured the English-speaking world for years.

When he released FFII in early 2016, only a handful of traperos had dropped full-length albums. In the time since, the foundation the D.C.-bred artist built brick-by-brick alongside a handful of others has become a well of inspiration for a crop of new artists from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S.. From Bryant Myers’ baritone bops to Bad Bunny’s husky trap anthems, a new wave of young rappers has flourished on YouTube, and they’ve begun to cash big checks.

Fuego. Photo by Yoanna Zarkin. Courtesy of the artist

Over the phone, Fuego describes the accelerated growth of the genre he helped usher into the mainstream Spanish-speaking world.“To me it’s even more dope now, because a lot of artists [making trap en español] started to sound the same, and that’s changing it up with different tempo beats and switching up their flows,” he explains. After a pause to reflect, he continues, “I’m always going to stand out because I’m great at creating the sounds and making something different – something way left of everything else out there.”

He describes the industry politics that linger behind the scenes of Latin America’s biggest records. Tasked with label commitments and a heavy touring schedule, the rollout for Fireboy Forever II left him unsatisfied, even as trap proliferated online. What Fuego does best, however, is also what keeps him thriving in an increasingly saturated market. By reworking the genre with an infusion of Dominican slang, he offers a level of authenticity that feels closer to the genre’s roots, rather than softening the sound for pop radio.

Now, as he gears up for the next chapter of his career – namely the release of his upcoming album – Miguel Duran is doubling down on his strengths, taking ownership of his creative output, and betting on himself. He says with a laugh, “I don’t wake up in the morning and listen to salsa, you know? I listen to Future, Drake, Super Slimey, and I grew up on Project Pat, Three 6 Mafia, and Scarface.”

That influence shines through on “40,” Fuego’s latest offering, the video for which is premiering today on Remezcla. A lifetime spent listening to Southern rap becomes especially apparent here, as he glides over the production with a chilly edge that’s hard to find in the trap coming from other parts of the world.

Shot in D.C., the accompanying video sees Fuego on his home turf surrounded by biker daredevils, icey foreign whips, and the kind of exclusive kicks that would make a sneakerhead salivate. The clip finds Fuego back home in the DMV, flexing how far he’s come and asserting his unique credentials as a torchbearer of the trap en español movement. “With this video and a lot of the music on this project, I’m showing a little bit more of the life I lived before,” he explains.

It’s a shift from the Miami glamour that runs through some of his earlier work. In his words, “The street shit was more of a survival thing, and I never talked about it, but I really grew up around cocaine and the guns, you know? I did my dirt but I was good at making decisions…I want to motivate the youngins to get out of the hood, out of the projects, because we were there too.”

It’s that preternatural sense for the darker edges of society that may have been lost in the mix as he toiled away crafting feel-good, radio-ready hits under the watchful eye of record executives. Those crowd pleasers notched millions of views on YouTube, but left Fuego feeling stifled by the whims of both the money-hungry higher-ups and the masses looking for a “tropical” fix.

Now, as Fuego and his team prepare for what comes next, there’s a palpable sigh of relief as they lift the weight of mainstream success off of their shoulders with every hard-hitting 808 kick.

DVLP, Alvaro Diaz, and Fuego recording in the Remezcla Studios in Las Vegas, NV. Photos by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla

Armed with more time and energy to push his own vision for the trap movement in both English and Spanish, it seems Fuego is ready to shake up the scene once again. “Those other artists are doing it in a Latin way and winning, no one should take away from that. My music is more American, though, and it shows because I’m from here – I know how to talk my shit.”

Whatever the case, it’s clear that eyes are fixated on Fuego’s moves. Off the heels of his ambitious 2016 output, it’s apparent he’s more comfortable than ever to release a project that encompasses all aspects of his experience as a Dominican-American, as a trap baby, and as an ardent fan of the pulsing rhythms of Black America.

As our interview nears its end, Fuego speaks with force after a pensive moment of silence. “Right now is a new era for me and for my career and I’m always gonna embrace the Latin culture…it just needs an update.”