Fuego has been a pivotal part of música urbana for longer than many people realize. Native to the metropolitan Washington D.C. area, the Dominican-American artist born Miguel Ángel Durán Jr. began working as a reggaetonero with the likes of Chencho and Boy Wonder over a decade ago. Yet despite being an early adopter of the sound now ubiquitously known as Latin trap (present on his Fireboy Forever mixtape series), he’s remained curiously underrated compared to the slew of newly minted stars and comparatively less seasoned prospects coming largely out of Colombia and Puerto Rico.
“I’m not stressed for credit,” he tells Remezcla, recalling times when he’s shown a few unnamed notables a thing or two only to have them dip and leave him behind. “It sucks, but I just know someday everybody’s gonna look at me and go, holy shit!”
“I think I was treated like an outsider in the Latin industry because my style is so different.”
With the release of his new albumYou’re Welcome for Universal Music Latino, Fuego may very well be close to that revelatory public moment. Spanning a fairly wide range of styles, the record showcases his learned versatility over production so plush and ultramodern, it would sound right at home on a Drake album. (Given how his Spanish-language “Hotline Bling” remix came out back in 2015, this ought to come as no surprise.) On dembow-R&B hybrid “Sin Parar” with Puerto Rican singer Lyanno, and the grainy trap-pop of “Sigo Fresh” with Argentinian rapper Duki, he flexes like he has something to prove. Listen closely, and influences like Afrobeats filter through“At first, I had a few trap songs in there,” he says of how the diverse and multifaceted project came together. “I wanted to balance it out. It’s kind of my ideal project.”
Part of Fuego’s interest in tinkering with conventions and building up a broader sound than some of his peers has to do with his underdog status, one that finds him quizzically underestimated to the point of self-fulfilling prophecy. “I think I was treated like an outsider in the Latin industry because my style is so different,” he says. “I represent for D.R. but I have a whole different vocabulary.” That distinction perhaps comes from an upbringing largely spent in the U.S., where his exposure to and experience with American rap music was more insider than that of his urbano peers raised elsewhere.
Yet even though he’s fluent in English, as evident from some of the song titles on You’re Welcome and, of course, the album title itself, Fuego chooses to rap and sing in Spanish for the most part. Very much present on cuts like the woozy A. Chal collab “Dancin,” and the muted groover “Ice Cream,” that essence of bilinguality allows him to express his heritage as an American-born Dominican. “I’m really half-and-half,” he says. “I love pancakes and American breakfast. I can’t have mofongo all the time!”
Another function of his background, album highlight “Dame Banda” presents Fuego’s latest entry into the trapchata subgenre, where he merges his rap affinity with his love for bachata. Co-produced by Sango, the track follows in the tradition of their 2015 single together “Se Me Nota,” which he recalls had origins in DJs mixing these styles in their sets for receptive Latinx audiences. “Sango, out of nowhere, sent me that beat,” he says of that older track. “The same night, I recorded and sent it back to him.”
And even though You’re Welcome only just emerged for public consumption, Fuego is already thinking about the next step, the next move, the next record. To that end, he mentions that work has already begun for a follow-up project. Two or three songs in, by his count, the release will reflect even more of an Afrobeats feel, something that likely will expand his global appeal given that style’s growing presence.
“I want us Latins to have a whole different approach when it comes to urban Latin music,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of respect and love for the industry, but this is like my own lane, my own genre. But to me, it’s just hip-hop.”