Fuego is ready to fully embrace his love for unadulterated hip-hop. He’s also ready to share his take on the venerable genre, one that Latinos have made their mark on for decades, though they faded out of the genre’s spotlight after the 90s. That message is resoundingly clear on Fireboy Forever 2, the 15-track album that dropped January 13 after much anticipation (it made our shortlist for 2016 projects we couldn’t wait to hear). The set is also an indicator of why Fuego spent the better part of 2015 turning American hip-hop hits into his own Spanish interpretations; its overall sound is directly influenced by the likes of those he covered, such as Drake and Future, and there’s nary a Latin rhythm in sight. Indeed, from the rapid but muddled Future-like delivery on cuts like opener “Loca Con La Vaina” and “Como Suena” to the singsong Drizzy vocals on “Me Voy” and “Se Lo Que Hacer,” many of these songs sound like they could be included in a Latino special edition of What a Time To Be Alive.
Fuego isn’t just mimicking his American counterparts here, though, nor does he seem to be simply riding the wave of his trending remixes from last year. He’s expanding an already successful career into new territory, reaching beyond the realm of what he’s previously been known for, with some intriguing results. Lead single “Se Me Nota” is the only track with an overt Latin influence (sampling Joe Veras’ bachata hit “Se Te Nota”), but with producer extraordinaire Sango flipping it into a trap banger, it’d be just as likely to rattle a club in Las Vegas as it would in Washington Heights.
Inspiration comes from other, slightly more surprising American sources, as well. The production and more confrontational flow of “Blade” smacks of the 90s East Coast rap Fuego likely grew up listening to while living part time in Washington, D.C. “Una Noche En Miami,” meanwhile, is the kind of loverboy hip-hop that was en vogue before Drake reinvented the genre (think later LL Cool J or heyday Ja Rule). The former works better than the latter in their respective execution, but nonetheless, it’s charming to hear Fuego pay homage to hip-hop eras of the past.
Fuego notably sprinkles English bars throughout the project (the closing track “Energy” is delivered solely en inglés), something we’ve seldom heard from the American-born, Dominican-raised singer. It’s a sign of the times, really; the overlap between Latin music audiences and the American mainstream are on the cusp of exploding now more than ever.
From a lyrical perspective, there isn’t anything particularly revolutionary about FF2, but then again, there wasn’t with What a Time, either. The grand statement here seems to be about Fuego’s desire to diversify his offerings, by flashing his talent on songs that can make you turn up in multiple genres. Fans of Fuego’s signature sound won’t have to wait long for a return to form, seeing as his previously-released merengue jam “Mambo Pa Bailar” (not included here) is set to appear on his upcoming full-length LP due later this year. In the meantime, Fireboy Forever 2 is a satisfying style detour for the singer, one we wouldn’t mind him revisiting more in the future – no pun intended.