Since the earliest days of hip-hop supremacy, rappers have likened themselves to legends–whether on the mic, in the streets, or even between the sheets. Braggadocio has always been part of Puerto Rican rapper Anuel AA’s modus operandi, from his earliest underground recordings right up to today. Now he sells out sports arenas and cultivates lucrative brand partnerships, making good on those outsize boasts.
With Las Leyendas Nunca Mueren, his third solo album and first since the less-than-godlike Ozuna team-up Los Dioses, Anuel turns to another field where self-reliant boldness pays out big: sports. From the recognizable cover art recreation of Kobe Bryant’s NBA trophy slouch to the snippets of Mike Tyson’s notorious Lennox Lewis taunt on “Mi Voz Cuesta Un Billión,” he draws a dotted line between these champions and himself. Reinforced by rugged cuts like “Rick Flair” and “Mcgregor,” the influence of all-star athletes pervades the album, a super-sized expression of rap’s well-established love affair with sporting success.
Any iconic artist with a discography worth discussing inevitably goes through changes that impact their music, for better or for worse. The foreseeable downfall of erstwhile associate Tekashi 6ix9ine and a high-profile breakup with superstar fiancé Karol G—with both of whom the Puerto Rican trap king notably shares some of his biggest hits—are precisely the kind of public-facing events that conjure consequences concurrently personal and professional in nature. He’s weathered worse, certainly, having spent time incarcerated on federal weapons charges just as the mainstream began to take heed of the Latin trap movement he arguably led.
After making an internationally-known name for himself in reggaetón and pop-at-large alongside people with whom he no longer can rely upon, Anuel assuredly faced the competing temptations of a reinvention or a return-to-form. Las Leyendas Nunca Mueren largely and gratifyingly leans towards the latter, with the opening probation-ending tirade of “Real Hasta La Muerte” setting the tone for much of what follows. He’s swaggeringly and cocksure on “Leyenda” and holds his own next to the hungry rising star Eladio Carrión on the early standout “North Carolina.”
Even with this rekindling of his O.G. trapero flame, Anuel doesn’t turn his back on the reggaetón and Spanish-language pop lovers who came to party with the guy behind “China” and “Secreto.” While not exactly prime time perreo, singles “Dictadura” and “Subelo,” with Myke Towers and Jhay Cortez, balance romantic subterfuge and trap luxury with the dancefloor in mind, more so than just about anything off last year’s commercially-minded Emmanuel. He takes that aesthetic to clubby extremes on the thumping “Llorando En Un Ferrari,” a lifestyle snapshot that is as revealing as it is irresistible. Reversing course on the tempo but revving up the emotional honesty, “Pin” finds Anuel sharing more of himself than ever expected, showcasing a maturity that helps make Las Leyendas Nunca Mueren his best album to date. Throw in the Bad Bunny easter egg at the end, and you’ve got something that lives up Anuel AA’s legendary sense of himself.