This April, the Puerto Rican rapper Farruko was in Miami, finishing up a song that is easily his weirdest — in his own words, a “total experiment.” It started with bits and pieces of different sounds: There was reggaeton percussion, but it was infused with guaracha, a style of tribal EDM with roots across Latin America. The month prior, Farruko had jumped on the remix for the Dominican artist Axel Rulay’s “Si Es Trucho Es Trucho,” a viral hit with a brisk BPM, and it had inspired him to speed things up on this particular production. Then, he added an extra boost of energy by gathering a few people in the studio and asking them to sing a swelling stadium chant that sounded “como de iglesia” — “like it was from church.” By the end, he had “Pepas,” or “pills,” a provocative but aptly titled song that’s all up-tempo club euphoria.
Farruko knew “Pepas” would fit into La 167, the sprawling album that he’d been working on for months, but he wasn’t sure it was right as a single. “It’s not really what people expect of me,” he says a recent call from Puerto Rico. But even when he tried shifting his attention to other tracks on the album, “Pepas” kept coming back to him and getting stuck in his head. At the last minute, he decided to just release it. “It was a risk,” he says. “But it worked.”
“Pepas” practically fist-pumped its way up the charts, landing in the top four of Spotify’s Global Top 200 and the top 15 on Nuevo Culture’s Top 100 Songs. It went platinum eight times in the U.S., trended on TikTok, and roared out of cars all summer. It also set the stage for La 167, which dropped last week and serves as a showcase of the genre-agnostic approach Farruko’s been figuring out since he broke out on MySpace and became a reggaeton mainstay in the 2000s. On the album, he takes the energy of “Pepas” and runs with it, coming up with other EDM-fueled inventions, but he also packs in salsa, rap callejero, Jamaican dancehall, and more. “I don’t limit myself when it comes to working with different rhythms,” he explains. “A lot of people criticize that, others applaud it, but either way, I just don’t like doing the same thing.”
The album also has an emotional weight to it: La 167 is a highway that goes through Bayamon, Farruko’s hometown, where his late grandfather ran a gas station. The LP is dedicated to him, and constant homages to him are scattered in the music. The charged “El Incomprendido” — aimed at recreating the electronic jolt of “Pepas” — starts with lyrics from the song of the same name by Puerto Rican composer Ismael Rivera, a musician Farruko’s grandfather loved. On “La Bendecion,” Farruko experiments head-on with salsa, a genre he was raised on, and on the title track, “La 167,” he evokes the memory of his grandfather directly in the lyrics.
Other moments are quick reminders of Farruko’s ability to land the right sound at the right time. He was one of the first artists to embrace Latin trap early on; “Krippy Krush,” from his 2017 trap album Trapxficante, shot Bad Bunny into wider recognition and spun off a remix featuring Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott. On La 167, he keeps acknowledging hip-hop sounds, enlisting old-school Puerto Rican rappers, like Gallego and Tempo. His 2019 album Gangalee was a celebration of reggae and dancehall sounds, which he tips his hat to again on La 167, specifically on “W.F.M.,” with the Jamaican artist Mavado.
The new album also highlights Dominican dembow, a genre Farruko has been pulling from for a few years now through collaborations with artists like El Alfa. The scene in the Dominican Republic is impressive, which explains why the industry has been flocking toward it in recent months — Rosalia and J Balvin both sought out the rising star Tokischa this summer. Farruko says he always knew it was going to blow up.
“It’s exploding at a global level, thanks to what artists like El Alfa and his colleagues are doing. I started to record with them before the genre had the international strength that it does now, because I admired it and I thought there was magic to it,” he says. “Now, globally, everyone is listening to dembow. It has a completely unique essence.”
He’s kept an eye on emerging talent not just for his own music, but also as the co-owner of the label Carbon Fiber Music, which he launched with his manager Franklin Martinez in 2014. Carbon Fiber focuses on rappers with a more underground sensibility and has gotten behind guys like Panama’s Akim and Honduras’ Menor Menor — artists who represent countries frequently ignored by major labels. “Carbon Fiber is like a farm,” Farruko says. “We’re always watching to see those artists that are getting attention on social media or on the streets, and we focus on developing them from zero.”
His skill, it would seem, is anticipating what’s going to be big before anyone else does. But Farruko says he thinks the trick is trying things — and standing out. “Rather than anticipating what’s going to happen, it’s about exploring and experimenting,” he says. “You have to keep going until you find something that not everyone is doing.”