Why Boricua rapper Eladio Carrión dedicated his new LP, ‘Sol María,’ to his mom

When his song with Bad Bunny, “Coco Chanel,” was named best rap/hip-hop song at the Latin Grammys in November, first-time winner Eladio Carrión professed that he was not in Spain to accept the honors. Instead, he was at home in Puerto Rico, with his girlfriend, Vianell González, and their newborn twin boys.

“It was like I got a big gift box from God,” said Carrión, who recently called The Times from the parking lot of a pediatrician’s office in San Juan.

“So many blessings came at once: my kids came on November 7th, my birthday on November 14th. Then I woke up with a phone call saying that I won a Grammy. Then I jumped around my whole apartment, screaming with my girlfriend.”

Carrión speaks with a warm, terranean baritone that rumbles throughout his extensive Latin trap and reggaetón catalog. A retired competitive swimmer, Carrión dedicates many of his songs to stellar athletes, from NBA All-Star Kemba Walker to French World Cup champion Kylian Mbappé, who inform his ambitious approach. In 2023, Carrión capped a prolific five-album sprint with “3MEN2 KBRN,” a buzzy Spanglish trap LP with cameos from Lil Wayne, Future and 50 Cent, which peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard 200.

“I don’t have material goals,” he said. “I only have one car, and this is the only car I’m going to have, you know? What makes me happy [is] setting goals and accomplishing them.”

On January 19, Carrión released his sixth studio album, “Sol María:” a vibrant collection of 17 trap songs woven together with strands of reggae, Afrobeats and slick ’90s R&B. The album was named after his mother, whose young visage appears front and center in the artwork. Both his parents star in the video for “TQMQA (Te Quiero Más Que Ayer),” which he partly filmed with a VHS camcorder as a child.

Carrión is also developing a sitcom with Rubicon Global Media, based on his real life as a reformed “no sabo kid.” Born into an Army family in Kansas City, Missouri, he lived in several states before landing in Humacao, Puerto Rico at 10 years old. He learned to rap in Spanish after seeing Wisin y Yandel in concert as a middle schooler; soon after, his mom began taking him to the local fair to perform. Family, he said, has been the key to his success.

“I wrote these new songs thinking, ‘Oh, my mom’s gonna go crazy when she hears this,’” he said. “She deserves her moment, too.”

The Times spoke to Carrión about his new album, mastering hip-hop in Spanish and how family is the key to success. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Did you grow up thinking that a career like this was possible for you?

Well, I always loved to make people laugh, to entertain. In Puerto Rico, there’s a theme park called La Feria. In ninth grade I pulled up to the park like “Hey, who’s in charge? I want to sing.” The guy said, “I’ll give you five minutes.” My mom and my cousins showed up. There was no one else there, but I sang. I wrote the song with YouTube beats like three days before. I just wanted to be on stage! One day, I want to be the first artist to do music and comedy at the Choli [Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot].

Before you became a Latin Grammy-winning rapper, you became popular because of your videos on Vine, where you’d do parodies of Rihanna songs. What got you into comedy in the first place?

I love being a goofball. Vine was fun [until] like, everyone started editing super high-definition videos with the transitions. It got too complicated for me after that. I’ve been a big comedy fan since I was a kid. [My] two older sisters put me on to Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle. For me, Bernie Mac was the O.G. I also loved Chris Tucker. I actually got a little sitcom going that we’re going to drop.

Tell me about [your sitcom]!

My story is different than other Latino stories. When you see a show on Netflix about Latinos, it’s about the struggle of them coming from their homeland to the States. For me it was the opposite: I came from the States to Puerto Rico. We moved to Puerto Rico when I was 10. I didn’t know any Spanish, but my dad was in the Army. I was already used to moving every two years, so I would just adapt to the next place.

How did you go from being a “no sabo kid” to being someone who raps in Spanish?

In my mind, it was either: you sit down and cry and feel sorry for yourself, or you really try and learn this language. The main thing about learning a new language and learning it fluently is not being afraid to speak it.

That’s very reassuring for our readers!

Oh, my pronouns were horrible. I’d say things like “el vaca” [and] people would always correct me. I would watch telenovelas with my grandma, like crazy. There was a time that I didn’t even watch regular TV, just novelas — that’s how much I hated being the kid with the accent! Now, it’s easy for me to rap in Spanish. I like all the wordplay, the metaphors. But it’s a lot harder to find words that rhyme in Spanish than in English.

In the States, people keep debating whether “hip-hop is dead.” But in Spanish, it’s pretty lit!

Yeah, we’re killing it!

In your last album [“3MEN2 KBRN”] you proved yourself as a power player in hip-hop, and brought in your American hip hop heroes. How did it feel to work with them?

I thought, “If a kid that didn’t speak my language came to me with a song, what would make my head bop?” I had that 50 [Cent] song sitting in my email for like three years before I sent it. I said, “Damn, I think Wayne is going to be kind of impossible [to get]…” I wrote my [2022] song “Gladiador” thinking of [his 2008 song with Jay-Z], “Mr. Carter.” Then he pulled up and we did the remix! I made the perfect collabs in my head, and just watching them happen in real life, reassures [me] that everything is possible.

On your new album, “Sol María,” you use more summery pop melodies and faster rhythms. We get lots of warm, nostalgic vibes. Did you go in thinking this album had to be brighter than your last?

You know how they have Kidz Bop? And they get all the best songs and put them in a kid [friendly] album? This is an album of songs that my mom would love. She’s my No. 1 fan.

Is your mom a fan of trap music?

She loves my trap music. My parents call me every other day just to tell me, “Eladio! Dang! Today we’re listening to this song, how did you do this verse?” They think I’m like, a musical genius. Like there’s only one of me in the world.

What did your parents teach you about love?

They gave me so much love as a child. I was their little mini-me. My mom was an angel, but my dad was like the good cop, bad cop type. He came in with the hard love … but he taught me values. I’m a daddy now, so I’m about to [experience] that too.

On “Sigo Enamorau’,” the song with the classic reggae sample from Marcia Aiken, you [and Yandel] sing about being un “p-e-rr-o” who is also, as you put it, a “mama’s boy.” Here’s a Latino math question: how do you guys get to be both the perro and the mama’s boy?

Man … Everything in life is a balance, you know? I just couldn’t give my fans a whole album of romantic ballads. My fans would be like, “This ain’t it, chief.” Compared to the other stuff that’s out right now, it’s super PG! But there’s one thing that I know how to do, and it’s the reason why I feel like my albums do so well: I read my fans.

One of the most important things about many artists coming out of Puerto Rico is their authenticity. Artists like you and Benito are in constant conversation with your fans there.

I would love to just be a pop star — drop a commercial album and have all my songs on the biggest playlists and radio stations — but my fans, they need some of that sauce!

We do get your sensitive side — not weak, but sensitive — in the song “Luchas Mentales,” which addresses mental health struggles. You wrote these beautiful lines: “Yo no soy de papel/ El agua de la lluvia ayuda a crecer.” Can you talk about writing this song?

It’s a hard line! I was excited when I wrote it. God gave me the gift of music to help people as they go through stuff. People need space for that, because when you don’t talk about real stuff, they just replace it with fake stuff. To get that off my chest is nice, personally — I’ve been through it, I know people who’ve been through it — but music like that helps me communicate with my fans without even meeting them. It even helps my mom, she listens to songs like “Guerrero,” or “Gladiador” every morning before she goes to her doctor’s appointments.

As you get more and more famous, how do you keep it real with yourself at the end of the day?

I have a really great family and I have a really good team. They keep me sane. And I just keep on doing the same things I always do. I’ll be getting my groceries at Walmart, you can see me going paddleboarding. Being successful and just like not being able to go anywhere? That’s not fun at all. Before I didn’t like to do promo because I was afraid of getting more famous. But when I go outside here, people are not on top of me. They let me live a normal life because I do live a normal life. I feel like this is the perfect amount of famous-ness. It puts food on the table.

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