Eighteen years in the past, earlier than his debut on the 2005 compilation album “Sangre Nueva,” not many have been conversant in Puerto Rican reggaetón artist Arcángel. Within the early days of his music profession, Arcángel would sing on mixtapes for his buddies and for locals within the tough San Juan neighborhoods of Villa Palmeras and La Perla, the place he grew up. However lately, he has thousands and thousands of listeners tuning in to his music, making him one of many greatest stars of the style.

As Arcángel sits down for our digital interview, his ordinary sun shades are off. He appears straight on the webcam — not the display screen — as if having a face-to-face dialog.

There is a startling quantity of empathy in his eyes, which is each stunning and never when you think about his tumultuous early years, marked by hustling on the streets and discovering methods to get by. Individuals are likely to affiliate that form of life with cynical personalities, however there is a wonderful line between cynicism and empathy, and what breeds one can simply result in the opposite. You may’t have both with out ache as a catalyst. As he talks, his eyes additionally betray one other emotion swimming someplace in his gaze — a latent disappointment.

Simply previous midnight on Nov. 21, 2021, a automobile accident in San Juan took the lifetime of Arcángel’s youthful brother, Justin Santos. Solely 21 years outdated on the time, he was driving a automobile that was struck by one other, pushed by a girl who prosecutors later alleged was below the affect. Within the time since, the case has been marred by setbacks and delays, with the driving force’s protection counsel efficiently suppressing the alcohol blood degree take a look at outcomes on varied grounds. The method has been slowly shifting its approach up the judicial ladder, most not too long ago into the fingers of the Court docket of Appeals. A latest ruling reinstated the take a look at outcomes, paving the way in which for the beginning of a trial this yr, greater than two years after the incident.

Since his brother’s tragic loss of life, Arcángel has been vocal about the way it has devastated his household and his personal life. Nonetheless, he obtained again to recording, releasing “SR. SANTOS” in 2022 and “Sentimiento, Elegancia y Más Maldad” in November of final yr. He is gone on worldwide excursions, persevering with to replenish stadiums in dozens of nations throughout Europe and North America. However behind the scenes, he is frank about how he isn’t the identical particular person folks have identified him as.

“Sometimes, the better things are going for me, the sadder I feel.”

“Sometimes, the better things are going for me, the sadder I feel,” he says. “I see all these great things happening and all I can think is if the kid were here, he’d be so happy.”

Whereas he is nonetheless greater than adept at rapping, as he proved throughout his Christmastime beef with Anuel AA, Arcángel acknowledges that the spark he as soon as had has dimmed.

“The creative process isn’t the same anymore and never will be again. I used to say I had a gift because in the studio I could listen to a beat and write [a song] like magic, out of thin air. I didn’t need a pen or paper. Lots of producers could tell you that,” he says. “I don’t have it anymore. It abandoned me.”

He has no illusions, both, about why he is been overcome by such artistic doldrums.

“After November [of 2021] it all went to shit, and since then nothing has changed. I need a team now to help me. I used to only need a music engineer and a good beat, and I took care of the rest,” he shares. “But I don’t have that touch anymore; it left, and maybe it’ll come back. But I hope it comes back soon because I don’t have 20 more years of career left.”

Solely a yr handed between the accident and the discharge of “Sr. Santos” — a time throughout which Arcángel submitted himself to getting a full-torso tattoo of his brother’s visage in his reminiscence. The album was extra trap- and rap-oriented, exploring street-level themes. His most up-to-date undertaking, “Sentimiento, Elegancia y Más Maldad,” contains extra uptempo tracks which might be extra within the vein of his cheekier reggaetón roots.

When requested if this is because of an enchancment in his emotional state, he shoots down the notion.

“My mind is fucked up, understand? But I have to work. My mental health is not in good shape.”

“My mind is fucked up, understand? But I have to work. My mental health is not in good shape,” he shares. “I never knew what it was to doubt myself. I was someone whose self-esteem was always so high that people confused it with arrogance. Now people tell me I’ve changed so much, and I tell them I haven’t changed. It’s just that my self-esteem is not the same. I know people say I’m more humble now, but it’s because I’m more insecure than before.”

At this, the also-Latin lure artist takes a pregnant pause. “I have to be mentally unwell for people to see me as humble,” he says incredulously. “I would love to recover my mental health and self-esteem so I can be arrogant in people’s eyes again.”

In previous interviews, outdated comrades like De La Ghetto would reminisce in regards to the outdated Arcángel and be impressed by how brash he was, regardless of who he was speaking to.

“I don’t like [being like that] anymore,” Arcángel says. “Everything I say, people take it like . . . there’s always a misinterpretation of everything, so much that now I prefer to not say anything and stay quiet. Or I doubt what I’m going to say, if it’s right or not, so I don’t say anything. And it bothers me because I’m not like that.”

This previous summer season, Arcángel’s social media was affected by images of his tour stops, with dynamic photographs of soldout crowds all over the place from Spain and Italy to Baja California and Chicago. In some, you’ll be able to spy followers holding up placards with Justin’s identify, or messages of condolences and emotional assist. It is a real show of affection from his followers, and Arcángel acknowledges that, however he is additionally blunt in regards to the limits of others’ assist.

“Bro, I don’t want any more gifts that have anything to do with my brother. I don’t want any more jackets, any more shirts, any more hats, any more keychains. They don’t change anything . . . “

“How is a sign going to make me feel better? Because it has my brother’s name on it?” he asks candidly. “Bro, I don’t want any more gifts that have anything to do with my brother. I don’t want any more jackets, any more shirts, any more hats, any more keychains. They don’t change anything. What am I gonna do, open a museum? What I would like is to have him next to me.”

Regardless of this interior anguish, he nonetheless sees a faint silver lining. “I feel I’m good at adapting and I’ve learned to feel comfortable in uncomfortable circumstances. And that’s what’s happening now,” he says. “You’re seeing an Arcángel who’s comfortable in a very uncomfortable situation. That’s what time has taught me.”

He will not share whether or not he is sought out remedy or different types of mindfulness to work via his emotions, however he does level to 2 manners during which he distracts himself.

“I work. I make music. I’ll go to the studio,” he says, including: “I have a very big house, and sometimes I’ll just walk around for a long time. So much so that at 8 or 9 p.m., my feet hurt, and I ask myself why and it’s because of all the walking I’ve been doing. I’ve been walking all day and didn’t even notice. I walk a ton, fast, and I start thinking so much that my brain gets tired and that helps when I get one of those intrusive thoughts that fuck me up. I don’t have space for those.”

As a substitute, he provides that house over to planning for the long run, and that features his inevitable retirement. He is aware of there’ll come a degree the place he will not have the ability to rap about what he normally does in a approach that feels earnest, and he intends to exit on prime earlier than that occurs. However regardless of all the things, does he nonetheless really feel optimistic in regards to the future? “Yes,” he says earlier than pausing. “But it’s because of [the team] I have around me. Because I trust I can pass the baton to them and they’re gonna know what to do. All I want to do is win. And now I’m learning to be a team player. The panorama has changed, and I’m not interested in being just the solo captain. I want to contribute to a team and do my role.”

One position he is eyeing: being a producer of latest abilities. His greatest one proper now could be Chris Lebrón, a younger Dominican artist whom he is taken below his wing. When he envisions a second profession in his submit years, he is stuffed with desires of listening to his identify however below a brand new context.

As he places it: “If and when one of the artists I developed wins a Grammy, and they thank me in their speech, that’s gonna feel fucking great. More than even me winning one myself.”

There is no doubt that Arcángel would commerce absolutely anything to have his little brother again, and never a soul would blame him. However the mightiest of hearts cannot change actuality. All one can do is change for the higher, relying on no matter life throws at you.

“I don’t like the Austin I used to be. I much more like the one I am now. I love the one I am now. I respect the person I am now more than who I was 10 years ago,” he says. “I’ve been through a lot.”

For Arcángel, that is solace and peace: this new self, his work, his household, the reminiscence of his brother, and his desires for the long run. It is all he has, and for him, it is greater than sufficient.