On Monarca, the Puerto Rican rapper Eladio Carrion stretches the bounds of trap en español without ever abandoning its core. The follow-up to his 2020 debut, Sauce Boyz, Carrion’s latest album riffs on spiky trap corridos, drippy emo-rap, and bludgeoning drill sounds while pulling an unexpected roster of collaborators into its orbit: Reggaeton icon Yandel slides across the drunk desolation of “Discoteca,” while J Balvin barges in out of nowhere for the record’s drill moment, “TATA.” The project is a little darker and more solemn than Sauce Boyz, reflecting the pandemic period in which some of the songs were recorded — but it’s also a sign that Carrion has been looking for ways to keep evolving.
Carrion has had several career metamorphoses at this point. Before turning to music, he worked as a comedian, finding success both in stand-up and on Vine, where he’d jokingly imitate artists like Cosculluela and Wisin. His impersonations not only won him thousands of followers; they hinted that Carrion was hiding real dexterity as a rapper. Other experiences have primed him for his current profession: As a teenager, he’d been a professional swimmer who represented Puerto Rico in the junior Olympics. “Swimming gave me discipline,” he says. “I can be in a studio recording for 14 hours standing up and I wouldn’t even mind, because I know there’s a bigger picture.”
Carrion says he’s down to try all kinds of music. “When I put out another Sauce Boyz or Sauce Boyz Two, you’re going to see a bunch of genres,” he says. “If it sounds dope and what I’m singing represents me, I’ll put out.” He already has an arsenal of music he’s finished that he’s waiting to unleash on the world, including one collaboration he’s keeping under lock and key. “On my phone, I have in my posession the crossover trap song of the year,” he says. He says he’ll be releasing it as he works on the EPs and mixtapes he’s got planned in the next several months. “I just want to flood this year with music,” he says. “That’s my goal, to put out as much music as I can.”
Your debut album, Sauce Boyz, was a breakthrough that introduced you to the world. What did you want to accomplish with Monarca, and how does this record mark an evolution in your sound?
I’m not going to say [Sauce Boyz] was immature, because it’s my baby, but with Monarca, I think I’ve gotten to a level of maturity in my music that I feel comfortable with. Everything is practice — sports, music, everything — and I’ve been practicing a lot. My work has gotten better. My deliveries have gotten better. The way that I choose production and beats has gotten wiser. I sit down with my producers now and we create the beats from scratch a lot of times. I’m 100 percent part of the whole song. Being a part of the whole project has been something that has helped a lot.
I’m curious about your writing process specifically, because you come from a comedy background. How does that impact the way that you write?
In comedy, you always have to look for the punchline. You have to know what people are going to like, because what you think is funny may not be funny to me, you feel me? So you have to find the happy medium. In music, it’s the same thing. You have to find that happy medium. I do music for me and I base it on what I like, but I’ve always tried to find that happy medium, in the hook or in the production, that won’t make it too complicated for the audience to grasp.
Some of the songs on here are really surprising — you do a corrido with Natanael Cano and Ovi on the “El Uve” remix, for example. Had you been watching the trap corrido movement unfold, and what was it like to work with those guys?
I’ve been on them for a while, especially with the corridos, because I like to play different music. It’s not just [for] inspiration, I like to know what’s out there and what’s popping and whatnot. With them, we met up in Los Angeles. I was dying to meet them, because I like the music, and I thought they were supercool people. The first thing they said to me was, “Yo, we’ve got to do ‘El Uve,’” because they loved that song. I said, “Let’s do it.” Those were probably the first two words they said to me, to do that song. That’s how that happened. They have so much energy — they’re, like, 20. They’re kids. I had a blast. They’re making great music and having a good time doing it.
There are a few other unexpected moments. It was even a little surprising to hear Yandel on a more emo-trap song like “Discoteca.”
I love to take people out of their comfort zone when it sounds crazy, you feel me? That’s “TATA,” that’s “Discoteca.” When people started bumping “TATA,” it was like, who would have thought Balvin would be on it? No one in a million years. Even my manager was like, “What? You put him on a drill?” Cree en mi [believe me], I really, really, really don’t care about numbers. I’m dead serious. I just want to have something unique and something that I can call mine and present to the public. That’s mostly why I did Monarca, just to let people know that I’m not scared of doing something different. I’m not scared of doing only trap when I feel like it.
How do artists react when you bring them songs that aren’t what they normally do?
I try to find the perfect song. They’re always down because as artists, sometimes they want to get out of their comfort zone but they don’t get an opportunity to do it. When the opportunity comes up, they just hop on, you feel me? That’s why I went to Balvin. If someone from the trap side gets an opportunity to do something with Balvin, they’re probably going to switch to reggaeton, because they know they’re going to do crazy numbers, since that’s what he’s known for. But not me. It’s going to be harder to move drill, but it’s going to be better for me in the long run, because how many reggaeton songs does Balvin have? How many drills does he have? I’m trying to make it an experience for everyone — for the public, for me, for everyone.
What did you think when you first heard him on the track?
Oh man, he sent me that back and I screamed for 15 minutes. I was jumping around the house. He killed it. It was 100 times crazier than I thought it would be.
Where do you see trap going right now? Who do you see as the people who are going to move it forward?
I see it already going crazy this year, especially crossover-wise. A lot of American artists are looking over here. It’s going to be crazy. In 2016 and 2017, trap got a big name, but it fell off when everyone went pop. Right now, I feel like just because there are me and a few other artists that are really pushing trap, more people are going to do it, especially American artists. They’re coming to Puerto Rico a lot. And I’m going to be real with you — artists that have been in the lane and pushing trap, I’d say Jon Z, Bryant Myers, Miky Woodz, of course. There are more, but especially those three, they’ve been pushing it, I can’t lie. They haven’t sold their soul or anything.
Obviously right now we’re in a pandemic and it’s been hard to perform. Once things open up and you can start doing shows again, what are you looking forward to?
I don’t care about how much money I lost not doing shows. I just miss the experience, I miss seeing people’s faces and knowing which songs they like most, which songs they sing out most. When Covid is over, I’ll do three-hour shows for everyone. I only had one show with Sauce Boyz and then the pandemic came. Now I have two albums and the Sauce Boyz Care Package, so it’s going to be really hard for me to choose the songs.
Are there any songs on Monarca that you really want to do live?
Oh my God, I’m gonna open up with “TATA,” I swear.