When asked how he visualized himself during a radio interview last April, Kevin Fret — Latin trap’s most unapologetically, and perhaps first openly gay artist — conjured a hippodrome: “Once you let horses free from their stables,” said Fret, “It’s difficult to catch them.”
Posing the question was DJ Candy Boy, a veteran of the urbano genre who spent more than nine years touring with Daddy Yankee, and now programs and hosts for the Orlando and Kissimmee station Urbana FM. It was Kevin Fret’s debut radio appearance; he was promoting his 2018 single, “Soy Asi,” or “I Am Like This,” an unabashedly queer and femme anthem that cut through the genre’s systemic machismo with unprecedented force — much like the unbridled herd of horses that Fret described. “I’m here to change people’s minds,” he said.
Lambasting homophobia in the urbano market was a recurring mission for Fret: The Puerto Rican artist was driven by a clear vision of shattering the reggaeton and trap molds by defying traditional gender roles and speaking to gay sexuality with no restraint. In the video for “Soy Asi,” Fret flaunts his newly liposuction-crafted abs, donning a glittering crop top and pant set he’d fashioned out of a jumpsuit. He also brandishes a pink assault rifle — as DJ Candy Boy speculated in his radio interview — like some kind of “gender assassin.” Within a month of its release on YouTube, the views were fast approaching 200K.
To say Fret was on the rise is an understatement. But on the morning of January 10th, his rapid ascent came to an abrupt end: while visiting his brother Steven in Puerto Rico, Fret was riding a motorcycle through the San Juan barrio of Santurce around 5:30 a.m., when he was shot by an unknown assailant. The gunman had taken his phone and wallet before he fled the scene; Fret died a few hours later in a nearby hospital, at the age of 25.
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The investigation around his murder is still underway. Genre followers have posited theories stemming from Fret’s alleged $50,000 blackmailing of reggaeton star Ozuna in 2017 — over a pornographic video the latter filmed at age 16, which ultimately leaked to the public weeks later. Yet authorities have declared that Ozuna, who testified before a prosecutor in Feburary, is not a suspect.
That same month, after police arrested two suspects in connection to the murder of Puerto Rican drug trafficker Carlos Giovanny Báez, assumptions that they were involved in the killing of Fret abound; but the island’s Homicide Division director told press that the two cases are unrelated.
Fret’s family first spoke publicly on the murder in January, which aired on Univision program Primer Impacto. His siblings Doryann and Steven Fret expressed their own suspicions, especially with regards to the missing phone. “When you are real, [people] want you to keep your mouth shut,” said Doryann of her late brother. “He had secrets that nobody wanted to be revealed,” claimed Steven. “It seems he had more secrets than my sister and I knew.”
Fret’s mother, Hilda Rodríguez, told Primer Impacto that she knows who killed her son.
Speaking directly with Rolling Stone, Rodríguez says that, at the time of his murder, she asked God why he had not taken her instead. (For legal reasons, her representative informed, Rodríguez would not comment on the ongoing investigation around Fret’s murder.) Her other three children, all of them in their twenties, assured her that Fret, the third among them, made peace with God before he died.
“I know that because I sowed in Kevin the seeds of love for God,” she says. “That’s why we have faith and peace that…he asked God for forgiveness for things [about his life] that God didn’t like, and that God showed him mercy.”
Rodríguez, a Pentecostal Christian, raised her children in evangelism. While she was born in Puerto Rico, she relocated the family about 12 years ago to Massachusetts, where Fret regularly sang in church, she says.
“Since he was little, around seven, eight, nine years old, he loved to sing the church hymns,” she says. “I had already noticed his voice, the vibrato he had, the confidence. Doryann too. They would do a lot of duos, between the two of them… They were [eventually] going to release a song together.”
Despite the religious conflict Fret’s sexuality represented for Rodríguez, she notes, his sexuality did not frighten her. When he came out at 18, she recalls telling him, “You know that there are things God does not like about what you want to do.” She adds that he accepted this, and that he asked her to pray for him.
“We are not the ones to judge,” she says. “We are here only to pray for others. Each person chooses their life.” The family remained very united, Rodríguez says, and her relationship with Fret was a very close one.
Compounding the startling nature of Fret’s death is the complete sweep of his Instagram posts beforehand. At the time of his death, all that was left on his account was a temporary post: a story published the day prior which read, “Pray, relax, wait for my times and I will do the rest. — God.”
DJ Candy Boy, who proudly put “Soy Asi” in on-air rotation after its release last spring, last communicated with Fret in November in hopes of connecting him to a songwriter.
“I was really surprised. I didn’t expect that to happen, outside of the problems that he was having — because yes, it was known that there were problems,” he says. “What was very curious to me was that he had deleted his Instagram and posted [that story], like [he was] saying goodbye. I don’t know if [he knew] that he was going to die.”
Fret’s social media presence was arguably more critical to his career than that of other artists; the internet is where he let his cheeky egoism run amok. He posted braggadocious displays of his good looks; he was quite proud of the results of his liposuction. He was funny too, once hamming it up with a flower crown filter before accidentally bringing the lit end of (what appeared to be) a blunt to his mouth. He often recorded his videos shirtless, doling out relationship advice and encouraging fans to find happiness and self-empowerment.
But Fret also regularly employed social media as a means of venting, and was sometimes intensely confrontational — and while all of those videos are now deleted, many are archived on various YouTube channels. A compilation of clips shows a range of Fret’s more fiery rants: take the palpable anger when he accused someone of sabotaging his social media reach; or when he urged naysayers to get over their obsession with his sexuality, declaring it irrelevant to his relationship with God. Without naming anyone specifically, he also alluded to married heterosexual artists partaking in affairs with either men or women, claimed that some had abused their wives, and called them hypocrites.
Still, homophobia reared its ugly head last fall, after Fret became a subject in a controversial track by Puerto Rican trapero Anuel AA. In addition to the song’s gratuitous misogyny, not to mention mockery of Puerto Ricans who lost their homes to Hurricane María, “Intocable” included homophobic slurs and insinuated a sexual relationship between Cosculluela, a rival artist, and Fret. (Anuel AA removed the song and issued an apology within days of its release.)
Earlier in June, however, Fret experienced what he described as a homophobic attack at a condo in Miami, where he was living at the time. The YouTube channel for the urbano site Rapetón cataloged the incident using posts from Fret’s Instagram: Pointing to bruises on his face and body, he said he was struck by someone angry that his butt was exposed while tanning by a pool — essentially, Fret claimed, he was attacked for being gay. Fret also shared video footage that not only shows him being struck in the face by an older man, but that Fret responded physically. Fret ultimately faced battery charges.
Among many who worked closely with him, the pervading response to Fret’s death is confusion. Alfonso J. Alvarez, who managed Fret for a stretch around the release of “Soy Asi” last spring, says he didn’t consider Fret to have been in any danger. “At the time, there wasn’t anything that I could’ve seen that would tell me that in January he was going to be dead,” Alvarez says. (He added that he’s “seen a lot” in his history, having worked for artists like Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube under Priority Records in the Nineties.)
Puerto Rican singer Mike Duran, who featured Kevin Fret in his July 2018 single, “Diferente,” tells Rolling Stone, “I can’t understand why anyone would have killed him.”
“There was a difference between normal Kevin Fret, who you could talk to — and the Kevin Fret making videos on social media,” Duran says. “Honestly, he was a good person. He wasn’t egotistical. He always wanted to help people.”
Beyond his producers, Duran was the first and the only urbano artist who, as Duran describes, dared to partner with Fret on a track. He made his approach through a mutual friend after hearing Fret’s rendition of the 2018 genre essential, “Me Compré Un Full.”
“When I met Kevin, he said he expressed that a lot of people haven’t helped him, that it’s been a bit of an uphill battle, the dream of singing,” Duran says. “So I told him, ‘Listen: I have this idea of doing a song that’s for all those people who are different, for all those people who, in one way or another, have something about them that makes them different, and because of that society doesn’t accept them.’”
Backlash about “Diferente” from colleagues in the industry was scarce, Duran says. Instead, it was some urbano fans who responded with accusations that he was dating Fret.
“I make music with my heart, and my heart said in that moment, we have to do this song,” Duran says of the collaboration. “It doesn’t matter where Kevin is coming from, his sexual preference, or what he’s done.”
Duran, along with DJ Candy Boy, refer to Fret’s sexuality as a preference — as did Fret himself. Because of his religious upbringing, Fret often said, for him, being gay was a choice. He would typically acknowledge the obvious clash with the greater LGBTQIA community while espousing his personal beliefs.
While the urbano industry certainly has not set aside machismo and homophobia entirely, Fret made a significant dent for progress.
“I think [in spite of the] stigma,” says Duran, “with the short career he had, with as much as he accomplished in such a short time, Kevin achieved [being] the first. I feel [that] there will be more different — not different in a bad way — but more people doing different things in the genre.”
Reflecting on Fret’s impact, DJ Candy Boy admits he couldn’t imagine a gay urbano artist being embraced anytime but now.
“If this had happened maybe 10 or 15 years ago, with the genre was still a little raw, a little more closed-minded, I don’t think he wouldn’t have been accepted, I don’t think he would have been accepted,” he says. “And I say this jokingly, but it’s true: after Ricky Martin, everything changed. Everything opened up, the acceptance of someone gay. And I think it has nothing to do with the talent, in reality. Sexual preference doesn’t affect what talent someone can have.”
Like many others in the urbano industry, as well as Fret’s fans, DJ Candy is left wondering what could have been.
Duran says his newly released single, “Se Descontrola” (or, “Out of Control”) is dedicated to Fret — who personally gave the track his stamp of approval when they last spoke.
“I think [opening up the genre for others] was his impact and his legacy,” says Duran. “If he hadn’t died, he would have been a big star. Because people loved him. The press loved him, everyone loved him. He was going to be big.”
Fret’s mother says that more music from Fret, including a video that was recorded before his death, will soon be released. She is currently working with a lawyer on legal details.
“After [the video] comes out, which is already complete, then comes the last song [he recorded],” she says. “People are going to be surprised, because it’s a very tropical song… It sounds very pretty, very pretty. I had told him, with that one, you’re going to explode.”
Some interviews for this story have been translated from Spanish to English.