Farruko on God, Fame, and Life After ‘Pepas’

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Farruko for Rolling Stone - Credit: Gabriella N. Báez for Rolling Stone
Farruko for Rolling Stone - Credit: Gabriella N. Báez for Rolling Stone

PARTWAY THROUGH FARRUKO’S set, the stage at Miami’s FTX Arena turned into a pulpit.

On a mild night in February, the Puerto Rican artist had been standing at the center of the nearly 20,000-person venue, a tangle of flashing lights and smoke-cannon explosions blaring behind him. Fans screamed along as he sang some of his biggest hits, like the 2021 party anthem “La Tóxica,” plus other tracks from his deeply personal 2021 album, La 167. In between, Farruko talked directly to the audience, telling them he’d been striving to become a changed man. Some in the crowd thought they saw tears in his eyes.

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Then, the thunderous, amped-up EDM-and-guaracha beat of “Pepas” began echoing across the arena. The song is an ode to unbridled debauchery — the title translates to “pills” — and Farruko’s biggest, most recognizable track, having shot to Number One on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs Chart in 2021. Concertgoers belted a chorus that rolls out like a tribal chant: “Pills and water for the hangover, everyone on pills at the club.”

But Farruko avoided those lines. Instead, he left the stage briefly, and when he came back, he was dressed all in black. He launched into a 15-minute sermon-like speech, apologizing for the message in “Pepas” and announcing his devotion to the word of God. A purple cross lit up a gigantic screen behind him, and he began to sing two emotional Christian songs — a massive contrast with the beginning of the show, and with much of what Farruko has represented in the past.

Gabriella N. Báez for Rolling Stone.
Gabriella N. Báez for Rolling Stone.

On social media, the moment would be blown wildly out of proportion. People inaccurately claimed that Farruko had refused to play a single song and preached to a crowd while sobbing for two hours. Some were turned off by the religious turn; others characterized the entire thing as a publicity stunt. But the truth is that night was a culmination of something that had been rippling inside him — the tug of a higher calling urging him to transform his entire life and start a new chapter in his music. What exactly was it?

THREE MONTHS LATER, Farruko is sitting on a powder-blue couch in the sleek Miami offices of Carbon Fiber Music, a label he co-founded with longtime manager Franklin Martinez. He’s ready to talk in his first stateside interview. He’s wearing white shorts and a white baseball cap that emphasize a detail easily forgotten amid all the headlines and chatter about his transformation: He’s only 31. Bearded, bespectacled, and tattooed all over his arms, he also isn’t the rabid, Bible-thumping fanatic some people have made him out to be. Instead, he’s reserved and thoughtful, still processing this new phase in his career and what happened on that night.

“When I got to ‘Pepas,’ I felt this jolt in my conscience,” he says. “Because I had been going through this discovery in my life and this process of healing, I exploded. I said, ‘I’m sorry for this song, which is among the most well-known in the world. . . . I’m not proud of this, but I’m going to sing because you guys paid for a ticket.’” He felt compelled to talk about God and his deepest feelings on that stage, though he understands the dynamics that led the whole situation to detonate: “It was this big clash for some people.”

It probably also came as a surprise because Farruko is, after all, one of the biggest names in the Latin-music industry, one who’s captured the party side of urbano in his work. He grew up in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, and started performing at neighborhood parties, proms, and anywhere that would have him when he was just 15. He blew up on MySpace and became a successful, perennially popular mainstay on the scene. Over the years, he stood out for his ability to identify emerging sounds and trends: He was ahead of the Latin-trap wave with 2017’s TrapXFicante, which featured “Krippy Kush” (a song that helped break Bad Bunny), and he predicted urbano’s dancehall turns with 2019’s Gangalee. But it was “Pepas” that shot his career to a wild new peak and pushed the genre deeper into its EDM roots.

The track was an experimental highlight on La 167, an intimate album that he named after a gas station his grandfather owned; “Pepas” went on to get 469 million views on YouTube, resulting in a kind of sky-grazing fame that became a double-edged sword for Farruko. He says that he’d lived recklessly for a long time, indulging his worst impulses — and “Pepas” intensified everything.

“Have you seen those movies where a vampire bites you?” he asks. “You turn into a vampire and then you’re only thirsty for blood, blood, and blood. That’s what fame is like. It gives you an insatiable hunger for ego and vanity.” His vices, he says, were weed and women. “I had uncontrolled sex. I didn’t love anyone. I didn’t love myself.” He didn’t see his kids often — he has seven — and would often pick partying over his family. At his concert, Farruko personally apologized to several people close to him. “I destroyed my first family,” he said from the stage. “I hurt a woman who loved me just the way I was.”

Today, Farruko is blunt about the person he was during that time. He’s described himself, at the height of his fame, as “a pile of shit that put perfume on everyday” — his own candid, plainspoken metaphor for a deeply unhappy man who was trying to fill an expansive void back then. “Sadly, money and acceptance buy everything,” he says. “So you can keep being a piece-of-shit person, but you destroy everything. You perfume it. You try to kill the odor with distractions — for example, your life could be in shambles and you don’t have someone who loves you, but you can sleep with whoever. Maybe you’re destroyed emotionally, but you can party or buy yourself things. But at the end, the emptiness is there.”

There was an exact moment that Farruko realized he needed to change, but it’s a deeply personal one that he won’t go into too much detail about. All he’ll share is that it happened this year, and that he felt he had a direct encounter with God. “It was the most powerful thing that ever happened to me” is all he’ll offer. “I said, ‘I’m not coming back to Earth.’ ”

The next few weeks were disorienting. He didn’t know who to talk to or how to process what had happened. All he could think to do was to open up the Bible, which he’d been raised on by his grandparents, and begin reading. He was still sorting through the intense experience when he was due onstage in Miami. “It was overwhelming,” he admits. “I wasn’t ready to be back in the arena, because I was carrying all these things around.” So he chose to speak as honestly as he could and let people know directly what he was feeling.

After working through his emotions,  and the reactions that came from that night, Farruko dropped a jarring video for “My Lova,” the last single from La 167. In it, he carries a cross as people make fun of him. The visuals are heavy, but Farruko wanted something strong to communicate the transformation he was going through — and to close a chapter on the past, marking a new beginning.

RELIGION HAS ALWAYS coiled in and out of Latin music, winding through a number of reggae, reggaeton, and urbano careers. After achieving international success with era-defining reggae-en-español hits, the Panamanian artist El General retired from music in 2004 and became a Jehovah’s Witness. He expressed deep regret over the sexual, party-driven undercurrent of his catalog, calling its success “trophies from the devil.” The rap-en-español pioneer Vico C became an evangelical Christian after a near-fatal motorcycle accident led him to morphine and heroin addictions, and the old-school reggaeton artist Julio Voltio began leading a Christian radio show with his contemporary Hector “El Father” after they both stepped away from the genre.

But whereas many of these artists have left music, unable to find a way to balance the excesses of the business with their belief systems, Farruko’s plan is different. He’s quick to point out his goal isn’t to convert anyone. “I’m not here to impose a specific religion on people,” he says. “I’m not here to sell religion. I’m just saying, ‘Look, I’m a human who was falling, who wasn’t doing the right thing. Now I got up and I’m strong, and you can, too.’” He sees his music as an opportunity to  spread a positive message rooted in spirituality, all while still making gigantic dance bangers that can rocket to the top of the charts. In other words, he wants to preserve the success and lessons of “Pepas” on holier terrain.

“Look, I’m a human who was falling, who wasn’t doing the right thing. Now I got up and I’m strong, and you can, too.’” 

“Look, I’m a human who was falling, who wasn’t doing the right thing. Now I got up and I’m strong, and you can, too.’”

That’s how “Nazareno,” a track he released in May, took shape. Like “Pepas,” it takes inspiration from big bursts of EDM; the lyrics, however, directly tackle the dark side of fame. “You’re surrounded by envy and also hypocrisy, all eyes are right on you,” he sings. But Farruko’s words aren’t pedantic or preachy, a careful tightrope he’s been walking as he has started to go back to the studio. “When I did ‘Nazareno,’’ I knew I had the right message… This isn’t a song for Christians. It’s designed for people who are going through a rough moment and who don’t have the tools to escape that,” he says. In September, he debuted a remix of the song with Ankhal, a Puerto Rican rapper he signed to Carbon Fiber, who was shot and gravely wounded last year. The two of them shared the stage in an emotional performance at the Billboard Latin Music Award, with Ankhal rapping in a wheelchair before an audience for the first time.

Recent songs showing his new emphasis on spirituality also include “Luz,” a collaboration led by Carbon Fiber signee Akim that’s all about embracing positivity even in low moments. But Farruko admits not everyone has been behind his new music, and his friends in the music industry have had mixed reactions. “A lot of people have reached out and said they like what I’m doing. They support me,” he says. But there are also people who have let him know that business comes first. “There are artists who I had collaborated with before, on songs that hadn’t been released yet, and when they saw how I’d changed, they’re like ‘Brother, I need to release the songs anyway — I already put money into everything.’”

That didn’t bother Farruko, who says he understood where they were coming from. “I said, ‘Release it. It’s your business.’ Plus, it’s things I made in the past.” But he also offered to record completely new songs with those artists, ones that he could promote whole-heartedly, that would show his new values, and that could allow him to share his platform with other acts. “They just don’t see it,” he says. “They shut down because all they want is money or acceptance. And for me, that’s been hard and painful.”

He’s also had to grapple with his position heading up Carbon Fiber and managing his relationships with those he signed to the label. “It has affected things because not every artist has my beliefs,” he says. “They don’t necessarily want to follow the same path or footsteps as me. And maybe I’m not totally in agreement with the message that they want to get across, but I also can’t judge.” All he can do in his own career is to continue making music he can stand behind.

Whatever people think of his future plans, he’s at peace with himself. “In a short time, I’ve learned to communicate more,” he says. “To have more empathy, to have more gratitude. To make decisions, even if not everyone is going to understand them.” Most critical to him, his personal life is finally where he wants it to be. “In my family, things are so much better,” he adds. “My relationship with my children. My parents. In love, I’m still working toward that. But the most important thing — my children, my parents, my siblings — that’s so much healthier.”

And the music, in the end, is something he wants to prove to the world that he can achieve. “It always makes me nervous, but that’s the challenge,” he says. “It’s what I love. It’s the unknown magic in all of this.”

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