Before becoming Anuel AA’s manager, Frabian Eli was the Puerto Rican rapper’s childhood friend. But it wasn’t friendship alone that brought Eli and Anuel — real name Emmanuel Gazmey — together. A classically trained violinist in Puerto Rico, Eli was only 15 years old when he started touring with reggaetón act Arcángel, who happened to be his brother-in-law. On the road and in the studio, Eli learned firsthand the ins and outs of the notoriously complex world of reggaetón — from promotion to publishing — and, equally important, he met the players.
By the time he formally began managing Anuel in 2015, he had what he calls a “PhD in management.”
Today, Eli and Anuel’s relationship continues to be one of friendship and business. Together, they’re partners in Real Hasta La Muerte, the indie label and music company on which Anuel released his Las Leyendas Nunca Mueren (Legends Never Die) album, which debuts this week at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart. It’s Anuel’s third solo album and his fourth overall (including Los Dioses, a double bill alongside Ozuna), and all have debuted at No. 1. But unlike his past sets, Las Leyendas is a concept album in which every song celebrates the story of a sports or music legend, from Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to Tupac and Anuel’s good friend, Conor McGregor.
More to the point, the marketing of Las Leyendas, distributed via The Orchard, had everything to do with its sports theme, a departure for a Spanish-language album. The strategy netted 22,000 equivalent album units earned in the U.S. in the week ending Dec. 2, according to MRC Data. Most of that sum (20,500) was driven by streaming activity, representing 30.2 million on-demand streams of the set’s 16 tracks, of which 11 made Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. And the album’s successful rollout has earned Frabian Eli the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
What was the marketing strategy for the album?
It’s not common for an artist to promote an album via sports. I trust Ema, and he wanted to make an album that was called Legends Never Die and which recreated historic sports moments. The album pays homage to the legends that influenced him and he has tracks with names like “McGregor” and “Rick Flair.” The question was, How do we mix that with music? It began with Anuel dressing up as legends like Tupac, Conor and Kobe Bryant in the album covers. We shot six different covers for the album, and Apple Music, for example, featured all of them, so fans could choose. McGregor in particular has been very supportive. He and Anuel are very similar.
We sought to promote the album at sports events, like UFC fights, and we also have plans to do the same with the NBA. I can’t say it was a single action that did it. There were many things. We hadn’t done anything like this before. There’s a lot of music coming out, and there’s no reason to promote it all the same way.
How about the music videos? Are they also related to the concept?
Yes. All the videos were directed by Anuel and produced by me. For example, “Súbelo” features Myke Towers and Jhay Cortez and in the video they’re made to be professional baseball players, hitting alongside stars like Miguel Rojas [of the Miami Marlins] as if they were all on a single team. Everything was tied together. The official merch is a collaboration with Foot Action. When Anuel got to the stores, the clothes were all sold out. And then, his basketball team, Los Capitanes de Arecibo, won the BSN (Superior National Basketball) title in Puerto Rico last month. Even in real life the album’s concept came to life.
Tell us about that UFC partnership.
We’re the first Latino artist to have a partnership with UFC. This Saturday, they’re fighting for the UFC lightweight championship, and throughout the fight there will be promotion for Anuel and his album. Each time there’s a replay, a voice will say, “This fight is sponsored by Anuel AA.” It’s a very organic partnership. Anuel has been to the past six or seven UFC fights and we’ve spoken many times with the president of the UFC. The fact that they see he’s a real fan, goes to the fights, has spoken out about UFC, all that helped to get them on board.
This is Anuel’s fourth album and his fourth No. 1 debut. Do you even worry about charts?
Of course! I never take it for granted. And Ema doesn’t either. If we ever get to the point where we simply expect things to happen, we wouldn’t get excited at all. We always work with the No. 1 goal in mind.
What was the biggest challenge this time around?
The fact that we released Thanksgiving weekend and many people were on holiday. But Nov. 26 was Anuel’s birthday and it was important. We stayed the course, turned everything early and were able to debut at No. 1 on Billboard which was always our goal.
You have your own label, Real Hasta la Muerte, and you have always distributed through The Orchard but with support from Sony Latin. What was different this time?
Sony, because of their links with The Orchard, helped us immensely [in the past]. With this album, however, we worked directly with The Orchard because it was more of a personal Anuel strategy. In the past year, we opened Real Hasta La Muerte offices in Miami and we’ve added label managers, publicists and other personnel. This is the first album where we’ve really had a bigger team from within our own label. We now have nearly 40 people working for Real Hasta la Muerte between Puerto Rico, New York and Miami. When Anuel first came out, his focus was himself. Our goal now is to add more artists to our roster, be it as signings or for distribution, but allowing them to keep their masters. We feel we’ve been truly blessed because we belong to an era where artists own their masters. And now it’s our turn to help other artists do the same.