Emmanuel Gazmey Santiago realized he was in trouble the moment Puerto Rican police arrested him on April 2, 2016. “I knew they were going to send me to jail. They arrested me for my songs,” he told Billboard. “For what I said, which is real, what people see and live in the streets.”
It’s been 30 months since Gazmey Santiago, better known as Anuel AA, was arrested on gun possession charges and denied bail, despite having a clean record. He was sentenced to 30 months, which he served in full, spending time in four different prisons in Puerto Rico, Atlanta and Miami, with a brief stint at a halfway house in May.
On July 17, he finally walked out a free man, just hours after releasing his debut album, Real Hasta La Muerte (on Glad Empire and distributed by The Orchard), which soared to the top of the iTunes Latin charts and to No. 4 on the general chart.
The first thing he did when he walked out? “I hugged my son. That’s what I missed the most.”
In his first interview since his release from prison, Anuel AA recounted to Billboard how he managed to record an album while serving time, how he found new spirituality and what kept him going. Watch the exclusive video above.