Ankhal Is Back and Stronger Than Ever

Ankhal-21 - Credit: Carlos Badia*
Ankhal-21 - Credit: Carlos Badia*

The Puerto Rican rapper Ankhal started 2022 with unbeatable momentum. He’d burst onto the music scene just a few years before and had attracted fans at breakneck speed, becoming known across the industry for his dangerous, unapologetically explicit rhymes about street life, delivered in his distinct, throaty baritone. He’d collaborated with massive names, such as Myke Towers, Rauw Alejandro, and Jhay Cortez, and more stars were banging on his door, eager to work with him. His hit “Si Pepe” had ricocheted across the internet, gathering 12 million views, and Billboard had named him an Artist to Watch. He was at the top of his game.

But his career was almost cut short one night last February. Ankhal was driving to the studio with friends in Fajardo, an area on the eastern side of Puerto Rico, when two men dressed in black approached the vehicle he was in. They began shooting at point-blank range, hitting Ankhal and a 25-year-old man he was with multiple times, according to local authorities. Paramedics took Ankhal and the other victim to a local hospital, but due to the severity of their injuries, they were transferred to Río Piedras Medical Center. Ankhal fell into a coma for 16 days, while his family worried if he’d make it. When he woke up, he was told he’d need a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

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“It’s a moment that changed everything, truly — not just because I almost lost my life,” Ankhal tells Rolling Stone on a recent Zoom call. He’s speaking about the incident for the first time from an undisclosed location — “I’m living somewhere on planet Earth,” is all he offers — just one day after a powerful performance with Farruko at the Billboard Latin Music Awards, his first time onstage in his wheelchair since the shooting. His hair is in braids and visible on camera, and he’s upbeat and full of gratitude, despite his recent ordeal.

Ankhal has one memory of that harrowing night. “I could feel — how do I say this — God with me,” he says. “I was begging him to save me because my daughter had just been born, and to give me another chance. I remember that part like it was yesterday; I saw my daughter’s face. It was really heavy.” He trails off quietly. But before the moment gets too serious, he bursts out full of energy: “But we’re alive! That’s what matters, and we’re going to keep tearing things up.”

Already, Ankhal has tons of music planned, and he made his big return when Farruko asked him to join the remix of his song “Nazareno.” Ankhal wrote his verses quickly and then recorded a powerful video for the track, where he takes control of his own narrative and vividly shows everything that happened to him. While some artists might have shied away from such graphic visuals, Ankhal isn’t afraid to put it all out there. One scene depicts the two men coming toward his car, and others show the moments he spent fighting for his life in the hospital. Addressing these events was an intense experience, but he wanted to do it. “It was overwhelming,” he admits. “It brought back a lot of memories, but truly the point of it is to get a message across to people so they can can relate to it.”

When Ankhal woke up after being in a coma, he was completely disoriented. “They said, ‘Look at the date. Do you know where you are?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I have three daughters, and I’m 24.’  They said, ‘No, papi, you’re 22 and you have one daughter.'” Ankhal kept begging to see his family and was put on morphine to ease the pain of his injuries.

Once he got back home, he was in low spirits and didn’t feel motivated enough to get back into music — but that changed in a matter of weeks. “I started recording, and now we have like 20 songs,” he says. He’s found himself reinvigorated and inspired. Though the shooting got in the way of some of his initial plans, he’ll be damned if anything stops him now. “[Before it happened], I’d released my second album and I was in the middle of this process, enjoying my songs and working on my music,” he says. “I had a lot of plans, and I was going to make a bunch of videos. This slowed me down, but whatever — we’re here now and making up for time.”

It helps that even when he was recovering in the hospital, his name stayed relevant in music. Some of his collaborations, including the booming electronic experiment “Wuepa” with Rauw Alejandro, came out while he was in a coma and continued building Ankhal’s fan base. “When I got out of the hospital and I checked my phone for the first time, that’s when I saw everything and what everyone was saying,” he says. “I’m super grateful to Rauw Alejandro and the support to me always, and everyone who helped me during that time.” He’s thankful, in particular, to Farruko, who has been on his own spiritual journey for the last year. “Farruko is on another wave. I’m so grateful to God that he’s one of the people that has been around me,” Ankhal says. “He’s a really good person, and things are changing for the better.”

Ankhal also shares that his new music will span tons of sounds and genres, and move past some of the grittier content of his past work. He wants to show he can experiment with everything: “I’m coming back with other styles,” he says. “I’m a huge fan of rock, and I have some songs like that.” He’s a fan of a lot of music, and he’s especially drawn to the rapper Kevin Gates, who he sees as a source of inspiration. “I’m a huge fan of his,” he says. “I listen to him all the time. He’s real, he’s an OG.  He’s not just a rapper — he can do anything. He’s a lyricist, too.”

Asked if he’s heard any updates from the police about the shooting and the suspects involved, Ankhal throws a hand in the air and shuts the question down quickly. “Nah, we don’t talk about that. What happens in the streets gets resolved in the street. I’m not talking to the police, those cabrones. If it were up to them, they would have let me die.”

Instead, he’s focusing on music and healing. He has more mobility than he did, and he’s made massive strides. “Compared to how I was, where I couldn’t move at all, not even to get off the bed… Thank God, with therapy and with everything, I can go out more on the wheelchair and I can at least go out to see the sunlight,” he says. “I’m going out more and exercising and taking care of myself. “

In addition to moving forward in his career, he’s also enjoying the time he gets to spend with his daughter. Her name is “moonlight,” spelled the way it’s pronounced in Spanish — Munlay — and she turned one in September. “It’s been the best, the best,” he gushes. “I’m super happy and super grateful that I can hug her, that I can see her … She’s the best thing that’s ever happened in my life, and I never thought I’d feel like this about another human. Everything I do is for her.”

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