Detroit's Gabriel Duran is bringing sexy back — and adding some spice 

Starboy

click to enlarge Gabriel Duran. - JACOB MULKA
  • Jacob Mulka
  • Gabriel Duran.

Justin Timberlake's got nothing on Southwest Detroit native Gabriel Duran.

OK, so Timberlake was just 21 when he released his solo debut, Justified, in 2002, and at 25, the Ramen-noodle-haired star followed it up with FutureSex/LoveSounds, one of the most infectious pop records of the new millennium that still makes us drop it low (you know, with some assistance) when we hear it. As many Grammys as he's won and as good as the pair of records are because, well, they just are, JT could not have done it without his previous membership in NSYNC.

Meanwhile, Duran is on his own shit with no help from boyband fame. But he does have a secret weapon in the support of the Southwest Detroit community.

At 22 years old, Duran — who cites Timberlake, the Weeknd, and other modern pop artists as influences when it comes to his own brand of layered instrumentation and, dare we say, sexy, pop — already has a full-length debut record under his belt via 2020's mind-blowingly polished Wish You Well. Sure, you can hear the Weeknd's "Snowchild" on Duran's "Tesla" and some Daft Punk meets Bruno Mars' "Chunky" on "Knew Me," but what the young Detroit artist brings to the mix has a lot to do with where he came from.

"My family's from Latin America, so my mother's from Chile and my grandfather's from Chile," he says. "And I listen to a lot of the folkloric music, or at least I have been lately, just because it's kind of been comforting, to just get more in touch with those roots. I've been listening to that music my whole life, but where I'm at in my life now and in my journey with music, I feel like I'm really appreciative of those artists on a different level. So I've been listening to Daniel Viglietti, who's a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Uruguay, and Víctor Jara of Chile."

Duran honed that comfort on the Thibault Ruellan-produced Wish You Well, which he describes as having "pockets of familiarity" woven throughout the record, including Latin guitar picking and vocal runs. The fusion of modern and traditional is a point of pride for the new artist, who started playing percussion and guitar at 10 and writing at 14 after what he refers to as his "first real heartbreak."

Though he says the inspiration is still flowing as it has been since that initial heartbreak, the 2020 Assemble Sound resident artist isn't trying to rush into new music just yet.

"I feel like we're still dropping things from Wish You Well, which is really cool because I also think it's important to let an album live and not stress too much about needing to drop new music right after dropping a whole project that feels really complete," he says.

What Duran is going to continue to work on, regardless of what projects are fresh off the fire, is the bigger picture, which he says is a whole lot bigger than just his experience.

"It's like, yo, this is not just about me, it's also about everybody else from Southwest," he says. "It's also about everybody who might have a similar story to mine, you know, or a similar background. To use my music as a vessel to share all of our stories is like super important to me, and it feels really amazing."

Part of our cover story, "12 metro Detroit acts we think will do big things in 2021."

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