Chubby Charm

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Son by Four's momentum continued with the release of "Purest of Pain," which catapulted them into English-language radio, and a collection of their hits salsa-style. They seemed unstoppable.

But then the music did stop.

The Montes brothers and Quiles filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Juan against Sueiro and Funky Joe over rights to the band's name (the brothers argued they had originated it) and accused the pair of conspiring to deprive them of millions of dollars. Lopez, meanwhile, decided it was time to split.

Today veteran Puerto Rican producer Rafo Muñiz manages Son by Four. The group is a quartet once more, with salsa singer Luis Damon as frontman. And producer Angel "Cucco" Peña has worked with the members on a new album.

Lopez emphasizes that he never had any problems with Alfanno, whom he calls his "mentor" and "friend."

"Many people were stunned when I left the group. They thought I had had some problem with Omar, and that is not the case," reflects Lopez. "As a matter of fact, we have talked of working together again. He could not be with me this time because he had his other projects, but for my next album, I do not doubt it. And even the possibility of one day singing again with Son by Four is not remote. Now that they are going to be heard in the way they should be heard, they will grow and shine, while I do my own thing."

Alfanno says he cannot comment on the present state of Son by Four, but he attributes the problems to growing too fast, too soon.

"When success hit, it was like being caught up inside Hurricane Andrew," says Alfanno, who has worked with stars such as Marc Anthony, Gilberto Santa Rosa, and Olga Tañon. "We all lacked the experience to manage an unexpected situation called worldwide fame. And if you do not know how to control fame, it can devour you. By the time we realized what was going on, it was too late to fix things up."

And although Lopez's first single from En Mi Soledad, titled "Entre El Amor Y El Odio" ("Between Love And Hate," also the theme song of a Mexican telenovela), barely caused a ripple compared with his previous success, Alfanno has no doubt his former protégé will rise to the occasion.

"His biggest responsibility now is to show that he can carry an album as a soloist to the levels he once reached with Son by Four," notes Alfanno. "And he can do it. The tears that he can bring to one's eyes when he sings, the romanticism in his voice, you don't see those every day."

No stranger to receiving accolades for her voice is Nuyorican club diva turned salsa princess La India (Linda Caballero), who recorded a duet with Lopez, a cover of a classic called "Para Decir Adiós" ("To Say Goodbye") for En Mi Soledad.

"We met earlier this year at an event where I was performing. Once I knew he was in the crowd, I asked him to join me onstage, and the chemistry just blew everybody away," recalls La India, who is also working on a new album for Sony Discos. "I hope our duet opens doors for Angel in the same way mine with Marc [Anthony] opened them for him when we sang 'Vivir Lo Nuestro' ('To Live Our Own'). When people hear 'Para Decir Adiós,' they are not going to believe it."

Lopez is well aware that expectations are high, and that many eyes are set on him.

"My music comes first, but image is also important to me, and so is losing weight. The problem is I have no willpower when it comes to working on that. Since I was 21, I have been 30 pounds overweight. The change won't happen overnight," says a candid Lopez. "I tell you, I need a person to help me with this."

Ironically Lopez did not become a gym maniac or try to slim down for En Mi Soledad precisely because of how people remember him.

"My fans know me fat, so I wasn't going to come back skinny all of a sudden," he reasons. "I will lose the weight gradually and, the way I see it, it's a win-win situation. If I lose the weight I want, people will see my perseverance. And if I don't, people will still like me for being who I was."

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Juan Carlos Perez-Duthie