In the last couple of years, reggaetón has gone from underground sensation to critic fave rave to popular smash; singles like Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” and Pitbull’s “M.I.A.M.I.” have been all over the radio to the point that everyone is sick of them, and producers Luny Tunes are recognized as having a wild style all their own. Sadly, the genre’s real talents—slang-slinger Tego Calderón, for example, and new jacks Calle 13—have not been quite as successful, but the former’s new album and the latter’s collaboration with Nelly Furtado might change all that.
With this album, Def Jam’s Latin arm tries to clear out some space on the bandwagon. Rapper Hector Bambino “El Father” (don’t you love how Latin guys get to put their nicknames after their full name? suavemente!) hosts this compilation, and contributes to four of its tracks. He’s got a cool choppy nasal flow, and seems like he understands the basic truth of reggaetón: it is a people’s music, and needs to remain grimy to retain any power at all.
Because of this, I had high hopes for this disc, especially when I realized that the guest called “El Presidente” on the opening track “Here We Go Yo” was actually label head Jay-Z. But he doesn’t actually do all that much other than repeat “Young Hove in the place to be” and some other marketing materials, leaving “El Father” to do all the heavy lifting. Which I’m not sure he’s really up to.
Oh, he tries, he really does. His track “Tiburón” is pretty funky, riding a Mekka beat along with Yomo and Polaco, and his collab with new boys Wisin Y Yandel on “El Telefono” has a lot of drama to it, courtesy of producers Luny Tunes and Tainy Tunes. And I like how he brings in established acts like Don Omar alongside brand-new folks like Franko “El Gorilla”.
But reggaetón has an achilles’ heel, and it is very much on display here; I’m speaking of repitition. The problem with basing any genre of music on one beat is that a lot of the songs sound exactly the same, and even though reggaetón’s skipping drums sound pretty damned cool, the songs do tend to all blend into one another unless there is some serious creativity involved. Most of these songs have the same M.O.: ominous minor-key synth hooks leading to yelling over that same rhythmic pattern. After a while, it gets wearying.
Not to say that there isn’t some great stuff here. “Duro”, by Big Joe, has a big fat slamming backing track that shows off his quick flowing voice. Polaco has a great voice, and his track “Soñando” (featuring skilled U.S. rapper Freeway) has a great piano part lurking underneath its shiny surface.
But it’s all just ultimately too much of not much at all. Don Omar’s track is ho-hum (I just don’t get the appeal of that guy, who is huge in Puerto Rico, but hasn’t really caught on here in the same way), and too many songs just settle for sounding like everything else. It might have been nice to bring in some real innovators, or at least to NOT have a track featuring Fat Joe. But nope on both of those.
I’ll have to comfort myself with the new Tego Calderón, which is pretty hot, mostly because he recognizes the limitations of his genre and tries to work through the problem. Stuff like this that just tries to cash in on reggaetón’s popularity? Life’s too short.
// Notes from the Road
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