Music

Panama's Flex creates controversial name for himself

Ed Morales
Newsday (MCT)

The new kid on the block in Latin pop is a 27-year-old Panamanian singer who, in this country, goes by the name of Flex. His album "Te Quiero" (EMI) is No. 4 on the Billboard Latin Music Chart, and has placed as high as 148 in the Billboard Hot 200. He is riding high on the strength of a musical gambit he calls "romantic reggaeton," and his songs are syrupy smooth wisps of cotton candy.

But in Mexico and the rest of the world, Flex (Felix Danilo Gomez) has been using another street-tough moniker throughout his 10-year career. He uses it on the Mexican version of the album, which has sold 50,000 copies, and the album's title track single, which spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on Mexican radio. Flex's street name is a controversial one north of the border: N---a.

When asked why he would choose such a name, Flex says that he sings "like a black guy from Jamaica." While it is true that he engages in some tongue-twisting Jamaican-dance-hall rapper exercises on the hit single "Te Quiero" and other tracks, he mostly sings in a voice that sounds decidedly unmenacing - soulful as R&B or reggae crooner Gregory Isaacs perhaps, but not quite as edgy as New York rapper Nas, who is causing quite a stir for planning to title his upcoming album after a racial epithet

Although Mexican radio has featured Flex using his street name in heavy rotation without controversy, EMI records changed the name for the U.S. release, probably because they are using Wal-Mart as a launchpad for the album's U.S. success. But in their promotional materials they sent out an MP3 file with the artist tag still intact, while simultaneously circulating a Billboard article that assures us that all references to his previous name (as on the song "La Balada de N---a," which appears on the U.S. release) have been carefully mixed out.

Still, Flex's oeuvre is not without merit. The best stuff, like "Dejala" and "Sin Tu Amor," is set to a reggae, not reggaeton beat, and is catchy enough, despite hit and miss harmonies. The breezy ambience of these songs are more akin to regional Mexican music and mainstream Latin pop than tropical urban, explaining his sudden, massive sales.

Flex's original choice for a stage name might reflect the possibility that the N-word can be used benignly in some instances, or it may be glaring evidence of a shocking ignorance of the word's destructive potential. With its large black population a reminder of the legacy of the tremendous amount of labor needed to build its famous canal, Panama, as opposed to neighboring Central American nations, has a relatively high awareness of its African presence.

But the way Latin America in general deals with blackness has always been hampered by a problematic tendency to gloss over things with a false sense of its own racial democracy. In a small way, Flex may have unwittingly helped inspire a new discussion to address these issues.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.