Ever since "Gasolina" became a worldwide hit, Raymond Ayala — a.k.a. Daddy Yankee — has been a Latin celebrity. He helped reggaeton break through to the English-language market with his multi-platinum album Barrio Fino. He was the first to franchise into clothing and sponsoring. He has his own movie releasing soon (Talento de Barrio, due this fall). And, he's probably the most experienced reggaetonero in the business: El Cartel 3: The Big Boss is his eighth studio album.
El Cartel starts out badly, though. "Jefe" is the extensive and boring intro, where DY does the obligatory bragging about being the best, and calling out to all Latinos. "En Sus Marcas Listo Fuera" is the type of aggressive-sounding reggaeton Daddy Yankee got famous with, which is also the type I profoundly dislike. And "Fuera De Control" must be a mistake: this slow, irritating track should have gone straight to the trash.
But things get better. Scattered throughout the album, some tracks show quite a different Yankee, and it becomes clear why he calls himself 'the evolution of reggaeton.' There's a clear influence of U.S. club-style hip-hop and R&B, with some great producing from big names like Mr. Collipark, Scott Storch, Akon, and Will.I.Am. A good attempt to cash in on both the Anglo and Latino market.
You've already heard the bomb single "Impacto," with Storch's innovating beats. Though it seems the track isn't doing as well as expected in the charts, I love it: it's just made for the dance floor, with the quick tempo and electronic influences (a vocoder!). The remix version featuring Fergie is the probably the best track on the album.
"A Lo Clásico" (recommended) is a chaos of crazy beats and bumps — great party stuff. "Cambio" keeps its distinctive reggaeton bass and snare, but everything else is mainstream hip-hop. "Me Quedaría" feels delightfully old-school thanks to the skipping and scratching samples, and has the socially conscious text (about immigration) a true hip-hop track needs.
To my surprise, a few tracks on El Cartel truly impressed me. "Who's Your Daddy" is the weirdest reggaeton track I've heard in ages. I'd never expect a big name like DY to go this experimental. Electro-club influences and metal synths in reggaeton? Lyrically it's rubbish, but this kind of musical metamorphosis can only be encouraged. "Papi Lover" (recommended) features Nicole Sherzinger (the main Pussycat Doll) on a very sexy arabic/banghra/ragga rhythm: ¡a fuego!. It has flow like no other song on this album, and is deliciously contagious. If this isn't his next single, someone at Machete Music has to be fired. And though Will.I.Am (the main Black Eyed Pea) didn't seem to have a lot of lyrical inspiration for "Plane To PR", the production is excellent: it has a revolutionary, fast dembow beat that can be seamlessly mixed with any dance track.
Yankee has a few goes at Latin fusion too: "Ella Me Levantó" and "Coraza Divina" are okay attempts to sing salsa. Both tracks are solid, but they don't match up to the great crossovers Calle 13 or Tego Calderón did on their latest albums.
Besides those pleasant surprises, not much is happening on El Cartel. There is mediocre hiphop ("Bring It On" featuring Akon, "El Celular", "Que Pasó", and more), the usual reggaeton stuff ("Mensaje De Estado", "Ven Damelo"), and downright awful songs ("Tensión", a dark and aggressive duo with Hector 'El Father').
Daddy Yankee has one big problem: his voice. It's not harsh enough to do rough rapping, not pure enough to sing, so he's stuck somewhere in between. To me he alternatingly sounds like an aggressively shouting brat, and a B-list Idol candidate with a hopeless inclination to singing off-key. Also, El Cartel lasts way too long. Nobody can handle an hour and twenty minutes of reggaeton. The synth samples are fun until about halfway, then they become irritating. And Yankee's voice is only bearable for about ten minutes. At least eight songs on this album are completely obsolete — he should have cut them, or at least improved them during those three years.
Everything taken into account, El Cartel: The Big Boss is a mediocre album with a few nice surprises. If Daddy Yankee had cut out the bad stuff, and focused on the inventive new tracks, he could have made a great CD. Now it's a confusing mishmash of unexciting reggaeton, second-rate hip-hop, and a few successful experiments.