Okay, so I’m not your typical Reggaeton fan: a 44 year old, Puerto Rican professional living in rural Vermont. The last time I had any urban music cred was in the early 80s when I photographed punk bands in New York City. But despite all that I have been completely obsessed by the new Daddy Yankee CD, El Cartel.
It’s true that I love many types of Latin music—meringue, Latin hip hop and rap, even traditional Puerto Rican music—but I never could get into Reggaeton. I tried, mainly because I love that it is a genre that was born of my mother’s island but also because I really feel that trying to understand the culture of today’s youth is the key to modern anthropology and to securing our future.
But many of the albums I sampled sounded the same, song after song with the dark notes, angry lyrics and identical throbbing beat. I found myself returning to the rap/hip hop precursors—Vico C, Mala Rodriguez, La Bruja—musicians that offer complex rhythms, meaningful lyrics and diverse offerings. But when the new Daddy Yankee CD came out, I decided to give Reggaeton another try. I loved it from the first listen. Each of the 21 songs sounds unique, each offering its own sabor, its own energy.
From the traditional Latin piano and horns of “Ella Me Levanto” to the dance-infused beats of “Plane to PR” (a collaboration with Will.i.am who is, at least as far as I’m concerned, the most brilliant musician of the last 25 years), there is something for everyone.
The opening song, “Jefe,” is one of my favorites. It is a dark and macho-infused Reggaeton anthem with a sound much in line with Daddy Yankee’s earlier hits. The techno sound of “Fuera de Control” interprets the usual Reggaeton beats with a retroesque ear, leading right into the “Mr. Roboto” style intro to “Impacto.” “Ella Me Levanto” is a more traditional Latin sound, but infused with rapped phrases and the infectious Reggaeton beat. “A Lo Clasico” is just that, a classic song of the genre. The club sounds of “Bring it On” (a collaboration with Akon?) is another fabulous hybrid, and the two artists’ voices work beautifully together. I don’t know what to say about “Who’s Your Daddy” other than it’s my favorite cut on the album. For me this piece evokes the steamy streets of Puerto Rico more than any other. Another hip-moving song, “Papi Lover” is accented by the sultry vocals of Nicole Scherzinger.
From my love affair with this album I have begun to explore other artists, such as Ivy Queen, Don Omar. Non-traditional demographic or not, I found myself falling in love with Reggaeton. I promise, there is something for everyone on this album. For Latin neophytes, I suggest you start with the accessible and infectious “Plane to PR” or the tropical rhythms of “Coraza Divina.” From there, you can enjoy “Jefe” and deeper cuts like “Mensaje de Estado.” And don’t worry about repetition; this work is as complex, intelligent and creative as its author. In conclusion, mi gente, I’m here to confirm, from my middle-aged Latina perspective, that indeed “Daddy Yankee no es un cantante, Daddy Yankee es un movimiento.”