For those of you who don’t hablo espanol, El Cartel is Spanish for…The Cartel. It’s been three years since Daddy Yankee burst into the mainstream with the explosive Gasolina and in the meantime he’s been busy crafting El Cartel: The Big Boss. El Cartel is a sprawling and sometimes epic work with over 20 tracks that deftly mix reggaeton, hip-hop, and salsa into a dangerously combustible sound. If hip-hop is a reflection of what’s happening in America, than the rise of reggaeton is a product of the growing influence of Latinos in the U.S. Much …
DJBooth Album Review
If hip-hop is a reflection of what’s happening in America, than the rise of reggaeton is a product of the growing influence of Latinos in the U.S. Much like the immigration debate raging through the halls of Congress, hip-hop has a choice; either bunker down, or engage in an open exchange of ideas and styles with newcomers (though Latinos in New York City were among the first to rep hip-hop culture). I’m sure some think I’m making too big a deal out of Daddy Yankee, but I live in Los Angeles, a city that’s literally half Latino. Here artists like Daddy Yankee are as big as 50 Cent and in ten years the national hip-hop scene is going to start looking a lot more like L.A. The game’s gone international; do you have your passport?
The worldwide reach of hip-hop is evident on the track Bring It On with current hit-maker extraordinaire Akon. On the cut you’ve got a Senegalese-American doing the hook to a Puerto Rican rapper’s song, and he’s singing, “I’d rather round up my niggas from Puerto Rico to help me out with this one.” You could write a book on that line alone, but just as importantly Akon delivers a trademark head-nodding beat and Daddy Yankee’s flow is razor sharp. If this is the future, the future sounds dope.
Unfortunately the rest of the English/Spanish collaborations are dull at best and painfully annoying at worst. The lead single Impacto (remix) was produced by Scott Storch and features Fergie on the chorus, who doesn’t add much but doesn’t hurt either. Reggaeton can combine the energy or crunk with the hip-moving motion of salsa, and Impacto’s a good example. In contrast Pussycat Doll leader Nicole Scherzinger shows up for Papi Lover, which adds an Indian belly dancing vibe for Nicole to wind to, but the result is a mess. Just because you can combine flavors doesn’t mean you should; peanut butter and jelly is delicious, Papi Lover is more like peanut butter and mayonnaise.
The bulk of El Cartel is entirely in Spanish and features the kind of hyper cuts that made Daddy Yankee a smash. Mensaje de Estado (Message from the State) starts with a percussive rhythm section and builds into a full blown anthem, and Que Paso (What’s Up) has a synth heavy beat that hits hard. My Spanish is not nearly good enough to follow Yankee’s slang heavy Puerto Rican flow, but the cadence and delivery of a good MC transcends language. Daddy Yankee spits his rhymes like he’s constantly on the verge of shouting, you get the feeling he wishes his voice was more raspy, but he obviously has skills. He isn’t the best Latino MC in the game, but he might be the one that opens the door for others like Nelly did for St. Louis or Kanye for Chicago.
El Cartel could definitely use some cuts (I’m looking at you El Celular). After the hour mark songs start blending together, but there are some truly excellent tracks waiting for anyone patient enough to find them. Me Quederia (I Would Stay) is one of the best tracks in recent memory with a scratching turntable mixing salsa and hip-hop while Yankee reflects on the pull between his native Puerto Rico and the better opportunities he’s found in the U.S.. Reggaeton’s not going to take over hip-hop, but it can find its place alongside the low rider funk of the West Coast, the stuttering drums of the South, and the boom-bap of New York. Hip-hop’s always been about new flavors and on El Cartel, Daddy Yankee’s getting closer to perfecting his recipe.
Note: Jacqueline Torres contributed to this article
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 06/11/07
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Impacto (Remix) ft. Fergie" (2007)
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