Could someone please tell Daddy Yankee that reggaetón is supposed to be over? Because on his latest, El Cartel: The Big Boss, the fiery Puerto Rican rapper acts like the party's just begun. While detractors continue to proclaim the genre's premature death, this proper follow-up to 2004's "Gasolina"-powered smash Barrio Fino is a welcome reminder of what initially made reggaetón feel so vibrant and fresh.
For one thing, The Big Boss keeps its sights firmly on the dance floor—a bouncy, adventurous mix of dancehall, hip-hop and salsa meant for hot summer parties and slow drives in souped-up low-riders. But thankfully, the rhythmic inventiveness never gets in the way of the fun, and it all comes together on the Scott Storch–produced "Impacto Remix." By all accounts this track shouldn't really work—it has a big, cheesy vocoder chorus; grandiose, operatic string arrangements; and a phoned-in guest appearance by Fergie. But you'll still focus on Yankee's dynamic rhyming style, fiercely holding the song's divergent elements together while breathlessly soliciting Fergie "to just grind it up" over a furious reggaetón riddim.
That's the thing about Big Boss: No matter what, it never forgets to put Daddy Yankee front and center. On the summery "Ella Me Levanto" ("She Brought Me Up"), he renews the Fania NYC sound with modern street slang while progressive, tropical break-beats shimmer over deliciously sultry salsa horns. The party slows down a notch for the R&B-infused "Bring It On," wherein a velvety Akon vibes it out with Yankee over an anti-gang-violence theme. The track mixes English and Spanglish verses, but the duo mercifully avoids sounding like a lame crossover-marketing wet dream—they seem to actually believe in their rhymes. Other cuts (such as "Papi Lover" and the will.i.am–assisted "Plane to P.R.") keep the cross-cultural fiesta moving, with Yankee floating over dancehall beats and constantly shouting "Here we go now!" or its Spanish equivalent, "Nos fuimos lejos!" In the end, though, you don't need to understand either language to get it—just follow the riddims, and the meaning will come easy.
Sunday, September 2, at Nokia Theatre
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