Various Artists
Urban Latino

By Masta G

This compilation from world music label Nascente (put together by salsa don DJ Lubi) combines Latin hip hop and R'n'B with reggaeton, the Latin dancehall sound that's taking over in New York and across the Caribbean. For those who might associate Latin music with salsa clubs on provincial high streets, this collection offers a glimpse of a vibrant musical culture which is absorbing influences from US hip hop and r'n'b and Jamaican dancehall and blending them with Latin lyrics and more traditional salsa sounds. The catch-all term 'urban Latino' speaks of the fact that this Latin fusion is taking place everywhere from Cuba and Puerto Rico to New York and Paris to Columbia and Venezuela, on the Caribbean coast of South America. Tales of crazy reggaeton parties and lewd dancing on a par with that of the most outrageous dancehall divas add to the buzz around this sound, which Lubi suggests has beats and styles anyone can relate to 'even if they didn't understand the language or lyrics'.

The soul and R'n'B tracks, from opener R&B Latino, to Rudy B's moving salsa version of Bill Withers' Lovely Day, show evidence of the dirty basslines and stuttering funkiness which is to be heard in contemporary US R&B. But the complex Latin percussion and emotive brass adds a depth and colour which is rarely found in the futuristic, stripped down productions of Timbaland or Pharell. Cuba's female rap group Instincto bridge the gap between r'n'b and soulful hip hop with their heavy cut Toca Me which combines hard-edged spitting with a melodic chorus and rolling bassline. A more ruffneck hip hop sensibility is in evidence on Nu Yorican hip hop producer Tony Touch and Puerto Rican Vico V's Para Mi Barrio, which bigs up their 'gente' and their 'barrio', concepts which readily translate across cultures: 'Dedicado to all the ghettos all over the world', the song concludes. The global reach and appeal of Latin hip hop is also clear in the Nightmares On Wax remix of original Cuban hip hop crew Orishas' tune Orishas Llego, which combines singing and incendiary rapping over a typically rolling Nightmares On Wax beat.

On more of a ragga tip, Colombian band sidestepper (the project of maverick British producer Richard Blair) come with Mas Papaya, which combines dubbed out Latin percussion with some fluent toasting from London based MCs Rubie Fan and Juxy B, who flip from Jamaican to Latin patois and back. Cuban rap crew Cubanito base a dancehall/R&B style production around a catchy guitar hook on Si Piensas Volver, proving that the Jamaican bashment vibe can be heard just about everywhere these days. But it's really the reggaeton style which the Hispanic Caribbean has made its own and the characteristic reggaeton beat is present in Colombian crew Yo! Arroyo's track Rebellion as well as in Puerto Rican reggaeton MC big boy's Voz Sensual. The standard reggaeton lick offers less interest in terms of variety of production than dancehall or soca but this brings the vocals and instrumentation to the fore, showcasing them and allowing them to carry the songs, as big boy does here with his intense lyric.

With reggaeton acts like Puerto Rican Tego Calderon blowing up in New York over the past year (you can hear him on the remix of Fat Joe's anthemic Lean Back), there seems no doubt that global exposure is imminent for this rough and ready ghetto music, which has a similar raw energy to Brazil's baile funk, or even UK grime. It has already been adopted by New York's Hispanic and African American populations and its appeal to anyone who enjoys dancehall or hip hop is self evident. And with Latin hip hop and r'n'b already being produced to the high standard audible on this compilation, the Urban Latino sound clearly has the potential to push into the mainstream.
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