Almost exactly one year ago, we praised Tego Calderón's previous album as the only good reggaeton album recorded up until then..
The Underdog is the new sound of the latin urban genre, a sound that blends Afro-Carribean influences with some of the hottest beats around. It's hip hop and reggaeton with soul and fuego.
It took Tego a label change, a big budget, and almost two and a half years to complete the album. So I was slightly surprised when I heard he would release his next CD merely one year later. Was his inspiration flowing so freely that he just didn't need the time? Or did the bosses over at Atlantic Records push Tego to quickly record another album, after The Underdog was met with disappointing sales, despite praising critics?
Fact is, the simultaneous release of El Abayarde Contra-Ataca and Tego's first feature film Illegal Tender smells like sly marketing. A quick quote about the movie, where Tego plays the bad guy (a Puerto Rican gangster):
A laughable low-budget mess about third-rate drug thugs, put together with the sheen and polish of a fourth-grade Christmas pageant. (E! Online)
Luckily, El Abayarde Contra-Ataca has become a better effort, though not exactly solid gold.
Both the title and the cover art are a clear reference to El Abayarde, the 2002 debut that launched Tego's career and internationalized reggaeton. And in many aspects, the music is also a return to those times, when Tego focused on underground reggaeton and gangsta-style hiphop. For example, "Lo Hecho Hecho Está" joins a hard core of Latin rappers (Voltio, Ñejo, Chyno Nyno) in a rough and very street anthem to Puerto Rican slums. "Los Mios" and "Quiereme Como Soy" carry inspirational rhymes with a positive message, like we're used to from Tego, but the hiphop finishing and the poor collaboration of Pirulo weaken the songs. If you're into pure rap, you probably won't bother, but I'm not very fond of these tracks.
Tego has always been one of the most innovative rappers, but on El Abayarde Contra-Ataca all experiments seem to fail pitifully. He branches out into r&b ("Quitarte 'To" featuring hype-of-the-moment Randy) and merengue ("No Era Por Ahí") without convincing. The latter might even be the most horrible song of 2007 - a mess of super fast merengue, pale raps and irritating noises. And the dark "Cual Es El Plan Y Eso" with Calle 13 and Yaviah could have been a spectacular combination, but the debilitating beat drowns the track in boredom.
So thank God (or rather, producer Luis Almonte) for reggaeton! "Tradicional A Lo Bravo" is a good choice for the first single, showing the fusion-style reggaeton we like. One minor point of criticism (valable for most tracks): vocal mixing could have been a lot better, there's too much echo and Tego sounds faint, while his voice is one of the most characterful in latin music.
"TTT Tego" is a catchy club banger worthy of his first big hit "Al Natural". The most exotic track is "Ni Fu Ni Fa", which joins funky breakbeats with Afro-Latin percussion and chanting children. And "El Que Lucha No Avanza" is top quality urban music: a positive attitude, original samples, and unstoppable lyrical flow.
Despite the obvious hasty finishing and the failures mentioned above, El Abayarde Contra-Ataca is a varied disc by the most talented latino rapper out there. Tego has an impressive voice, an incomparable flow, and a grand songwriting skill. Maybe the album is too much Abayarde and not enough Underdog? As Underdog, Tego surpassed the genre and created a whole new direction for himself. Let's hope he uses his talents to the fullest again for his next album.
Tego Calderón - El Que Lucha No Avanza
Tego Calderón - Tradicional A Lo Bravo