El Cartel: The Big Boss
addy Yankee’s in a no-win situation. He’s in the unenviable position of following up the most successful Latin hip-hop album ever, Barrio Fino. That album spawned “Gasolina,” the biggest Spanish language track to hit the U.S. pop charts since Los Lobos’ cover of “La Bamba” hit #1 in 1987. And aside from Ricky Martin, he’s the most marketable Latin musician in the world. However, reggaetón, the style which Daddy Yankee made internationally famous, is experiencing a decline in popularity as the Latin music community has moved on to trendier styles such as bachata. At the same time, Don Omar and Calle 13 have already made their intentions clear that they’re progressing beyond reggaetón into more artistically satisfying forms of Latin rap.
So here’s the rub: Daddy Yankee can’t change the formula which has made him famous. Yet, he’s fully aware that he can’t just make Barrio Fino redux. Justifiably, and some would say intelligently, he has chosen to do both. His new album, El Cartel: The Big Boss, is evenly split between the reggaetón club-bangers that serve as his bread and butter and more musically diverse tracks that eschew the formula altogether.
Sadly, while the front-loaded standard reggaetón tracks aren’t short on hit potential, they’re lacking in the sort of charisma that has made Daddy Yankee famous. Whether through personal choice or by label encouragement, these tracks are loaded with guest appearances by omnipresent pop figures like Akon, Nicole Scherzinger, Scott Storch, and that girl from the Black Eyed Peas (whose name we shall not mention). These collaborations not only stilt the rhythm of the music, but sap Daddy Yankee of the autonomy under which he works so well. (It should come as no surprise that the solo “Ella Me Levanto” is the only reggaetón track on the album as catchy as past hits “Lo Que Paso, Paso” or “Rompe.”)
That’s not to say that El Cartel: The Big Boss is entirely a lost cause. In fact, the closing third of the album is quite encouraging. “Corazón Divina” is built on an island-rhythm straight out of a 1950’s Celia Cruz song, while “Me Quedaria” is the best track NOT on Tego Calderón’s The Underdog. “Mensaje de Estado,” on the other hand, has the most forceful Daddy Yankee delivery since “Corazónes.”
And quite honestly, that seems to be what’s most lacking here. Daddy Yankee has always been defined by his urgency, rapping every verse as if it were prophetic. Coupled with his innate magnetism and his willingness to speak for the Puerto Rican community, it helped make him an idol for an entire ethnicity. However, on El Cartel: The Big Boss, his fire has been made faint, seemingly in a bid for mainstream acceptance. It’s quite telling that the cover of this album depicts Daddy Yankee at a press conference, surrounded by photographers. The only question is: who he is speaking for now? The Latin people or for Pepsi?
Reviewed by: Andrew Casillas
Reviewed on: 2007-07-17