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Friday, June 15, 2007

Daddy Yankee takes mainstream turn
By Alfredo Flores Published June 15, 2007 Washington Times
Daddy Yankee
El Cartel: The Big Boss
El Cartel Records/Interscope

King Daddy. El Jefe. The Big Boss. El Cangri. These are just some of the nicknames Raymond "Daddy Yankee" Ayala has given himself over his spectacular 13-year ascent from the underground Spanish hip-hop scene of Barrio Obrero, Puerto Rico, to undisputed leader of reggaeton — an infectious mix of dance-hall, reggae, Latin beats and rap that's sweeping across nightclubs and radio stations throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.With his latest effort, "El Cartel: The Big Boss," Daddy Yankee, 30, tries to claim yet one more title for himself — pop star.DY's "Impacto" remix with Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas is likely to become a summer club banging jam that will further propel Yankee (a Puerto Rican slang term used for someone big in what he does, a Big Daddy) into mainstream popularity. It doesn't hurt that the futuristic vocoder beat (think Dr. Dre/2Pac's "California Love") used by hit-making producer Scott Storch is just so darn catchy.For those who can't follow DY's trademark melange of rapid-fire Spanish, Tony Montana broken English and Spanglish slang, he slows it down in the chorus with "You like the way I do it?" And Fergie replies, mimicking Yankee's Spanish-accented emphasis on the word "do," with "I like the way you duuu it."DY has shed the gangsta image of a few years back when he had hits including "Gangsta Zone" with Snoop Dogg and remixes of "Gasolina" with Lil Jon, "Rompe" with Lloyd Banks, and "Machete" with Paul Wall. On "El Cartel" it's out with the rappers, in with another Black Eyed Pea (Will.I.Am, who raps "Blacks like Latins and Latins like blacks/Let's start (loving)/ What's happening," in the Caribbean-tinged party track "Plane to PR"); a Pussycat Doll (Nicole Scherzinger on the love song "Papi Lover," with its clever uses of flute and hand cymbals); and the fly R&B stylings of Akon on "Bring It On," on which Yankee's smooth rhymes and melodic keyboard hook and Akon's amazing singsongy flow, make for a killer combination.The lengthy album — 21 tracks clocking in at slightly less than 80 minutes — has a handful of songs that could have been left off — particularly the cheesy "Who's Your Daddy" and the extremely disappointing duet with reggaeton star Hector "El Father" on "Tension." Still, there are several standout tracks, most notably DY's salsa and mambo-based songs such as "Corazon Divina" and "Me Quedaria," his aggressive Jay-Z-esque world takeover "Mensaje del Estado" and his excellent English-language collaborations.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

By Alfredo Flores
Photo Credit Andrzej Liguz
On Tap Magazine June 2007

A unique musical friendship was formed last summer at Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park, where more than half of the 100,000 people in attendance rocked out to headliner, hometown hero and R&B superstar Kanye West. But based on the near-riot-like soccer match atmosphere and deafening decibel levels from Manu Chao's fans — a fourth the size of West's audience — at a nearby stage, you'd think that this third-billed global pop icon was headlining the festival. Washington, D.C.'s own internationally renowned downtempo electronica DJ duo of Eric Hilton and Rob Garza — better known as Thievery Corporation — performed right before Chao, and had the best view for his remarkable 90-minute set, filled with chants of "Ole, Ole, Ole", mosh pitting, slam dancing, head bobbing, and just plain general chaos that has become a trademark for just about all of the 45-year-old Chao's live performances. "We've been longtime admirers of Manu's music and how he goes about it," said ESL Music label manager Mat Whittington, who manages Thievery. "At Lollapalooza, he was phenomenal. His live show is amazing." But little did they know that after seeing and then hanging out with Chao after their respective sets that Thievery would have the chance to help out one of their favorite musicians. Chao, now in the middle of his 22-city and most extensive U.S. and Canada tour to date, was having trouble securing a good D.C. area venue earlier this year, until I.M.P. Productions, ESL Music and Thievery Corporation came up with an interesting concept. Thievery is now hard at work on their new album and had no plans on touring this summer, but that changed when Whittington got a call from his friend Tom Chauncey — Chao's agent. "We knew he was touring this summer, and they were having a little difficulty finding a good space for Manu to play," Whittington said. "The people at I.M.P. then came to us about doing a co-headline with Manu. There was no way we could say no." ESL Music — named after Dupont Circle's famed Eighteenth Street Lounge, which was founded by Hilton and is where Thievery got their start —also is home to DJs Ursula 1000, Nickodemus and Thunderball. They — along with bossa nova star Bebel Gilberto, who has worked with Thievery in the past, most notably in the remix of her hit "Cada Beijo" — will be part of the house, reggae, and other international-tinged music in the "A Day in the World" festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion this month. For Thievery — known for spearheading the sophisticated "downbeat generation" and their mastery of the "outernational" sound that fuses a plethora of world music with electronica (think bossa nova, easy listening, Latin dub, roots reggae, rock, Middle Eastern beats, jazz, soul; guest performers on horns, percussion and sitar), and have worked with Madonna, Gus Gus, Stereolab and rock legends Perry Farrell, The Flaming Lips and David Byrne — this music festival provides a unique opportunity to play alongside musicians of somewhat variant styles. "I think it's a meeting of like minded musicians," Whittington said. "And while the music might be a little bit different, I think the bands have a similar outlook on the world. And this meeting makes a lot of sense, really." Both Chao and Thievery are lauded for their willingness to challenge themselves with new music genres. Chao is an interesting character, to say the least. He has been called somewhat of a pop musical messiah, but also is considered an activist artist who has not mellowed with age. Even though he is now middle-aged, gray haired, short and super slim, suffering from tendonitis on his ankles, one would be amazed at the sheer energy he and his crack raucous band Radio Bemba Sound System — named after a slang term meaning gossip or word of mouth — brings to their sold-out live shows of tens of thousands around the world. Chao — Paris-born and Barcelona-dweling, and whose first new studio album in six years comes out this September — also is the personification of a human pogo stick, tendonitis be damned. He sets the tone for many of his reggae-influenced songs with a downbeat to start, many in the audience swaying back and forth; and then, in an instant, he strikes that one cord on his guitar and all the house lights light up the stage, in a cue that lets everyone know go ahead, go nuts. As Chao jump kicks and hops on stage, and Radio Bemba — with its drums, timbales, backup guitars, keyboards and mega bass — go into pummel mode. His 2001 album "Proxima Estacion: Esperanza" topped the European charts and was named one of the best albums of the year by Rolling Stone. His solo debut "Clandestino" remains one of the best-selling albums in French music history, with more than 2.5 million copies sold to date. Garza is a huge Chao fan. He's has been listening to Chao since he was 18 — back when Chao was the frontman for the French rock group Mano Negra. Like Chao, he also often sports a beret, but shares a lot more in common than headwear.Along with Hilton, the duo has been "undisputed masters of cool" — as one fan called them — for 12 years now, is best known for their albums "The Richest Man in Babylon," "The Mirror Conspiracy" and "The Cosmic Game," and has sold over half a million albums. This is a staggering total for DJs, who make their reputations in clubs, not necessarily in studios — like the one in Adams Morgan that ESL Music studios calls home. Like Chao, they perform in front of packed crowds of thousands of people all throughout Europe, even playing one time for an unheard of 30,000 people in Portugal. So what's the best part of getting these "like-minded" musicians on one stage, for what's expected to be more than 15,000 people at Merriweather? "All of them are people that we would consider, you know, friends," Whittington said. "So, that really would be the push behind the show, putting people together that like each other and would be a good fit musically for a day-long type of festival."