Cellblock Salsa

Obie Bermudez, Jerry Rivera, and Vico C bring prison consciousness back to Puerto Rican pop

Gone is the preachy, born-again tone with which he announced that he had kicked his heroin habit on the 1998 comeback album Aquel Que Había Muerto (He Who Had Died) and again with last year's Emboscada (Ambush). Verdadopens by making a virtue out of his battle with addiction, as Vico recites the Bible's promise: "If the just man falls 70 times/God will lift him up 70 times," backed by an eerie church organ, frantic violins, police sirens, and an insistent drum track in an intro that ends abruptly with the heavy clank of a prison door.

Vico's conviction (in both senses of the word) fires up his rhymes. He boasts on the title track, "Te confieso/Hasta mi lírica mas linda queda tieso" ("I confess/My lyric sounds even better uptight"). He's out to expose hypocrisy, pointing a finger at everyone from Ricky Martin and Brazilian bombshell Xuxa to Budweiser (Vico: "No matter how much they sponsor sports/It's still alcohol"). He's honest with himself too, especially on the song "September 5," which he supposedly sang over the phone from the pen to his daughter on her thirteenth birthday. Rather than pretend to be perfect and tell her how to live her life, the rapper touchingly offers her his "friendship" and admits that she too will likely make mistakes. "The only thing I can demand," he concludes, "is that she not get into the habit of lying."

On the salsa rap throwback "Para Mi Barrio" with Tony Touch and D'Mingo, Vico claims to offer fans "what's good for you, not what's entertaining." Lucky for us, the album is thoroughly entertaining anyway, thanks to excellent production by the rapper himself with some help from collaborators D'Mingo, Noriega, Lun y Tunes, Menace, and Echo. There's bitter medicine here as Vico rejects bling-bling and declares, "I don't have money" and "There aren't any mansions either" but "I've got flowowow." You can't help but agree, as Vico's rhymes slip and slide around a harsh, repetitive bass beat and a funky, swirling flute that manages to be crunk and spaced-out at the same time. An irresistible rhythm -- synthesized handclaps punctuated by a fat bass boom and sexed up with a dramatic keyboard line and sawing violins -- drives an exercise in braggadocio as Vico C teams up with reggaetón phenom Tego Calderon and rapper Eddie Dee in "El Bueno, El Malo, y el Feo," a tribute to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the classic salsa album by Willie Colon, Ruben Blades, and Hector Lavoe.

"Many of the artists were raised in the barrio and the music represented the culture of the barrio," explains Vico C of the street life and prison themes in classic salsa. "The fact that we are still talking about those things is because we're still living those themes."

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