With his supersized Afro, just-woke-up-after-a-late-night voice, and I-can't-believe-I'm-a-star humility, Tego Calderón might be the most lovable thug of all time. Certainly he's the most loved rapper in reggaetón. His 2002 debut album El Abayarde finally dragged the genre out of the underground, where young Boricuas had been toasting in Spanish to Jamaican dancehall-style beats for more than a decade. That kid who was such a pest that he gets his nickname from the pesky abayarde ant suddenly started to look like the savior of everything from the boyz in the barrio to the Latin music industry. All of which makes El Enemy de los Guasíbiri that much more disappointing.
Tego's first outing felt like a revelation, a kind of commercial conversion for a sound that wasn't so much new as it was persecuted or ignored, just like the young black Puerto Rican men who made and listened to it. But a funny thing happened on the way to success. The followup now sounds overly familiar. There's just been too much mind-bending dancehall and dancehall-influenced hip-hop breaking out in the last year or so between the major-label re-release of El Abayarde and this year's model: The straight-ahead bass and reedy synth riddims (bueno, ritmos) on most of El Enemy de los Guasíbiri's tracks betray reggaetón's real age. Tego's delivery is all good, but the ritmos lack the precision and inventiveness to do his rhymes justice.
The best moments on Enemy are not the ones that try to recapture his first album's magic, but those oddball interludes where the producers give the thudding reggaetón beat a rest and let loose a funkier flow. Calderón adds a rough edge to the R&B bachata of New York pretty boys Aventura, who back him on "Envidia" ("We Got the Crown"). He's charmingly off-key when he takes a turn at singing salsa in homage to his idol Ismael Rivera on "Mi Entierro" ("My Funeral"). But these quirky highlights are not enough to liven up the monotonous march of the rest of the disc. Then again, if you liked El Abayarde so much you'd like to buy it again, you're in luck.
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