Farruko and Karol G Aim for Global Stardom on New Albums
Farruko, Gangalee | ★★★
Karol G, Ocean | ★★★
All eyes are on the globe-trotting exploits of the Bad Bunny’s and the Balvin’s, but it’s actually Farruko, a 28-year-old Puerto Rican rapper-singer, who has the year’s biggest Latin hit so far. That would be his remix of Pedro Capó’s “Calma,” a happy-go-lucky reggae romp as pretty as a resort ad, all hot sand and ice-cold sangria.
Farruko looks to expand on this triumph with Gangalee, an all-over-the-place album, full of near-misses, that sometimes feels like two different records. One is devoted to dancehall and reggae. The “Calma” remix is not an aberration for Farruko — he has always been interested in the connections between reggaeton and its antecedents. The first sound on Gangalee is a sample of Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It;” Jamaican singers Konshens and Jo Mersa Marley contribute verses to two different tracks; “Coolant” echoes the famous dancehall single “Murder She Wrote.” These tracks are interesting as an extension of a long-running musical dialogue in the Caribbean, but they’re not hits.
The other half of Gangalee traffics in the melodic reggaeton that has become the sound of global pop. Farruko has a good ear for an acoustic guitar riff, and he can shade his voice with surprising sensitivity. But songs like “Delincuente” and “Sorpresa” are missing oomph. “Resort” comes on like Nineties R&B but falters when it needs a memorable hook. “Borinquen Bella” — a posse cut with Capó, Justin Quiles and the indefatigable Zion & Lennox — is the best of them. The “be-lla” chant during the chorus is ready-made to reverberate around an arena. It’s not clear if this album will help Farruko get to those arenas, though.
Much like Farruko, the Colombian singer Karol G is still in the early stages of her global takeover. She hasn’t yet joined YouTube’s billion-views club, but she’s flitted from hit to hit, adding a bright sheen to whatever trap (her breakout hit “Ahora Me Llama”) or reggaeton she touches (see “Secreto,” which just hit Number One at Latin radio in the U.S.). Her lethal single remains “Mi Cama,” a vengeful, I-will-win-the-breakup record that is nearly too fun for its own good.
She doesn’t manage to top that on Ocean, her second album, though both “Mi Cama” and its remix — by Nicky Jam and J Balvin — appear again here. The closest Karol G gets is “La Ocasión Perfecta,” a lustrous trap power-ballad. She sings “eh eh” in a way that evokes old Rihanna hits, and her duet partner, the veteran rapper Yandel, uses a harsh, tersely staccato delivery to make his melodies feel that much more generous.
The power of Ocean is somewhat diminished by the fact that a third of these songs are already out. The remaining tracks are impressively varied: Piano balladry (“Ocean”), throwback hip-hop, which no one in the Latin mainstream is making (“Yo Aprendí”), guitar balladry (“Dices Que Te Vas,” which tests her fiancée Anuel AA’s vocal limits) and a collaboration with the Brazilian duo Simone & Simaria (“La Vida Continuó,” which presumably builds a bridge to the Portuguese-speaking audience). All the different styles mean that Ocean feels center-less, but that’s kind of the point: If you hope to conquer the globe, you have to be all things to all people.
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