Myke Towers Takes Big Risks, But Also Plays it Too Safe, On ‘LA VIDA ES UNA’
Puerto Rican rapper Myke Towers is undeniably a product of the underground, even on his most chart-friendly projects. Since arriving in 2016 with his debut, El Final del Principio, his star has risen on the strength of his uncanny flow and cadence, sharp lyrics, and prolific work ethic on a series of releases that have seen him honor the barrios that raised him while attracting listeners worldwide. After moving seamlessly from rap en español to Latin pop, he had his biggest success yet with the Latin Grammy-nominated 2021 album LYKE MIKE, which was inspired by old-school hip-hop from New York to Río Piedras. His latest project, LA VIDA ES UNA, sees him make a controlled move back to the mainstream, leaning more widely on melody alongside flow, while venturing into Afrobeats, reggae, and, of course, pop.
Towers likes making long records. He has said he whittled this album down from 50 tracks. Like its predecessor, LA VIDA ES UNA clocks in at 23. But whereas the length of LYKE MYKE allowed Towers to showcase his command of his craft on a back-to-basics LP with mixtape energy, here it makes for an LP that feels fractured, going from successful risks to sections that skew too close to middle-of-the-road.
The most interesting moments are the most surprising, thanks in part to the sparkling signatures of his extensive production roster. These arrive in gestures both large and small: a Spanish guitar riff on “Mi Droga”; the left turn to synth-pop and Eighties beatscapes on tracks like “Cama King,” with Argentine songwriter Chita, and “Extra Extra”; the excellent push-and-pull of his tempo switches on “En Alta”; and his verse over the reggae beat of “Flow Jamaican.” What makes these risks feel earned is that even when Towers tries on a new style, his lyrics remind you where he came from, anchoring these tracks in his own story. It makes return-to-form tracks like “Don & Tego,” his blistering collaboration with veteran reggaeton artist Arcángel, and “Lo Logré,” a wistful reflection on how far he’s come, feel like trophies collected rather than retreads of his greatest hits.
By contrast, a number of tracks feel like lackluster attempts at would-be hits pasted in from a less ambitious project. While “Ulala” (with the now retired Daddy Yankee) and the sing-song “Lala” are each fun in their own right, they don’t cohere with the album’s bolder experiments. The Ozuna collaboration “Conocerte” feels like it checks a box. It’s not that Towers’ pop-reggaeton impulse isn’t interesting (the single “Aguardiente” is a fun summer song that intentionally nods to Colombia’s growing hold on the genre), it’s that this direction itself feels more stale and safer than Towers’ bold vision would let on.
LA VIDA ES UNA is often great; it is also often merely fine, especially since Towers is so full of potential energy and has already proven how powerfully he can command the barest of tracks. His risks here yield huge returns; the rest is window dressing.
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