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10 Best Latin Albums of 2018

Rolling Stone ranks the year’s finest Ibero-American releases, including Ozuna, Balún, Gepe and more

year end latin

If 2017 was the year Spanish-language music broke into the mainstream, 2018 is when it flaunted its staying power. At the epicenter of the Latin popquake has arguably been Puerto Rico, whose denizens emerged swinging from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria with formidable shows of strength and genius — take Ozuna’s Aura, a multitude of hits by Bad Bunny, or viral reggaeton track “Te Boté” and its ceaseless stream of remixes. Meanwhile from across the Atlantic, Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía became ubiquitous well beyond Europe with her sophomore LP El Mal Querer, and melded her incisive pop mind with J Balvin’s kaleidoscopic one on his own breakthough, Vibras. Yet while Hot 100 power players like Balvin go global, indie stalwarts like Gepe keep their magic close to home. Here are Rolling Stone‘s top 10 Latin albums of 2018.

Ozuna Aura
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Ozuna, ‘Aura’

At a time when musical ubiquity is an essential component of modern stardom, Ozuna can find a home anywhere — in reggaeton, cumbia, trap, bachata, dancehall, salsa and whatever it is that Post Malone does. That’s why he is the only person who had more hits (16) than Bad Bunny last year on the Latin singles chart, and his 2017 debut, Odisea, became the longest-leading Number One by a male artist on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart. (If he sang in English, he’d be on the cover of every magazine in America.) Odisea included several insta-classics like “Se Preparó” and “Siguelo Bailando”; Aura has no trouble matching these. Immediately the ears are drawn to “Besos Mojados,” a collaboration with veterans RKM & Ken-Y on which Ken-Y threatens to out-sing Ozuna, and “Ibiza,” which appears to get prettier every time it gets played. But Aura is also a step beyond the reggaeton and trap that Ozuna is known for; nestled right in the middle of the album is “Aunque Me Porte Mal,” a wonderfully brassy cumbia full of mischievous assertions of loyalty. “Coméntale” is a straight-up bilingual pop record; you should hear it on Top 40 radio, even though you won’t. The same could be said of the charming Cardi B collaboration “La Modelo,” which came out in 2017 but reappears here; had this song been released after Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, instead of before, it would have gotten the reception it deserved. At 20 songs, Aura is more drawn out than it needs to be, but with an inventive singer like Ozuna at the helm, even when it drags, it never loses its buoyancy for long. E.L.

Rosalia El Mal Querer
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Rosalía, ‘El Mal Querer’

On her sophomore album, the Spanish singer Rosalía dares to use the ancient form of flamenco as a springboard for hyper-modern experimentation. As she sings staunch, trembling lines about jealousy, rapture and romantic torment, there are riptides of festival-ready electronic bass in “Pienso En Tu Mirá” and decaying lines of pitch-shifted vocals in “De Aquí No Sales” — along with a vrooming motor, screeching car-brakes and shrieking sirens. A few songs later, on “Di Mi Nombre,” a beat of claps and kicks evokes Lumidee’s hit “Never Leave You (Uh Oh),” while “Bagdad” riffs beautifully on Justin Timberlake’s classic “Cry Me a River.” The premise is bold — maybe flamenco wasn’t as far from contemporary radio R&B as we thought — and the fusion is flawless. E.L.

J Balvin Vibras
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J Balvin, ‘Vibras’

If 2015’s Energía helped shift the course of reggaeton, J Balvin’s globetrotting opus, Vibras, paved the road to mainstream acclaim with sunshine. Part science experiment, part internationalist platform, the Colombian singer’s breakthrough embodies the post-“Despacito” urban zeitgeist taking Latin pop by storm. Blessed with a chameleonic chill, Balvin hardly paints himself into a corner: His flirtations with dancehall, Afrobeat and electro-pop are blended seamlessly in the hands of young producer Sky Rompiendo and reggaeton stalwart Marco “Tainy” Masís. No matter the genre, nor how high he ascends, Balvin’s mission statement remains the same: As he noted on his first Top Ten single, “Mi Gente,” “My music doesn’t discriminate against anyone.” S.E.