Best Latin Albums of 2019 - Rolling Stone
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25 Best Latin Albums of 2019

We rank 25 top albums from Latin America — featuring Bad Bunny, Romeo Santos, Girl Ultra, and more

Rolling Stone, Latin, Best of 2019, Albums

In 2019, Latin music of the twenty-teens came full circle. From the prescient breakthroughs made by the Latinx indie underground to the unprecedented rise of bachata; to the urbanization of regional Mexican music, and the mainstream triumphs of reggaeton, albums released in 2019 exemplify the brilliance of Latinoamérica and its diaspora. Several Rolling Stone Latin writers came together to select 25 of the year’s most outstanding albums, which not only highlight the best of the year in Latin music, but set the bar for the decade to come.

Maluma, 11:11
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Maluma, 11:11′

Inspired by “angel numbers” (a repetitive sequence deemed auspicious by spiritualists), 11:11 sees Maluma betting on a future — not just in his home turf of reggaeton, nor in Latin music — but in pop at large. It’s most evident in his features: among them Madonna, Ty Dolla $ign, and one of the original Latin crossover kings, Ricky Martin. Maluma meanders from the dancehall-inflected “No Se Me Quita,” breezes through the English-language club jam “Tu Vecina” and breathes cool into the classic salsa sound in “Te Quiero.” But for a guy who’d hoped to shed his rep as a single-genre artist, Maluma shines brightest in his reggaeton tracks. Urbano pop titans like Ozuna and Zion y Lennox provide contrast to the slickness of Maluma’s come-ons; Chencho Corleone, of the legendary Puerto Rican duo Plan B, flies high in the cumbiatón hybrid “La Flaca.” Producer Tainy‘s idiosyncrasy comes through in synthy currents, underpinning the Nicky Jam-assisted “No Puedo Olvidarte” with an arty flourish. It’s a timeless groove, save for unmistakably 2019 lyrics: “Like Ozuna, I’ll give you ‘Taki Taki’,” they sing, “I’m Offset and you’re my Cardi, baby.” S.E.

iLe, Almadura
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iLe, ‘Almadura’

The second half of 2019 has seen the flames of revolution burn across Latin America, and no artist this year articulated the turning socio-political tides as eloquently, ferociously and compassionately as the Puerto Rican force of nature, iLe. With her stunning second full-length, Almadura, the former Calle 13 vocalist dove into the immense pool of Caribbean roots traditions, invoking Latin jazz, palo and bomba, and spinning a series of blistering indictments that tackled sexual violence (“Temes”), economic disparity (“Ñe Ñe Ñé”) and insidious political cover ups (“Odio”). While the emotions behind Almadura are no doubt fueled by Puerto Rico’s own unfolding political and economic woes, the album also offers empathy and some sorely needed catharsis for a resilient but wounded Latin American spirit. R.V.

Esteman, Amor Libre
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Esteman, ‘Amor Libre’

2019 was a year of metamorphosis for Esteman. A Colombian pop singer who strayed from the safe storytelling common among stars on the brink of fame, he chose instead to unspool his beautiful inner world on the colorful and endlessly danceable Amor Libre. While never actually confined to a closet, Amor Libre finally gave Esteman the space to explore the realms of same-sex love (“Amor Libre”), lust (“Buscandote”), gender roles (“On Top”), and heartbreak (“Fuimos Amor”) with refreshing candidness and an arsenal of new rhythms. Reggaeton and electrified twists on champeta and ballenato infuse edge and whimsy into Esteman’s once squeaky clean musical canvas, resulting in an honest and layered ode to home, romance and authenticity. R.V.

Helado Negro
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Helado Negro, ‘This Is How You Smile’

As each new day seems to bring more harrowing and demoralizing news for Latinx people up and down the Western Hemisphere, This is How You Smile dares to provide comfort for all. Roberto Carlos Lange’s sixth album as Helado Negro is a tribute to perseverance through the power of memory. That, no matter how oppressive the outside world may be, even a community of one can thrive by remembering what makes it special in the first place. It’s as universal a piece of Latinx art can be in 2019, affirming the spirit of defiance of a special group of people. Or, in Lange’s own words, “Brown won’t go, brown just glows.” A.C.

Combo Chimbita, Ahomale
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Combo Chimbita, ‘Ahomale’

Over the years, Latin indie fusion masters like Gepe and Chancha via Circuito have gradually eroded the myth that roots music exists in a traditionalist vacuum. In 2019, Colombian tropical futurists Combo Chimbita positively nuked rhythmic purists with their ambitious sophomore album Ahomale, a psychedelic rollercoaster ride of diasporic percussion, explosive power chords and singer Carolina Olivero’s soaring vocal gymnastics. Drawing inspiration from an ancestral warrior force known as Ahomale, which the band claims to channel in each of their riveting, trance-like performances, the album innovates on tradition at every turn. Chicha collides with galactic synthesizers on “Te Ví,” otherworldly vocoders plunge cumbia into Hades on “Santo Fuerte,” later resurfacing in the purifying flames of “Revelación (Candela).” With Ahomale, Combo Chimbita delivered a spiritual tour-de-force void of dogma and dripping with dance floor transcendence. R.V.

Natanael Cano, Corridos Tumbados
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Natanael Cano, ‘Corridos Tumbados’

If rancheras are your family-approved norteño outing, with occasional PG13-rated debauchery, then corridos and its makers are the hellraisers crashing (and burning) your regional Mexican music party. Yet, Natanael Cano’s Corridos Tumbados are a whole new breed of its own — a sound that has attracted the likes of trap superstar Bad Bunny. On Cano’s Rancho Humilde debut — the Los Angeles imprint that’s leading a new wave of corridos urbanos — the Hermosillo teenager aims to dismantle the traditional structures of urbano and regional Mexican music alike. Equipped with a heady flow that brims with trap bravado, Cano rhymes defiantly about sipping on lean and rolling with border-crossing smugglers, stirring the pot with just a guitar, a twelve-string, and the occasional bass. I.R.

Romeo Santos, Utopia
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Romeo Santos, ‘Utopia’

Romeo Santos could have stacked Utopia with mainstream pop-urbano features tailor-made to ride the decade’s “Latin Boom.” Instead, he chose to drill deeper into the bachata sound foundational to his own work. From features with Frank Reyes to Kiko Rodriguez, each song is a collaboration with a classic bachata great that highlights their particular stylistic legacy. (Plus, Santos finagled a highly anticipated reunion with his band of origin, Aventura.) Utopia became an instant hit, and it was no small feat — even if only for brokering peace between Monchy y Alexandra for their feature, Santos deserves a Nobel Prize, and possibly a position at the U.S. Department of State. V.B.F.

Jhay Cortez, Famouz
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Jhay Cortez, ‘Famouz’

If you want a billion views, call Jhay Cortez: As a songwriter in 2017 and 2018, he helped pen massive records like Natti Natasha and Ozuna’s “Criminal” and Cardi B, J Balvin, and Bad Bunny’s “I Like It.” And while the music landscape is littered with the bodies of hit-writers who have attempted to transition to solo stardom, Cortez made the switch look easy this year. Famouz, his debut album, is tenacious and hummable throughout, incorporating bracing production from Tainy (on the imperious “Imaginaste”) and Taiko (“Easy”).  And “No Me Conoce” became another omnipresent hit when Balvin and Bad Bunny jumped on the remix. By spring, it’ll be Cortez’s latest billion-view achievement. E.L.

Sech, Sueños
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Sech, ‘Sueños’

The overwhelming whiteness atop the amalgamated Latin pop and música urbana worlds represents industry bias and evidence of its systemic racism. With so much in place to obstruct difference, it takes a lot for an Afro-Panamanian R&B singer to ascend to Billboard chart heights domestically and streaming services globally. The most exceptional new Spanish-language artist of 2019, Sech lives up to the overweight lover legacy shared by Heavy D and The Notorious B.I.G. on this romantic reggaetón outing. While “Otro Trago” proved a worldwide smash, album cuts like “Boomerang” and “Falsas Promesas” make Sueños a must-listen. G.S.

Bad Bunny and J Balvin, Oasis
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Bad Bunny and J Balvin, ‘Oasis’

When Bad Bunny and J Balvin first linked up on 2017’s excellent “Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola,” it might have been easy to lose them in the wave of urban collabs sweeping the Latin charts. But when the two crossed orbits on Cardi B’s bilingual summer jam “I Like It,” their effectiveness as a duo became impossible to ignore. By the time they followed that with the one-two punch of Balvin’s magnum opus Vibras and Bad Bunny’s Boricua manifesto X 100pre, these artists had established a league of their own. In a classic showing of international pop solidarity — or perhaps just genuine friendship — the Colombian Balvin and Puerto Rican Bunny dropped their long-awaited LP, Oasis, this summer. Together, the two continue to flout música urbana’s conventions, suffusing the streetwise art form of reggaeton with a healthy dose of play. S.E.

Bad Bunny, X100Pre
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Bad Bunny, ‘X 100Pre’

After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, morale was below sea level. An estimated 3,000 people had died, disaster relief had been stalled, and 24-year-old Latin trap star Bad Bunny began grappling with celebrity outside the decimated island he called home. During his U.S. television debut on The Tonight Show, he pulled an impressive stunt by prefacing his gospel-trap single “Estamos Bien” with a sobering plea for help on behalf of Puerto Rico. (“More than 3,000 people died, and Trump’s still in denial.”) The statement foreshadowed the gravity and range of his debut LP — dropped just a week shy of 2019 — X 100pre. Volleying between shamelessly crude and totally vulnerable, Bad Bunny and his slow-burning baritone opened the floor for Latin pop that’s not afraid to get uncomfortable. It’s a portrait of Puerto Rico in its renaissance, and a critical footnote in the history of the Latin-with-an-X zeitgeist that’s been sweeping the globe. S.E.

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