Not too long ago, we were listening to my Verborragia mixtape with my girlfriend and right before the end, when I mixed in a Dante song (from his previous album, El Apagón) she (who doesn't understand Spanish) said "this guy sounds more mainstream than all the rest, he sounds like what you would listen on the radios." And it was true, in Latin America, where underground hip-hop is the norm, the few that can qualify as mainstream stand out. A lot.
In Argentina, there's not such a thing as mainstream rap as a genre or scene, mainstream rap is just one person: Dante Spinetta. He is the mainstream and he has virtually no competition.
Thing is, Dante was born into the mainstream. The son of one of the biggest 70's local rockstars, at the early age of 14 he entered the music industry as part of the duo Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas (extensively quoted in almost all my cut-n-paste megamixes) then a home-made low-budget imitation of The Beastie Boys that debuted on prime-time national TV and opening for big-name arena-filling rockstars with no previous dues-paying in the underground. Hence, no street-cred.
Since his 1991 debut, Dante has gone through several transformations: he had his failed back-to-the-underground phase, his sappy ballads for alt-teens phase, his Chicano-gangsta-wigger phase, his new-born christian phase, his Prince-wannabe phase and then in 2007 he finally decided to please the b-boy audience with his most purist-hip-hopper intent and best album yet (reviewed on the first post of this blog).
Pyramide is his third album, since he decided to go solo at the change of the century, and unlike his previous one that was released independently, this one gets major label treatment and does not hide at any point its clear intentions of being radio-friendly, club-oriented and more obviously mainstream than ever. Unfortunately, those mainstream aspirations translate into an obnoxious abuse of auto-tune (still?!) and Pitbull-esque douchebagery in the weak lyrics, full of nightlife decadence, machismo and materialism. In other words, everything you hate about mainstream rap in the US, all in one album... from Argentina (?!).
On the bright side, Pyramide also marks Dante's first explicit approach at cumbia (after subtly insinuating some of this in his previous work), which at first would set the album apart from the average international mainstream rap sound but it makes complete sense in a country where pop-cumbia is the most commercially successful music genre. There are two cumbias in Pryramide: the horrible "Gisela," an auto-tunes-meets-cumbia-villera experiment that was totally unnecessary and that will probably spread the auto-tune disease though more cumbia villera (something that I announced/predicted in my end-of-the-decade wish-list); and the interesting "Cumpa-El Mero Mero" where he explores the psychedelic sounds of Peruvian cumbia's surf guitar with guest Babasónicos' frontman Adrián D'argelos in chorus.
There are two more guests on the album, fortunately none of them is Julieta Venegas. One is local rock dinosaur Fito Páez, in the instantly forgettable folksy-ballad "Aleli," the other one is Residente from Calle 13 who helps "Pa Tras" become one of the best tracks of this uneven album and probably the only one that will enter the high-rotation of my DJ sets. Now, side by side, rhyme by rhyme, Residente kills Dante in his own turf (yes, while playing as "visitante," lol) and shows him, and all of us, once again, that you can be successful in rap-in-Spanish mainstream while still spitting well-crafted lyrics full of wise-cracking punchlines, something that Dante was never able to fully achieve himself.
Pyramide delivers everything you'd expect from a mainstream-rap album, down to the club-banger, "Mostro," which will also probably make it into my sets; but as a whole, it's a mediocre album tailor-made for ring-tone sales that makes me nostalgic for the innocent fun of the early Illya Kuryaki's times when even though they were part of the mainstream, they weren't trying to sound explicitly like American mainstream rap.