It’s a dirty little secret that’s not so secret to anyone who’s paying attention: a huge part of the music industry’s business model is feeding listeners what they already expect to hear. We all have our own pre-defined likes and dislikes, our rules for how something should sound and who should be making what noises in what order.
We have a lot of words for these rules. We call them “genres” or “preferences” and streaming systems that make money off of knowing what you want to hear next call it all “data.” But what they really all are is stereotypes (no pun intended), preconceived ideas of who should release what music and what music by certain people should sound like. Taken to its logical extreme, it’s easy to see how music could stall out if everyone fell into our preferred boxes.
Luckily for us — and especially me, a person who depends on new sounds for his livelihood — there are plenty of Latin artists out there doing everything they can to take us out of our comfort zone and provide us with something new.
Maluca is trying to shake you up. The Dominican-American artist willfully blends genres as disparate as ghetto-tech, salsa and hip-hop on almost every song she creates. The New York City-raised singer says she’s spent her career pushing against labels that were given to her by virtue of being a Dominican woman.
“I think that people expected me to do bachata, merengue, and a lot of typical Dominican music,” she told Cosmopolitan. “Although I do inject those styles into my sound, that kind of music doesn’t necessarily speak to me.”
And that’s a good thing, because the hodgepodge of styles that did catch her ear are infinitely more interesting.
In theory, there’s nothing cool or modern about old, dusty cumbia records. And the accordion is one of the least hip instruments this side of the recorder. But therein lies the genius of this Uncharted alum. He takes those ancient cumbia records and smashes the traditionalist boxes that surround them, morphing the old tracks into vital, booming trap music and EDM.
And it’s clearly working. The Corpus Christi native was recently nominated for a Latin Grammy for his track “Cumbia Anthem.”
Metal as a genre is both aggressive and aggressively white. It’s not a fun fact, but it is known. And that goes double for the bone-gnashing brutality of grindcore, a brutal off-shoot of an off-shoot that favors inhuman growls, distorted guitars and drum beats that sound like they were sampled from a war zone.
But it’s a good thing nobody told Thanatology. This Tijuana-based band crank out albums full of songs about corpses and such — thanatology is the study of death after all — in Spanish. Not that you can tell. Growling and screaming is a universal language.
Of course, Latin music genres have their own rules and conventions to overcome. For example, reggaeton artists are overwhelmingly men. But that hasn’t stopped Karol G, a massive star in her native Colombia, from attempting to break into Stateside Latin playlists with her dual-threat abilities. Karol is just as likely to belt out a catchy pop hook as she is to drop a few bars. Hey, it worked for Drake and we can’t deny that “Casi Nada” is a well-deserved hit.
Nuyorican rapper Destiny Frasqueri has several different lineages that she could have easily slotted into. Puerto Rico has its own history of sounds from plena to reggaeton. And there’s always a market in New York for people peddling throwback hip-hop sounds that remind people of time when the city was the only game in town. But with Princess Nokia –her collaborative project with producer OWWWLS — she refused to take the easy route. Instead Frasqueri offers up a bunch of art-damaged raps that reflect her upbringing in Harlem while still nodding toward the future.