Taking the Boat to the Bank

Got a brief review of Pitbull’s El Mariel in this week’s Phoenix. As it happens, I also have a quotation in another, longer review by Jose Davila for the Miami New Times, also published this week.

In short, I like the album, esp any tracks propelled by Mr.Collipark’s ATLien Afro-Cubist crunkstep, and i admire Pitbull’s skills and fluency. But I also find myself — as a listener, critic, and mixmaker — tripping over various misguided attempts at blatant crossover, run-of-the-mill misogyny, and quasi-political appropriations of powerful symbols of immigrant, Cuban, and “minority” rights. But you should read it for yourself (and/or go cop the album, DJs especially — some real bangers on there). I’m especially proud to have gotten this sentence in print:

And though some listeners might be put off by Pitbull’s various macho exhortations — i.e., “Move Bend over, girl, show me what you workin’ with” — those looking for a little more balance in their booty music will be pleased to know that going down on El Mariel about as often as shoot-outs and coke deals is Pitbull himself, who repeats on several occasions his desire to please orally the objects of his gaze.

Here are a few scraps that didn’t make it into the 600-sump’m word review:

  • Occasionally mistaken for a reggaetonero, Pitbull may nod to various Latin predecessors, wear the Cuban flag on his back, and throw off a guest verse for Don Omar or Daddy Yankee from time to time, but he also presents himself, simply and fairly, as a rapper “who also happens to be Latin” (at last year’s Latin Alternative Music Conference — a description widely touted in promotional materials) and his music remains firmly anchored in the bass and crunk music that has been rattling cars and clubs in the South (and recently more widely) for decades. Though he doesn’t associate himself explicitly with the sound/movement, I love that elsewhere in Miami some of Pit’s peers — Spanglish rappin’ over crunk’n’latin beats — call what they do crunkiao, which is something like a double past participle (if we already hear crunk from crank — as in “speakers on crunk” — as well as -iao/-eao as slrrd Spanish -ado). Indeed, there is something doubly cranked about a lot of Pitbull’s music. (FYI/disclosure: Jose Davila, who wrote the piece I linked to above, is contributing an article on crunkiao — and the Miami “hurban” scene more generally — for Reading Reggaeton.)
  • re: sonic afrocubanfuturism (via imaginary but resonant signifiers) — if we hear Cuba’s rumba rhythms in jazz’s “Latin Tinge” and rock’s “Bo Diddley” beat, why not hear crunk’s 3:2 kick-snare patterns as rap’s own version of the clave (see’n’hear, e.g.), not so much the son montuno in this case as the son montana, combining the Miami gothic of Scorcese w/ the fluorescence of Crockett and Tubbs (but what, no Jan Hammer samples?)

  • … Lil Jon’s e-rush synths (“Voodoo”) are bombastic, cinematic — par for the course for crunk & (strip)club music, nodding at rave and film and nu-pr0n/YouPr0n all at once; “Miami shit” = slow crunk grind, distorted guitar power chords over 808 drum rolls, with 4/4 clubby breaks and ascendant horns; “Que Tu Sabes D’eso” = a wicked Spanglish cover of TI’s “What You Know” w/ Fat Joe; “Bojangles” = another straight-up banger (w/ a beat that knocks like a door, a backboard, a bedboard !?); nuff duds, tho: some of the slower crunk romps drag, despite the double time teases and screwed aesthetic, and some of the sincere songs are painfully so — no reason sincerity need = ghetto hallmark platitudes, Pitbull’s plenty sincere in his guise as a freak-a-leek cunning linguist; plenty of gems, too …
  • The stylistic diversity on El Mariel is not always a strength, and sometimes the album stumbles in its attempts, esp the anthem-by-the-numbers “Latin pop” stab ft. (who else?) Wyclef Jean. Elsewhere dancehall producer Donovan Bennett tries his hand at Scott Storchian orientalist bombast, w/ Vybz Kartel on the track to boot (who drops some nice lines) but it’s not a memorable turn, a standout track, despite no little promise in the collaboration (why is it that we don’t hear more fruitful collaborations between dancehall and hip-hop and/or reggaeton?). Other experiments, however, such as the oddball sampling of the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” to support some 2 Live Crew frat-chant allusions, succeed spectacularly.
  • Sure, Pit’s cynical/critical of US foreign policy, but he’s clearly not about to give up the good life; this one big commercial for the good life (but that’s just our self-consciously capitalist context speaking itself, innit): “I don’t own jewelry, motherfucker I own property,” he bragraps. Indeed, sometimes it seems that for Pitbull the greatest injustice dealt to Cubans in Cuba would seem to be their inability to engage in the great American hustle. At least, I get the impression that that’s what he means when he calls Cuba “la opresión más grande del mundo.”