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Reggaetóns Future Borrows From The Past
By Ed Morales
30 January 2005
It was the bitterest, coldest Friday night imaginable, but a massive crowd of local journalists pressed against the velvet ropes at Club Exit last month to get a glimpse of reggaetón's newest star, Julio Voltio.
With Daddy Yankee's "Barrio Fino" at the top of Billboard's Latin album charts, there was a feeling in the air that the genre was about to become Latin music's next big thing. The 27-year-old Voltio, born Julio Ramos, was ready to take his place at the forefront of a new movement.
When Voltio finally appeared, he was swarmed by TV cameras, and journalists, microphones in hand, peppered him with questions. To his credit, Voltio was warm, relaxed and unpretentious. He reveled in reggaetón's capacity to mix all kinds of sounds from the Caribbean, its obvious reggae source, but also in its affinity for mainstream hip-hop and its narrative power emanating from the barrios of Puerto Rico.
Voltio is something of a veteran of reggaetón, having recorded his first tracks back in 1991. His biggest impact so far has been in penning such hits as "No Te Hagas la Loca" for megastars Héctor and Tito. But his new album, "Voltage A/C" (Sony Discos/White Lion/Jigirri), already is the most important release of the new year, slickly produced and mixing in salsa riffs and an old-school hip-hop feel, while being unmistakably reggaetón.
Its kickoff track, "Julito Maraña," is an instant classic, propelled by a salsa piano tumbao and featuring lyrics that warn against the dangers of thug life. It tells the story - with Tego Calderón guest-starring as the character of Julito - of a street tough who goes on a crime spree, then flees to New York, where he passes the test of survival.
When he returns to Puerto Rico, Julito sees that things have changed on the island, and that life is cheap to the "guapos" (tough guys) who roam the streets. Convinced he is harder than the rest, he finally confronts the wrong guy and dies in a hail of bullets. The moral: "The jails and cemeteries are filled with people like Julito/Walk the straight path/Because abusing people is no good/And humility prevails." The song has the feel of "Pedro Navaja," the classic from Rubén Blades, and Willie Colón's "Siembra," updated for even more dangerous times.
Although there's further bursting of tough-guy balloons on songs such as "Maleante de Cartón" (roughly, "Paper Tiger"), there's plenty of fun on "Voltage/AC." On "Mambo," Voltio uses the horn riff from Tito Rodriguez's "Dónde Estabas Tú?" and old-school salseros Papo Lucca and La Sonora Ponceña guest-star on "Achero Pa' un Palo." And, of course, there's the typical dirty-dancing nastiness of "Cocorota," "Pa' Guayarte esa Mini" and the obviously salacious "Bumper."
For further listening, Voltio is one of several rappers to appear on "Chosen Few: El Documental," a $9.98 CD/DVD that is No. 3 on the Billboard chart. The album also features Don Omar, LDA F/Cheka, N.O.R.E. (the crossover poster boy of reggaetón) and Jowell y Randy.