Álvaro Díaz Breathes Fresh Life into Hip-Hop en Español on ‘iLumiLatin Vol. 1’

Since we began covering Álvaro Díaz’s ascent as one of Puerto Rico’s premier hip-hop acts, Díaz has accomplished a lot. While many popular Puerto Rican artists continue to churn out dembow-laden, dancehall-ready anthems, Díaz has quickly become the voice of the emo yet also hyper-macho Tumblr rap kid on the island. He scored some crossover hits with “Mañana” and “Super Exclusivo,” dropped Hato Rey (a release that compiled some of his best SoundCloud offerings), got named the Best Latin Emcee at this year’s SXSW, and started to work on a streetwear line that he hopes will reflect his true style, instead of serving simply as artist merchandise.

Though reggaeton may still reign supreme, Álvaro Díaz is far more concerned with the flashy lifestyle embodied in films like Scarface and American Gangster. That means crafting the music with a different attitude, flow, and approach, enlisting a crew of beatmakers (collectively, along with Díaz, named Lv Ciudvd) that care more about shattering your soul than making your ass shake. His latest EP, iLumiLatin Vol. 1 gamely demonstrates all of this, with a sound that evokes your A$AP Rockys, Futures, and Travis Scotts, but with a decidedly Boricua twist.

We broke down the six-song EP track by track to help you enter the mysterious world of Puerto Rico’s raw hip-hop scene. We’re pretty sure the first rule of being in the Illuminati is you don’t talk about the Illuminati, so we’re guessing the EP title is more of an aspirational thing. Still, the first person to listen to these tracks backwards and reveal hidden occult messages, holla at us.

Donde Estan Mis $$$$?

Álvaro channels American West Coast rapper AMG and Rihanna with an anthem that raises the ever-important question, “Where the money at?” Though it has the same lyrical urgency of those tracks, this song is completely its own. Martino teams up with fellow La Ciudad crew producer Caleb Calloway for a track with trunk-rattling bass and eerie organ sounds that will make you tuck your chain if you owe anyone money.

Monstar

Álvaro’s chief collaborator Young Martino kicks off the set with one of his signature trap instrumentals, with Álvaro delivering a fiercely confident flow through a muffled mic. The track sets the tone for Vol. 1’s overall confrontational vibe.

Frente Al Espejo

Álvaro gets reflective, with a delivery that calls to mind a number of Future’s recent DS2 efforts. Martino laces the last few moments of the track with a sound reminiscent of G-funk that works well in concert with the typical trap beat he’s built here.

Elvira Hancock

Named for arguably the baddest fictional mafia chick of all time – Michelle Pfeiffer’s character from Scarface – Álvaro bitterly addresses his own Elvira in the wake of her departure (“Puede buscar miles pero ninguno de ellos va a superarme”). Sound-wise, it’s also one of the most daring of the set, a slower-paced alt-R&B beat with mournful backing vocals that accompany Álvaro’s morose flow.

La Champaña

iLumiLatin Vol. 1 wraps up with an ode to the good life, with Álvaro celebrating the finer things, like designer labels and champagne, of course. Though comparing them to their mainland contemporaries may be doing them a disservice, Álvaro and Martino certainly have a G.O.O.D. Music vibe going on here in the production and lyrical content. It only further proves that Álvaro wants to bring this flashy-yet-moody mind frame back home to the island, while putting his own spin on it.

Even though it airs stateside, it’s nearly impossible to turn on MTV Jams or go to hip-hop night at your local club without hearing the moody, designer label-driven and mafioso-obsessed rap that has become so familiar. Puerto Rico deserves a proper introduction to this breed of rap from an artist they can call their own. On iLumiLatin Vol. 1, Díaz is more than happy to play this role. While he’s been able to do remarkable things over the past year and break through the noise of all the airhorns, it’s clear that he only has intentions of growing as an artist and making something distinctly his own. Puerto Rico (and the world) is listening.

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