Now several years in the making, Corpus Christi’s own El Dusty just dropped his first full-length album Cumbia City via Universal’s Aftercluv imprint, solidifying his place as a cultural translator. Cumbia City is the culmination of more than a decade of steady touring and production, one that holds cumbia’s legacy and evolution through the diaspora as the fundamental focal point. Now with a soundtrack to match, the album represents a mastery of collaboration in El Dusty’s extended Latinx musical network, as evidenced by features from Los Master Plus, Los Chinchillos de Caribe, Master Blaster Sound System, MC Peligro, Boogat, DJ Blass, Happy Colors, and a plethora of other artists.
As the album title indicates, every track in one way or another features a cumbia sample. But for Dusty, the objective is to expose people to the genre, especially audiences who aren’t already familiar with traditional cumbia references. His tracks always intentionally integrate an array of other influences, drawing across hip-hop inflections and 808 breaks & snares, while also sampling from the likes of vinyl-issued classics, salsa records, and Latin soul. “I just want to make songs that everybody can dance to,” he says. “Not necessarily a song that’s a cumbia song for someone that likes cumbia songs; I want people to be like, ‘Oh this song is dope,’ and they didn’t even know that there was cumbia in it.”
Cumbia City arrives on the heels of a recently completed tour across the United States as supporting talent for Cut Chemist, known for his past work with Ozomatli, Jurassic 5, and DJ Shadow, and who also appears on a feature for the album. Cut Chemist afforded Dusty not only a technical co-sign in beat culture, but also the opportunity to disrupt expectations of what a “general market” audience might welcome. Dusty left the experience with optimism, finding that many people had spent time doing research on his body of work before his performance. It guaranteed he wouldn’t be pigeonholed as a “Latin” artist or treated as a novelty.
“Man, it’s been crazy – Cut Chemist’s audience is music nerds, hip-hop people, white kids, black kids, Asian kids, and a lot of Hispanic kids, too, but you’re not going to a Cut Chemist show expecting to hear cumbia, or Latin music in general. I got that co-sign from Cut Chemist and they were totally accepting of it…They were the perfect audience to receive me; a bunch of music nerds and people like myself, we gravitate toward each other, too. People that are into music and into digging and into sampling will like my stuff because that’s what it is: it really talks to those kids that [like] the technical – sample weirdos like me.”
While Dusty reflects on the potential universality of his music, at home in Corpus Christi, the success of these highly localized samples takes on a different significance. Having grown up in the era of Kumbia Kingz and A.B. Quintanilla, he finds pride in carrying on the evolution of the sound, a regional tradition that is at the heart of his craft. “If you come from a place like Corpus, you recognize the fact that it’s a very regional style of music. It’s definitely cumbia from Corpus. Even if the featured artist is from Canada or Puerto Rico, the sound is from Texas, and tejano.”
In pushing a sound that’s loyal to its frontera roots, Dusty also aspires to have his interpretation of the sound be accepted by the regional Mexican side of the industry. “Hopefully we can blur those lines, and even if I’ve got to do remixes or different versions to make it more regional, I’m with that.” He also hopes to collaborate with artists from the more traditional regional Mexican market, the challenge being that much of what’s played on the radio circuit are the classics. Plus, the majority of new releases (like Los Daddys and Grupo Kual, for example) circumvent radio play, and are self-sustaining through tours and CD sales at live performances.
As El Dusty continues to solidify his own role in both the general and regional market, perhaps his place is truly in neither. Cumbia City is the maturation of a sonic universe that Dusty has created for himself, an extension of the in-between places and borderlands, this time with garnished with the essentials of Andrés Landero samples and slow-rolling 808 kicks.
Cumbia City is out now on Universal’s Aftercluv imprint.