"Bangah (Pico y Palo)" - ÌFÉ
Spearheaded by Otura Mun and grounded in Yoruba spirituality, ÌFÉ is a Puerto Rican group of singular relevance for Boricuas; the debut album IIII+IIII intertwines Afro-Caribbean rhythms with electronic percussion, and achieves profoundity through lyrics that, while rooted in Mun’s own journey into the religion, reflect the desire of generations upon generations to be free of colonial rule. But no track drives this fight home more pointedly than “Bangah (Pico y Palo),” and it’s never felt more important than it does right now, as the post-Hurricane María crisis dredges on.
As Mun told Remezcla explicitly earlier this year, “Bangah (Pico y Palo)” is a war song. Today, Puerto Ricans are fighting for their survival, for respect, for quality of life — and many are battling for independence too, while calling out the U.S., one of its colonizers, for the country’s ongoing onslaught of oppression. The machete, noted in the track, is historically symbolic. It’s wielded by Ogún, the blacksmith of Yoruba; it’s the symbol of Los Macheteros, the radical pro-independence group founded in the 70s, and it’s an agricultural tool used for centuries — one that many Puerto Ricans found themselves holding while clearing their communities of storm debris as nobody else, not the local or federal governments, was around to help. –Jhoni Jackson
"Me Voy" - Ibeyi ft. Mala Rodríguez
Through lyrics and rhythms that celebrate Afro-Cuban musical traditions, spirituality, and culture, French-Cuban duo Ibeyi have always embraced their Latina identities, but 2017’s “Me Voy” was their first track with lyrics sung completely in Spanish. The song was one of the singles off their sophomore album Ash, released in September, and helped tease the more upbeat and electronic sound of the album.
With a hip-hop edge to the beats, and a smooth verse from Spanish rapper Mala Rodríguez, “Me Voy” showed a tougher, bolder side to the sister act, who are known for the fresh yet otherworldly beauty of their self-titled debut. This jam brims with a soul-deep, feminine passion, signaling an emotional evolution in the twins’ musical universe. It deals with lovers choosing to part ways, and, in Ibeyian fashion, the feelings involved are assigned the elemental power of the sea and the rain.
Vocalist and keyboard player Lisa-Kaindé Díaz explained that she and her sister percussionist/vocalist Naomi Díaz chose to sing this one in Spanish to better convey the song’s profound sensuality. Indeed, while Ibeyi mix English, French, Spanish, and Yoruba in their songs, it’s hard to imagine the song having quite the same impact in any other language. –Beverly Bryan
"Freedom is Free" - Chicano Batman
“Freedom Is Free” might sound like a celebration, but it’s also one of Chicano Batman‘s most affecting sociopolitical statements yet. The psych soul quartet, whose 2017 album garnered them their first late night performance and launched their career to new heights, raised their voices against a government and society that continues to silence people of color and commit acts of injustice. The message of “Freedom is Free” is pure and simple: the word “freedom” continues to be used to fuel systems of oppression, greed, and power, but it can also abe found within us at any time. The retro-soul track exalted this sentiment with every melody, and even boasts a children’s choir that emerges from the background every time the chorus comes around. Reasserting our freedom is a form of resistance; there is no price to pay for liberty, and defending something so valuable isn’t only vital, it can be joyful, too. –Marcos Hassan
"Lo Que Siento" - Cuco
Sweater pop reached critical mass this year with the release of Cuco’s wavy snuggle anthem “Lo Que Siento.” The one-off single epitomized his sonic witch’s brew of laid-back SoCal vibes, sticky-sweet teen idol crooning, and bilingual lyrics that speak directly to an entire generation of Latinx fans. Building the rejection of machismo-driven emotional detachment, “Lo Que Siento” basks in the giddiness of new love, with Cuco dreaming up the myriad scenarios in which to show his girl the nerdy affection she deserves. As Cuco himself begins to play the song’s closing trumpet solo – evoking all conceivable serenata feels in the process – “Lo Que Siento” is inevitably rendered one of the freshest and most charming jams of the year.
2017 will be remembered as a year of resistance, with Latinxs fighting erasure in U.S. media, culture, and politics at every turn. But unlike Pixar’s Coco or the “Despacito” remix, Cuco didn’t need a gringo co-sign to stand out. All he did was tell us how he felt, honestly, and in whichever language(s) suited him best. –Richard Villegas
"Tyrant" - Kali Uchis ft. Jorja Smith
The first single off of Kali Uchis’ forthcoming debut album opens with hazy piano chords and Uchis’ ethereal coos before breaking down into a dancehall-inspired baseline. The track, which feels like cruising down a seaside highway in slow motion, is about love and power, and how the two collide at the beginning of a crush. It’s bottled romance, and Uchis loses herself in lust. “I don’t wanna come down/Keep spinnin’ me ‘round and ‘round,” she sings. Two minutes in, British neo-soul singer Jorja Smith makes a velvety proclamation with controlled vulnerability: “Boy you’re driving me crazy, although I say nothing can phase me.”
On “Tyrant,” Uchis signals what’s next for her young career. Without a full-length album, the Colombian-American multi-hyphenate has risen from her Odd Future collaborations and Por Vida EP to new heights, exploring Caribbean rhythms and more Spanish-language collaborations this year. What she does with her power as a white Latina in the industry will determine a lot for a swiftly globalizing music landscape. –Luna Olavarria Gallegos
"Love N Hennessy" - A.CHAL
Drake-like bleeding hearts were on full display in 2017’s sadboy R&B landscape, but Peruvian-American singer A.CHAL found the art in that sound. Surely, fucks are at a minimum in “Love N Hennessy,” the lead single for his 2017 mixtape ON GAZ. The laid-back track narrates a toxic serial hookup that is punctuated by public fights and unflinching invites to creep received in plain view of her boyfriend. It’s the kind of too-real late night saga that A.CHAL has proven so good at creating, and echoes the admiration he expressed for salsa’s tragic New York chronicler Hector Lavoe in a Remezcla interview late last year. Producers FKi 1st and DJ Spinz pair bongos with halting keys in “Love N Hennessy,” making it the dubious invitation to dance we love. It’s innovative while neatly avoiding the pablum dancehall-dembow clichés that snared many an emerging Latino vocalist this year. –Caitlin Donohue
"Soy Peor" - Bad Bunny
In less than two years, Bad Bunny has rocketed from obscurity into what seems like half the hits on the Billboard Latin charts. Adopted as trap en español’s crooner du jour, he quickly racked up guest appearances on tracks with the likes of J Balvin, Ozuna, Arcángel, and Maluma, racking up hundreds of millions of YouTube views in the process. Though it dropped in December of 2016, “Soy Peor” was ubiquitous this year, evincing the breakneck rise of trap en español and its forthcoming transformation of the Latin music industry, as label execs seek the next crossover moment.
“Soy Peor” is Bad Bunny’s first breakout hit as a solo artist, on which he rides a DJ Luian and Mambo Kingz beat with a Toronto-via-Atlanta aesthetic, with tinny hi-hats and syncopated drums washed out in a spaced-out synth melody. Bad Bunny’s trap label is purely aesthetic; He’s got no tales from the bando on “Soy Peor” — or anywhere else. But his application of the genre’s sonic palette fits perfectly into the evolution of the sound in mainstream pop.
The track is essentially a lothario’s origin story; with a morose auto-tune croon that would make Drake shed a single tear, Bad Bunny wallows in his own promiscuity, blaming his ex — y “mujeres como tú” — for his current infidelities. Sure, he comes across like a jerk…but the smoothest jerk you’ve ever met. The remix, which featured Balvin, Ozuna, and Arcángel, is arguably the more energetic track, but the original proves that trap en español’s feature king can still hold it down on his own two. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz
"Mi Gente" - J Balvin, Willy William
Just the first few seconds of “Mi Gente” seem to foreshadow something massive. In most cases, those whirring vocal chops simply signal that an explosive, moombahton-tinged party for the people is about to go down. But that now-ubiquitous intro also represents a massive stake in the ground for this year’s pop-reggaeton movement. It announces that “Despacito” wasn’t a one-hit phenomenon and that the appetite for bangers en español extends beyond a single song.
J Balvin and French producer Willy William realized early on that they had a meteoric, record-breaking smash on their hands — within just a few weeks after its release, “Mi Gente” became the first all-Spanish-language track to reach no. 1 globally on Spotify. But, in case that wasn’t enough, the song got a co-sign from Beyoncé, who jumped on a remix released in September and donated the song’s proceeds to relief programs in the Caribbean and in Mexico. Her contribution undoubtedly recharged “Mi Gente” and it helped it reach more international recognition.
“Mi Gente” was marketed as a populist and democratically beloved celebration for everyone, but it certainly felt like a watershed moment in a year of renewed mainstream visibility for Latino acts. Hearing the words “mi gente” doesn’t happen in the mainstream often, but Balvin gave us a chance to shout the phrase — and each other — out. –Julyssa Lopez
"Tú y Yo" - La Favi
Emerging as part of a new generation of women pushing experimentation with reggaetón in a historically male-dominated genre, La Favi’s “Tú y Yo” stands out where many fall short. Incorporating winding flamenco-inspired vocals with a driving dembow riddim, La Favi and producer Deltatron land on something entirely innovative and stunningly gorgeous. Paired with a heavy bass, Favi’s maudlin falsetto is the perfect vehicle for lusty yet melancholy yearning (“No hay nadie más/acércate a mi/y me dejo llevar/ a solas tú y yo”), the first and most successful track off her magnificent Reír y Llorar EP.
This brilliant collision was forged, unsurprisingly, by diasporas; the unlikely, if logical, conclusion of combining Andalusian grandparents with a childhood spent in Chicano and Central American communities in San Francisco, during the era of reggaetón’s commercial success and dominance on the airwaves. A true testament to La Favi’s skill as an artist, the vastly different musical, social, and geographic worlds of reggaetón and flamenco seem on this track to be fatefully destined to collide, an aesthetic so tightly executed that it seems almost obvious once its pulsating, urgent desire hits your ears. Sad girl reggaetón has arrived, and we want more. –Veronica Bayetti Flores
"Bodak Yellow" - Cardi B
At once an ode to rebellious chapiadoras, a speaker-knocking daily affirmation, and a jubilant battle cry, “Bodak Yellow” descended on 2017 in a triumph, becoming the anthem of football players, subway riders, and Bronxites everywhere. From the moment Cardi B’s echoed vocals swirled under the sinister production, “Bodak Yellow” felt bound to shatter records: it became the longest-running no. 1 by a female rapper and the first no. 1 by an artist of Dominican descent.
In August, Belcalis Almanzar deployed the Latin trap remix of the song featuring Messiah, a bilingual proclamation of her Bronx roots and herculean come up (“Tu chapeando/yo llegando/y cobrando/siempre ‘toy depositando/’tan cansá de mi en el banco,” she spits. ) As a gatekeeper with a foot in multiple worlds, the remix felt like a clarion call to label execs and industry bigwigs who continue to define Latinidad in narrow terms, peddling watered-down dembow riddims and Spanish guitar pop.
By championing all her intersections as a Dominican-Trinidadian black girl from the Bronx, “Bodak Yellow” reminded us that you don’t have to kowtow to anyone’s expectations. Our identities can’t and shouldn’t be easily defined. Like the trap Selena herself says, “If you don’t understand it, get a bitch to translate.” –Isabelia Herrera