The Puerto Rican diaspora shaped hip-hop from the beginning, creating the genre from scratch(ing). If Puerto Ricans in the Bronx were hip-hop pioneers, then Boricuas on the island took it and ran with it, creating a self-sustaining community with their own local styles and flows. Now, Álvaro Díaz is carving out his place in Puerto Rican hip-hop, picking up where legends like Vico C left off while evolving his own sound and finding his place among contemporaries like Mike Towers.
Díaz’s latest offering, San Juan Grand Prix, is a cohesive thematic project, a rarity in a hip-hop world driven by SoundCloud loosies. The Formula 1 race car references run heavy; tires screech and engines rev throughout. They’re a close parallel to Álvaro’s sprint to the finish line he envisions for his career.
The project opens with two hard hitters, “Grand Prix” and “MPH (A Las Millas).” Álvaro flexes his rap muscles with menacing trap beats, impassioned flows, and street-conscious posturing. Two songs in and you’re ready to throw ‘bows and hit licks – until the more palatable, loved-up tracks hit.
“Carro Rápido” is the clear single. After the EP’s initial rush of adrenaline, “Carro Rápido” is a softer offering, an ode to rich girls with daddy’s credit cards over a melodic production from Overlord.
The opening of “Dime Pa’ Cuando” reminds us we’re on the racetrack before leading us into an adventure in soulful boom bap hip-hop. Subtle synth waves, a spacey flow, and gentle R&B vocals from Deborah Blues make this track San Juan Grand Prix’s most sensual offering, one that’s tailor-made for freshly rolled joints, chilled wine, and linen sheets.
Meanwhile, “Mantecado de Coco” picks up where “Dime Pa’ Cuando” left off, resembling an angst-free version of Kanye West’s “Paranoid.” On it, Díaz raps sweet nothings to the sweetest girl in his life. If “Carro Rápido” is the project’s lead single, “Mantecado de Coco” feels like it’s up next. Its catchy, infectious hook showcases Álvaro’s impressive songwriting abilities and will draw repeated listens. Though we’ve seen Álvaro’s romantic side on tracks like “Chicas de la Isla,” this R&B longing feels powerful and fresh coming the Boricua rapper, who’s better known for his melancholy trap sensibilities.
“Tortura China” is a rap ballad any Supreme fan can appreciate, but above all it’s a reminder of how adeptly Díaz incorporates his affinity for hip-hop en inglés into Spanish flows. With “si no eres la que es/eres el prototipo/me tienes aquí levantando despacito,” Díaz flashes his own slick wordplay while echoing Andre 3000, one of North America’s most proficient MCs.
“Todo Bien” is the touching – if customary – track dedicated to Díaz’s mami, whose voice and kind words open and bookend the song. Lines like “Tú cobraste y compraste un par de cadenas/yo cobré y le llené a mami la nevera entera” will have you reconsidering your recent shopping spree and calling mami from your work phone.
The project ends with the aftermath of Álvaro passing the finish line in first place. A pack of photographers and reporters descend upon him, whose questions he leaves unanswered. It’s a fitting end to the project and the logical beginning of the next chapter in his career. With a 2016 tour behind him and the kind of press up-and-comers beg for, Álvaro Díaz has followed up the hype with a project meant to propel him into a different stratosphere, another racing circuit altogether. By winning this race to the finish line, the question the project begs us to ask is, “What’s next?”
San Juan Grand Prix is now available on Apple Music and Spotify.