Looking back on 1998, it’s clear that it was an important year for music. Not because it saw a particular genre peak or sociopolitical barriers crumble, but because it was a transitional time. The year was full of releases that represented new bold artistic steps, as well as the rise of accomplished artists into better songwriters who were accepted by broader audiences.
1998 proved to be an important year for consolidating reggaeton, as the genre grew out of its local contexts in Puerto Rico, Panamá, and garnered international visibility, thanks to some pivotal releases. 1998 was also the summer of “La Copa De La Vida,” Ricky Martin’s official World Cup anthem and a major step in the explosion of Latino pop on mainstream U.S. radio. Rock en español got weirder, as both newcomers and established artists charted new territory with eclectic and brilliant releases. Latinx rappers and producers made their mark on one of the golden eras of hip-hop, and pop music in Latin America yielded hook-heavy earworms to soundtrack proms and quinces the continent over.
Things were about to change, with sounds and artists rising to fame or going out of style, and we got some amazing music thanks to that. Here’s a list of some of the most influential albums released in 1998. Of course, we’re missing a ton, so feel free to leave a comment with your personal favorites.
Plastilina Mosh - Aquamosh
Listening to Aquamosh might make you think Plastilina Mosh comes from another dimension where all kinds of music gets mashed up together. Nothing sounds quite like it. Its range – from the riff-heavy but melodic “Monster Truck” to the kitchy weirdo rap pop collage of “Mr. P Mosh” – still makes it an album for all occasions.
Shakira - ¿Donde Están Los Ladrones?
After the massive success of her previous album Pies Descalzos, pre-platinum blonde Shakira released what is arguably her most accomplished record. The title was inspired by the thieves who stole her lyric book. Who knows what those lyrics were about, but the ones that made the album made it one of the most quotable records of the decade.
Ivy Queen - The Original Rude Girl
Following her debut, 1997’s En Mi Imperio, la reina del reggaeton decided to expand her repertoire and focus on hip-hop. The album features a collaboration with Wyclef Jean, which was born during a Wyclef show where he invited audience members to freestyle with him. Ivy killed it, naturally. The career-defining Diva was still a few years away, but TORG proved that Ivy Queen could succeed at anything she tried.
Manu Chao - Clandestino
After the group Mano Negra split, Manu Chao spent subsequent years researching street music by buskers around the world, as well as bars in different cities. The songs were recorded by Chao on his laptop. Clandestino, which featured beloved singles like “Je ne t’aime plus” and “Welcome to Tijuana,” became the first stop on his way to legendary status as a solo artist.
Big Pun - Capital Punishment
Capital Punishment could very well be the best hip-hop album to come out of New York in the 90s, or at least a formidable contender. Pun’s excellence as a rapper and his penchant for hooks demands Capital Punishment’s place in the pantheon.
Elvis Crespo - Suavemente
It’s easy to dismiss “Suavemente” now that your white friend’s grandma knows it, but it shouldn’t detract from the fact that the song bangs and there’s a reason it became so big. The ubiquitous song became the highlight and namesake of his debut album, which spawned three other charting singles.
Juan Gabriel - Celebrando 25 Años de Juan Gabriel: En Concierto en el Palacio de Bellas Artes
In 1990, Juan Gabriel made history by playing Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes. Eight years later, he returned with a setlist mostly comprised of songs he had written for other artists, like Rocío Durcal and Vicente Fernández. The result was one of Juanga’s best albums.
El Chombo - Cuentos De La Cripta Vol. 2
In the 90s, producer and radio personality Rodney Clark assembled a compilation series featuring street sounds that were resonating in Panama. The second installment found its way to ears around the world, thanks to tracks like “Quieren Chorizo” and “Que Se Agarren,” and marks a formative moment in reggaeton history.
A.N.I.M.A.L. - Poder Latino
Produced by Max Cavalera, the Argentine trio’s fourth album proved to be one of the most successful of their career, thanks to original cuts and covers. With nu metal making big strides worldwide, A.N.I.M.A.L. showed that Latin America could hold its own.
Noreaga - N.O.R.E.
Victor Santiago, Jr. embarked on his solo career a year after debuting with his partner Capone. N.O.R.E. featured tough-talk street anthems, but it was The Neptunes-produced anthem “Superthug” that proved to be the album’s most enduring track, preceding the game-changing “Oye Mi Canto” by a few years.
Pastilla - Vox Electra
Hailing from the homegrown Los Angeles rock en español scene, Pastilla made an instant impact. Produced by Caifanes’ Diego Herrera, the band’s second album saw them peak commercially and creatively, thanks to songs like “Morta,” “Tatú,” and the title track. The record signified a shift towards melody in Latin American rock.