If you were paying any attention to music made by Latinxs in 2018, there was perhaps no genre more contentious than música urbana. From conversations about the erasure of reggaeton’s afro-diasporic roots to dialogues about the persistence of gender-based violence and sexual assault in hip-hop, the year in urbano has raised challenging questions about representation, exploitation, and the complex global music moment we’re living in.
This year, we’ve elected to create a series of genre-based lists to better capture the complexity of our community’s musical landscape. This list of urbano songs includes reggaeton, dembow, Latin trap, and hip-hop tracks from both the underground and the mainstream.
Our list cuts across region and genre, capturing the sounds and scenes we believe are leading the pack in different diasporas. Selected by our editorial and freelance staff, these are the top 10 urbano songs of 2018.
Keep an eye out for our favorite songs in indie pop and R&B, electronic/dance, punk & garage, and folk fusion, coming soon.
Rosa Pistola - “Y Que Lo Mueva" (ft. MC Buseta Prod. By Ynfynyt Scroll)
When we asked Rosa Pistola about her role in the curation and execution of her mixtape La Linea Del Sexxx earlier this year, the Colombian-born DJ told Remezcla, “I’m like the reggaeton DJ Khaled.” And despite not being a single, “Y Que Lo Mueva” stood out amongst a pack of songs curated by the budding reggaeton selector, which included the title track and the mixtape’s surprisingly satiating intro.
With production from Ynfynyt Scroll and bars from Brazilian vocalist MC Buseta, the reggaeton oscuro banger signals promising futures for everyone involved. Though the song relies on a classic reggaeton dembow riddim as its foundation, the nu-cumbia lead synths and trap-inspired undertones signal the forward-looking spirit of “Y Que Lo Mueva.” There’s also an “emo” remix on Ynfynyt Scroll’s own Summer ‘18 Mixtape. Expect to hear a lot more from the Peruvian producer, Brazilian MC, and the Colombian-born DJ in 2019. –Eduardo Cepeda
Tali Goya - "Eh Mami"
On “Eh Mami,” production team Noc & LinkOn seamlessly layer a sinister funk carioca rhythm with Tali Goya’s salaciously guttural bars and call-and-response background vocals, spawning a trap-carioca mutant that showcases transculturation at its finest. “Eh Mami” signals the ongoing evolution of baile funk, as Dominican dembow producers continue to explore the overlap between these sounds. Goya frequently weaves between dembow, trap, and funk carioca in his repertoire, and it’s because of this versatility that the 28-year-old Dominican rapper is quickly proving why he’s on the vanguard of urbano’s rising wave. Blast “Eh Mami” on only the bass-heaviest of systems, and try not to incite an impromptu living room perreo function. Or, you know, do. –Eduardo Cepeda
Melii - "Icey"
On “Icey,” ascendant Uptown rapper Melii issues a speaker-knocking warning to anyone who would dare to mess with the Harlem dominicana. On the viral hit, which was co-signed by queen RihRih herself, Melii gifts us with a series of perfectly bratty bars, an omen of her star potential and aptitude for crafting anthems meant to be rapped in the mirror. Melii switches between flows and languages breathlessly, at one point roaring “Bitch I can’t help that your pussy trash!” inducing a state of utter bliss. In the video, the self-described jiggy shorty with the curls flexes in a luxe yellow fur coat, lounging on a convertible. Catch me yelling “Cuida’o si me toca te quema” at the club for the foreseeable future. –Isabelia Herrera
Fuego - "Envidia"
From the moment the roaring bachata guitar riffs mutate into razor-sharp 808s, it’s clear that “Envidia” is heralding an irresistible return to form for Fuego. On this track from his album Libre: Fireboy Forever, the Dominican rapper – and the godfather of trap en español, thanks to Fireboy Forever II, one of the first full-length releases in the genre – assures us yet again that he has the prowess to dominate the world of Latin trap, where stale beats and forgettable rhymes abound.
Though “Envidia” tackles a well-worn subject in the genre, the original bachata guitar work and Luyo’s production lend verve to Fuego’s autobiographical bars. Libre: Fireboy Forever marked Fuego’s long-awaited return following his departure from Pitbull’s Mr. 305 Inc. label, as well as his arrival at Universal Music Latin’s Transcend.ent division, presaging a new future for the industry veteran as the album shifts between themes of fledgling romance and newfound independence. Fuego’s slight rasp rides the trapchata production seamlessly, with refrains like “Yo no sé cómo llegué vivo pero aquí estoy” begging to become Instagram captions. “Envidia” is proof the godfather’s still got it. –Isabelia Herrera
Tomasa del Real – “Barre Con El Pelo" (ft. DJ Blass)
Neo-perreo high priestess Tomasa del Real delivered one of the year’s most exciting nuggets of dark club sweatiness in “Barre con el Pelo,” an ode to bad girl dance floor antics and the purest iteration of her body-rolling ethos. Sounding the alarm on her signing to Nacional Records, “Barre con el Pelo” was the lead single for Del Real’s debut album Bellaca del Año, ushering in a glossy new sound for Chile’s perreo queen while celebrating the underground grit that made her a star. And as reggaeton’s mainstream luminaries continue to thrive, Tomasa’s success showed that their independent counterparts are just as capable of bringing the heat.
The indisputable bop kicks off with Del Real spitting “Salgo corriendo con el combo de asesinas,” a line dripping with malicious glee as she swerves over production from Puerto Rican reggaeton legend DJ Blass, who saturates the beat with whooping vocals and crunchy synths. The vampy anthem received an equally hedonistic video styled and directed by the crew at Freak City L.A., unleashing a squad of sirens armed with outrageous hair extensions and the kind of off-the-charts swag that can neutralize any fuckboy shenanigans. –Richard Villegas
Mala Rodríguez - "Gitanas"
On “Gitanas,” Mala Rodríguez pays tribute to the community of women she saw surviving despite the discrimination, racism, and injustices wrought by an unjust societal paradigm – an inaugural model of feminism for the veteran rapper. Taking to the streets of her hometown barrio in the track’s video, a red-dressed Rodríguez fronts flamenco dancers, all in black, shaping a fierce visual reminder of how individual power is critical not only for the self, but also in our obligation to give mutual support and act in solidarity.
Her first original solo track in five years, “Gitanas” showcased the pioneering rapper’s full-circle feminist ideology. Its alarm-like backdrop heightens the admiration for women who inspired her early on. Rodríguez simultaneously raises awareness of their tenacity in an ongoing struggle, and also continues a tradition of living one’s ethos by example. In a landmark year for women’s empowerment, La Mala’s declaration of defiant personal fortitude – “¿Quién me protege? ¡Yo, de frente!” – is also a shiver-inducing reminder for those who are marginalized that cultivating inner strength is a necessary means of sustenance in a world that is systematically designed to fail them. –Jhoni Jackson
Nio García, Darell, and Casper Mágico - "Te Boté" Remix (ft. Ozuna, Bad Bunny, and Nicky Jam)
Is there anything better than a defiantly euphoric breakup song? Opening innocently enough with a couple of minor key piano chords, as soon as the beat drops, the “Te Boté” remix hits deep in the body. The relatively sparse production from Young Martino is wildly effective, the minor chords alluding to the pain of a breakup ultimately taken over by the triumphant freedom of the song’s dembow riddim. Originally released by up and comers Nio García, Darell, and Casper Mágico on label Flow La Movie in late 2017, “Te Boté” exploded once heavyweights Ozuna, Bad Bunny, and Nicky Jam hopped on in the spring. By summer it was ubiquitous, booming out of cars, blaring at the club, being covered in bolero form, and appearing at every kind of personal freedom celebration you can imagine.
Its applicability to multiple situations, in fact, is a key component of where the song succeeds: yes, it’s great for breakups, but also for quitting that soul-sucking job, for getting that repeat sexual harasser fired, for voting out a wack elected official in the midterms.
Ultimately, the “Te Boté” remix gives us the chance to experience the joy of autonomy, and if that autonomy is far in the distance – as it is for many Latinx people in the United States right now – at least it gives us the opportunity to imagine what some respite from the thing that’s been weighing us down might feel like. And it feels so, so good. –Veronica Bayetti Flores
C.Tangana - "Traicionero" (ft. Cromo X)
Dominican producer and rapper Cromo X’s 2016 “Traicionero” makes an excellent case for why DR urbano artists deserve more shine. Racing staccato and underlying beat-creepiness proved to neatly forecast certain strains of trance-y nihilism in modern Latin trap and club genres. It was so forward-looking that two years later, Cromo managed to extend the song’s shelf life by linking with chart-topping madrileño C. Tangana, looking to expand his own market by tapping into the boom-time urbano moment popping off across the Atlantic. (Tangana loves a good betrayal lyric — just listen to 2018 follow-up “Bien Duro.”) Mexico City collective NAAFI assisted with the collab, debuting a sexy new version starring Pucho via an eminently watchable lo-fi video. It was the opening act of Tangana’s biggest, most eclectic year yet. But when the “Traicionero” rework proved to be club gold, its credits often relegated Cromo X to a featuring role. Here’s hoping posterity will remember the true nature of events — particularly for the reveal they provide as to how today’s global hits are often formed. –Caitlin Donohue
Cardi B - "I Like It" (ft. Bad Bunny & J Balvin)
In some circles, the Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin smash “I Like It” was as contentious as it was catchy. Undoubtedly, it was a booming, boisterous reinvention of Pete Rodriguez’s bacchanalian classic “I Like It Like That” that put dexterous verses from three of the world’s biggest Latinx rappers at the forefront, extending the staying power of Spanish-language hits on the pop culture main stage following last year’s “Despacito” phenomenon. But with its lyrics about “hot tamales” and a boogaloo sample last known from a Burger King commercial, the track was also perceived as an easy deployment of the cultural signifiers and stereotypes that often push Latinx music into uncomfortable novelty territory. Despite these concerns, “I Like It” blasted its way up to the no. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and positioned itself as 2018’s song of the summer, and that ever-infectious chorus still seems to be echoing out of every car radio on the planet. –Julyssa Lopez
Bad Bunny - "Estamos Bien"
When Bad Bunny stepped onto the stage of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to perform “Estamos Bien” and mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane María, he arrived ready to launch yet another one of his subtle rebellions.
In his English-language TV debut, Benito Antonio brought with him the convictions of an entire island that felt (and still feels) abandoned and neglected by both local and federal governments in the aftermath of María – and he denounced Donald Trump and his administration’s incompetence in counting the casualties of the natural disaster.
In the months after its release, “Estamos Bien” became a sort of mantra of resilience, and in some ways, a rejoinder to the traditional Boricua saying “En la brega.” For some, it’s a phrase that addresses the struggle of daily life, but can also be interpreted as a reference to the constant battle against oppression in Puerto Rican society. “Estamos Bien” proved that even someone as wealthy and successful as El Conejo Malo couldn’t completely escape the devastation of Hurricane María and 120 years of colonialism; in “Estamos Bien,” Benito highlights the year-long blackout both he and the rest of Puerto Rico experienced after María (“Aunque pa’ casa no ha llega’o la luz”).
The self-directed, VHS-quality video for “Estamos Bien” captures the Bad Bunny zeitgeist in all its glory: Benito paints his nails before hitting the beach with his corillo in one of his signature wacky outfits. Donning aguacate-print shorts and a denim Supreme x Louis Vuitton jacket, he narrates the hustle of his early days and ascent to the mainstream in his familiar baritone alongside dancing Conejo Malo pizza GIFs. With its summery, feel-good hook and angelic choral intro, “Estamos Bien” showed that the Vega Baja native is ready to use his platform to elevate his people and give them a reason to move forward. –Frances Solá-Santiago