Album Review: Los Rakas' El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo LP [USA]

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It’s tempting to compare this record by avant-reggaeton duo Los Rakas to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Much like the Outkast album, this record is a split between the two persons of the band, each taking a side and doing what they please with it.

What’s remarkable about El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo is that, in reality, this is their debut full-length. To the surprise of many, this is their first big statement after seven years of singles, EPs, collaborations, and mixtapes, all of which contributed to make them tastemakers within their niche of Latino music, especially in the U.S. Now, they take the stage to give us something more.

The first half of the album is taken over by Raka Dun (under the name El Negrito Dun Dun), with a sound that vacillates between old school (verging on cheesy) reggaeton and other styles that serve as the backdrop for his largely autobiographical lyrics. Songs like “Demencia y locura” have a breezy quality to the overall sound, while “Chica de mi corazón” is a downbeat affair with effortless synths and vocal harmonies.

The highlight of Dun’s side, however, comes in the form of the one-two punch of “Mi país,” an a cappella riff about the author’s longing for his home country, where he throws in reflections about Los Rakas themselves. “Mi país” serves as a prelude to “Sueño americano,” which tackles immigrant reality in the U.S., brought forth by sober guitars and superb production.

On the other side of the record, Raka Rich takes over with an even smoother sound that resembles R&B and vaguely ’90s-sounding dance beats, as exemplified by tracks like “Periódico de ayer.” “Malibu Girl,” which references the Albert Hammond-penned classic “It never rains in Southern California,” is a standout, with guest Martin Luther’s vocals sounding creamy and cool. There’s nothing strikingly new about it but it’s extremely catchy and sleek.

Although we can see the two halves of the brain that is Los Rakas, we can also find unity in the record. The Panamanians use more Spanish than ever and they keep linking reggaeton with its parent genre, dancehall, to develop their own flavor with two distinct visions. Lyrically they balance hedonism with realism to give us a big picture.

Like the best and most classic hip-hop, El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo gives us macro world views of micro communities, connecting what they see with their eyes and whatever ambitions and fantasies they want to fulfill.