Jesse Baez Paints Outside the Contours of R&B With Forward-Looking New EP ‘Turbo’

Lead Photo: Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla
Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla
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When Jesse Baez’s debut B.A.E.Z. came out in 2016, it reflected that year’s inclination toward sleek, somewhat insouciant R&B. Melodies trended minimalist and moody, and the Chicago-born Guatemalan fit right into the stripped-back vibe of the moment. But already, that era has started to feel distant and even slightly outdated, as more Latin artists in particular have swayed toward brighter swirls of pop and hip hop—think J Balvin’s multi-faceted experiments and deconstructions on his recent Vibras. This where Baez swoops in with his newest project, the seven-song EP Turbo that shows more variety and dimensionality than its predecessor.

While B.A.E.Z. was a tightly knit R&B manifesto, Turbo is a broader exercise with fuller, rounder production choices—perhaps a result of Baez transitioning from the R&B-centric Mexico City label Finesse and into the wider world of Universal Latin. The collabs on the EP are, therefore, more forward-looking, and they link Baez up with other urbano up-and-comers, specifically trap rebels C. Tangana and Fuego. Tracks with these artists place Baez in a new context that shows what he can do outside of the sparse, DIY wooziness that made up much of his first effort.

There are still remnants of that initial sound—after all, one of the things that makes Baez distinct is his ability to riff coolly off any beat, which he does on the smoky opener “Barry White.” The spirit of B.A.E.Z. lurks briefly on “Siempre” until the beat kicks in and speeds up Baez’s wispy delivery. “Tema 1 (SWOOSH)” also hits a more laidback stride, but that song steers Baez toward new, trap-flecked territory, thanks to the assist from Fuego’s throaty verses and ad-libs.

Things pick up on “Quiero Saber,” a syncopating standout featuring Dillon Francis. Pop inflected and upbeat, the song is also one of Baez’s best vocal performances on the EP, punctuated with throngs of steely synths. A similar buoyancy is stamped all over “Mama Loba,” which packs in a surprising amount of cheer despite its lovelorn lyrics. But if there’s a marker of the evolution that’s happened for Baez from 2016 to 2018, it’s laid out on “Turbo.” Adapting a contemplative tone, similar to the personal reflections that appeared on B.A.E.Z., Baez mulls over how quickly things shuffle and shift: “A veces siento que todo va muy rápido/A veces siento que todo cambia muy rápido. In the case of Turbo, new moves aren’t a bad thing for Baez.