“I want to quote this Tego Calderon interview that I watched,” says Nino Augustine, who was just asked what he’s got on deck after the release of his solo debut EP Me Toca A Mi. “He said that things didn’t make sense for him until his dad pulled him over and was like, ’Look, first make them dance, and then you can scream.’ I think we have a similar strategy.”
He’s being interviewed during the 2019 summer that saw the term “perreo combativo” coined as the sound of Puerto Rico’s potent #RickyRenuncia protests. Surely, Augustine is not the only person reflecting on how reggaeton can serve as a call to action. Me Toca a Mi is his first step according to Tego’s game plan; the seven track EP is a superlative “make them dance” moment. It serves reggaeton beach party, alternating with sexy Atlanta trap en español tracks. The heat-seeking mood will test your resolve to not end up shouting the title track’s hook back at your speakers.
Such is Me Toca A Mi’s click for this era of reggaeton power play that casual listeners may not catch that Augustine’s trajectory is not that of many of the radio’s big genre artists. But the EP should serve as a reminder that reggaeton’s characteristic hybrid represents a thousand stories of how culture spreads and is shared around the Western hemisphere — some of which have little to do with Puerto Rico or Colombia.
Augustine grew up in San Miguelito, Panama. Those roots surface in the layers of track “Otro Shot,” which he created with producer Capone, a.k.a. fellow Panamanian Cesár Luque to include licks of sound not found in reggaeton in Colombia or Puerto Rico. As an addition to the canon, this is big. There’s few urbano heads that don’t know Panamanian reggae en español legends El General or Nando Boom, but El Rookie or Kafu Banton? And how many Balvin and Rosalía fans are aware that Panama is, right at this very minute, site of an urbano scene influenced by salsa, Haitian kompa, Trinidadian soca, and Colombian vallenato?
“I’m excited that the genre has gotten so big, and you have people all over the world respecting and admiring something that had its origins in Panama,” says Augustine. “There’s so much talent in Panama that I hope as [reggaeton] keeps getting bigger and bigger, that these labels won’t be scared to invest in a Panamanian artist.”
Some labels have done just that. Augustine points out the success of Río Abajo vocalist Sech, whose reggaeton romántico has attracted industry heavies like Farruko, Nicky Jam, Ozuna, and Anuel as collaborators. And Panama’s bench goes deeper. Augustine’s inspired by the success of Panamanian emcees like Robinho and BCA, the work being done at Bunker Jam Studio. Not to mention the fact that many of these artists take reggaeton back to its Afro-Latino roots. “Latin artists are really taking charge of where this genre should be,” Augustine says. “I’m just glad to add more color to it, because it needs more color.”
Augustine moved to Morrow, a town on Atlanta’s south side already home to a large Panamanian community, in the early aughts. As more Latinos went to the city’s metropolitan area [ATL’s Latino population doubled between 2000 and 2010], he has become part of a small but growing local reggaeton scene. His peers include Rob Session and Xavier Black of the collective Werc Crew (both of who DJ for Augustine), artists like Florista and DJ EU, and events where Latinx music finds a spotlight, like Oye Fest and the Choloteca parties.
While urbano artists the world over have integrated trap into their sound, Atlanta creatives have special motivation to link the music of ATL’s Black communities with those of their birth countries. “I was there for the early T.I. era, Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane,” Augustine says. “I was able to witness the beginning of the whole trap era, and how it affected the rest of the hip-hop world.” In that sense, he relates to trap music from a different angle than many of the artists killing it in places like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. “It’s just a matter of time until Latinos from here, from Atlanta, start making music and repping this shit,” Augustine told Remezcla in 2018.
Augustine also takes inspiration from eclectic ATL hip hop heroes Outkast. “I just love how they were willing to always take risks,” he says. Those wide-ranging musical interests are visible in his previous work with the Only Positive Energy band, which saw Augustine delivering alt hip-hop flow over live funk and soul beats. He put out his single “Agua” with DJ Riobamba’s APOCALIPSIS label, known for its focus on the surprising musical connections found at the crux of diasporic Latin American rhythms and electronic sounds. “I want to treat each project as a painting,” he says. “I respect the colors that I painted, I chose them at a specific time of my life.”
To get back to Tego’s dad’s words of wisdom; Augustine has a project due this winter with Swiss producer Bony Fly meant to fulfill the latter half of the Calderon family prescription, and touch on the social truths that Augustine wants to talk through. Throw your back out on Me Toca A Mi while temperatures are still high, just remember winter’s coming. “I’m pressing on different topics,” Augustine says of the unreleased work. “When it gets colder out, we’re finna make them listen a lot more.”
Stream ‘Me Toca a Mi’ here: