‘Speakpanther’ is a Hazy Hip-Hop Journey From California to Mexico City

Read more

When “Viva La Lagunilla,” the lead single from Speakpanther, dropped last month, the comedically inclined yet seriously gifted rapper Speak said that the project is “a mix of rhythms, sounds, and ideas that represent my experience on both sides of the border.” Now that the collaboration with Belizean producer Dream Panther has arrived, it’s easy to understand what Speak, who hails from California but relocated to Mexico City, meant.

Whether he’s rapping or singing (with ample assistance from the ever-handy auto-tune), Speak’s style remains instantly recognizable for anyone who’s followed his career. He is at once playful and charismatic, oozing with an intensity that demonstrates he takes his subject matter seriously. Dream Panther’s sounds, meanwhile, are threaded together with hazy, psychedelic textures (“Distill” and “North American Free Love Agreement”) as well as grittier trap instrumentals (“Howdyyy,” “Barrio Chino”). The entirety of Speakpanther plays, then, as two sides of the same coin, much in the way the U.S. Latino experience is bicultural.

The track that will likely get the most attention is the collaboration with the rapper Liphemra, “Not from Here.” Speak plays the Clyde to Liphemra’s Bonnie. It may not be an original concept, but the track is notable for the contrast in both rappers’ styles. The combination of Liphemra’s featherless coos and Speak’s reverbed flow make for an addictive bit of fun, even if at first they collide.

It’s on “Trap 3D,” though, that the project shines brightest. Dream Panther delivers a subdued, echoing guitar riff over which Speak addresses both the personal and real-life politics of being a member of the diaspora living in Mexico. “My skin the fairest, so it’s seldom that I’m acting careless,” he raps. “Awareness of my privilege, but still I rep the village…my people got the heart that you lack, and we the organ donors.” It’s a sentiment that reiterates the message from “Viva la Lagunilla,” which called out Speak’s inherent advantages as an American as well as the rarely acknowledged contributions Latinos make to popular culture.

Speakpanther may resonate the most with American-born Latinos, but the project is universal in its abilities to make you laugh, think, vibe, and turn up, all in under 30 minutes.