Digital/Divide is a monthly column devoted to any and all genres and subgenres in the great big beautiful world of electronic and dance music.
Reggaeton is, at its core, dance music. At a time when the hedonistic rapture of the dembow rhythm populates the pop charts alongside glossy trap beats and social media-savvy stars, the foundational fact of the thriving Latin American sound’s deep and clubby Jamaican origins remains. From the Caribbean to Columbia and all throughout the world, this music makes easy demands of the body with its welcoming and forgiving tempo.
As reggaeton continues to evolve and reinvent itself in the vibrant underground scenes of locales like Mexico City, the genre’s biggest names take it to the sports arenas. One such exemplar, Puerto Rico’s Ozuna became impossible to ignore even to those largely ignorant of Latin music when he teamed with Bronx rapper Cardi B for the Spanglish hit “La Modelo” and the still-charting powerhouse “Te Boté (Remix)” with Bad Bunny.
Stuffed with singles and padded with features, Ozuna’s 2017 album Odisea has topped Billboard’s Hot Latin Albums just about every week since its release. His latest full-length Aura (VP Records) arrives with the singer in the enviable position of having to replace himself atop said chart. In a way, the guest-heavy outing feels less like a sequel than a companion volume, informed by his escalating recent successes but not indebted to them.
Instead, Ozuna knows his strengths and plays to them throughout Aura, slinging upper-register serenades and tongue-twisting bars to match the sun-soaked production of “Hola” and “Me Dijeron.” He commands the flow of “Única” to match the powerglide of its summertime beat, switching things up for the drum-free closing ballad “Monotonía.”
Apart from English language features by Akon and the aforementioned Cardi, Aura is a Spanish-speaking party by invitation. Bachata king Romeo Santos and Medellin maestro J Balvin respectively shine on “Ibiza” and the single-worthy “Sígueme Los Pasos.” But it’s the freshly freed trap fave en español Anuel AA who delivers the best non-Ozuna performances here, first on the reflective hip-hop slickness of “Pasado Y Presente” and then again on “Supuestamente.”
Amid a storming summer of releases coming out of Flying Lotus’ trustworthy label, this one may have slipped the mind. Sandwiched between millennial winker Ross From Friends’ Family Portrait and Thundercat cohort Louis Cole’s hip-n-loungey Time, Dorian Concept’s eclectic follow-up to 2014’s Joined Ends deserves some attention. After all, the keyboardist has featured on FlyLo albums and in his live band, which at least warrants a listen, right? Damn right, as The Nature Of Imitation may very well be the sleeper hit of the season we deserve, a painstakingly constructed set of tunes willfully detached from electronic fads and scenes. From the bombastic Quincy Jones-y jazzercise of “No Time Not Mine” to the space age kitchen sink soul of “Dishwater,” the ridiculously high quality of these compositions indicate a production maestro who could mastermind Bruno Mars’ next big hit were that of any interest. A standout, “J Buyers” echoes with the coos of its disembodied chorus banging and thrashing against a joyous clubby backdrop.
As cities as geographically distant as Chicago, Durban and Lisbon demonstrate respectively with footwork, gqom and kuduro, the globalization of dance music has thankfully proven anything but homogenous. Much like South Africa’s deliriously uptempo shangaan electro before it, Tanzania’s speedy singeli sound takes to the world discotheque with this aggressive and captivating entry courtesy of Dar es Salaam’s Bamba Pana. The formidable Nyege Nyege Tapes imprint has brought East Africa to our ears before, recently with Ugandan artist Otim Alpha’s Gulu City Anthems. Succeeding 2017’s introductory Sounds Of Sisso comp, Poaa feels downright revelatory in its polyrhythms and pitchy sonics, hypnotizing on the beautifully unpredictable “Baria” and “Kusini.” A leading singeli producer, Bamba Pana thrives on a devotion to disorienting repetition, letting gorgeous threadbare loops subtly consume one another on “Biti Six” and “Jpiya.” Highlight “Lingalinga” adds a new dimension with Makaveli’s rapid fire vocals, while closer “Poaa Rmx” collapses in on itself in conspicuous fashion.
EDM’s commercial bleed led to a tragedy of templating, with producers left and right attempting to cash in on pop trends and hobnob with the celebs you read about at TMZ. Thankfully, this mixed Scandinavian duo haven’t abandoned whatever people are calling maximalism these days. Though their respective and collective histories in electronic music put them squarely into midlife, Alexander Odden and Michael Parsberg combine their wizened club energies into this youthfully manic DJ set. Comprised largely of their own tracks and collaborations, the hour long Full Hearts thumps and skronks into peak time with barely a warm-up considered. Heavy house hitters like “Steel” switch to the trappy hardcore of Dion Timmer team-up “Escape” with careless abandon. The golden age of rave emboldens Pegboard Nerds, who employ and attract bright synths and pitchy vocals with picks like Dyro’s “Feel It Coming” and their own “Wots” By the mix’s abrupt close, the sugar rush taper might make you a tad queasy — but it’s assuredly been worth it.
An L.A. beat scenester straight outta Vermont, the bicoastal circumstances behind this producer signee pale in comparison to the weirdness of his compositions. Stringy and gritty bits of digital offal cozy up quickly to the filleted jazz of “Giants,” a method of butchery made more graceful on its neighboring “K1.” Hip-hop is here and also not here, all part of SnakeFoot’s elusiveness as he glides and grifts through these nine often mind-altering cuts. He shows off a knack for old school and new, affixing vinyl scratches to a Metro Boomin type beat for Slug Christ to spit over on “Howl” and later clatters away into ambient bliss on “Inna Zone.” A ten minute beat tape within a beat tape, centerpiece “Ull Never Know” strips boom bap down to its frame only to douse it in synthesizer swirls. From there, it samples G-Unit, Lil Mo, and more on a fantastic voyage through 21st century rap gems that ends with footwork fury. Its shorter sequel drops the bass.
Born, raised and still living in New York City, Gary Suarez writes about music and culture for a variety of publications. Since 1999, his work has appeared in various outlets including Forbes, High Times, Rolling Stone, Vice and Vulture, among others. In 2020, he founded the independent hip-hop newsletter and podcast, Cabbages.