Monday, August 21, 2006

Un Tego Calde totalmente cambiado

ImageTego Calderon has dropped the bling. A few weeks ago, after much soul searching, the Puerto Rican rapper took off his trademark chains, rings, diamonds and anything remotely ostentatious and continued making music as he has always done: quietly and with little fanfare.

Indeed, the change in accoutrements suits Calderon well. The rapper has cultivated an image as the deep thinker and top lyricist of the reggaeton movement, a notion supported by his recent trip to Sierra Leone to film a documentary on the diamond mining business. Calderon returned a changed man, acutely aware of hardship and more determined than ever to lose that bling.

The marketability of that image will be measured with the August 29 release of "El Subestimado/The Underdog." The album, released on Calderon's own Jiggiry label via a production and distribution deal with Atlantic, pairs his music with a marketing and promotional infrastructure far greater than has supported his music before.

But Calderon did not deliver exactly what Atlantic bargained for. "El Subestimado" is rich in rhythmic variety, ranging from straight-ahead reggaeton, salsa and Puerto Rican bomba to blues, reggae and funk.

And, save for an occasional chorus, it is entirely in Spanish.

"We purposefully had little English," says Calderon. "Even though we had pressure from Atlantic to include Anglo artists, it wasn't what I wanted to bring, and they respected that."

Calderon's lone previous studio album, 2003's "El Abayarde," has sold a modest 132,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (A compilation, "Los Enemigos Del Guaisibiri," has shifted 105,000.) Given the language challenge, Atlantic initially is working "El Subestimado" to Calderon's core Latin audience on Spanish-language radio via the single "Los Mate." The track is No. 46 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart this week. In the coming months, the label will work "Chillin' " and "Slo Mo," two songs that have some English content, to rhythmic and rap radio.

"It's all about starting with the core first and making sure -- and this is critically important to Tego -- that his core fan base and his core audience know he didn't change his musical philosophy because he linked up to Atlantic," says label chairman/CEO Craig Kallman, who signed Calderon. "For him, it was about staying true musically to what he believes in. And for us, it's about empowering him to do what he was musically inspired to do."

For Calderon, that meant biding his time between albums, to sidestep some of the hype surrounding reggaeton as a potential next big thing. "I didn't want to be the poster boy for this music," says the artist.

Instead of concentrating on creating an album of reggaeton hits, Calderon did some soul searching. He poured his heart out on "El Subestimado," including a track titled "O Dios" (O God), a word play on "odios" (hates) about fathers' rights to see their children, based on his own experiences with the mother of his oldest daughter. Another track talks about his deceased father. "Lloraras," the Oscar D'Leon salsa classic, features D'Leon himself. "Los Mate," an uptempo reggaeton track, deals with the struggle of rich against poor.

"It was a way to fulfill reggaeton and lyricism -- a kind of bridge between the two," Calderon says of his approach to the album.

The artists keeps close ties with many reggaeton acts and producers, including Don Omar (featured on "Chillin"'), Eddie Dee, Voltio and protege Chyno Nyno. He says he is acutely aware of the lyrical and musical constraints of the genre, but also appreciates its advantages.

"The reggaeton beat is what makes people dance. And the dancing is an essential element. Anglos don't understand what we're saying, and they dance (to) it," he says.

But for those who do understand, Calderon wants to make a difference, reveling in his Latin roots and shedding light on the plight of black Latins. "I'm done with denouncing and attacking," Calderon says. "What I want to do is educate: 'You are my fans, I want you to understand my people. Understand our pain."'


No comments: