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Review: Rauw Alejandro - VICE VERSA

James Dring reviews the latest album from one of Puerto Rico’s superstars and explores their first step in a new musical direction.  

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Image Credit: Billboard

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Rauw Alejandro, the singing, dancing, reggaetonero, returned this year with an album that saw him take a leap from his roots into a wide variety of sounds with a talent that could only be described as akin to a Puerto Rican Michael Jackson.

Boasting over 600 million Spotify streams, dancefloor-packing singles, creative takes on the drum’n’bass sound, and soothing romances, VICE VERSA lives up to its name and album art. The album takes you on a 14-track journey of encapsulating ups and down, tied together with Alejandro's signature voice and huge vocal range.

Alejandro describes the hit single, ‘Todo De Ti’, as “that 80's and old school vibe but with a summer vibe”. Packed full with dance rhythm, synth pop, and silky-smooth melodies, it earned Alejandro the top spot in ‘Spotify’s Global Top 50’. This single marked a clear departure from his timeless Reggaeton classics and into an entirely new soundscape, earning him subsequent collaborations with Jennifer Lopez, Chris Brown, and fan love from the likes of popular Latin music reactor, Lewis Shawcross. While other reviewers have criticized Alejandro for not going far enough, in a genre becoming dominated by seemingly repetitive tracks, the new sounds offered by Alejandro is a big step earning him praise both for his innovation and raw talent.

This is definitely comparable to Anitta who has exploded into the Latin scene with Brazilian sounds direct from the favela and the calle. She is one of only two official features on the album, the other being Alejandro’s regular collaborative partner and close personal friend Lyanno. Anitta contributes her signature flavour and drum patterns in the appropriately named ‘Brazilera’, concluding the album with an explosive faster-paced party track. Meanwhile Lyanno brings a deeper, more sensual take on RnB-style vocals, somewhat cheekily celebrating the duo’s successes in ‘Tengo un Pal’. The absence of further collaboration and distinct selection of those who do appear amounts to VICE VERSA being a very personal album for Alejandro.

No track demonstrates this better than ‘Aquel Nap ZzZz’ – my personal favourite addition to the album. Including an uncredited contribution from Urbano/Flamenco Pop superstar and Alejandro’s girlfriend: Rosalía, Alejandro’s sixth track stands out for me as his most emotional and ambitious departure from reggaeton. The track employs his entire vocal range, taking his distinct style and delivery to the highest level. In every line and adlib, you can undeniably feel his self-proclaimed romantic side. With lyrics invoking images of sleeping alongside your lover by a beautiful sea, this song invites into Alejandro’s mind and right up in his feels – presumably for Rosalía. At the conclusion the track strips back, reduced to a simple guitar backing and Alejandro’s layered vocals giving way to ambience, perhaps of a Puerto Rican bar by the sea, before seamlessly transitioning into ‘Cúrame’.

‘La Old Skul’ is definitely an honourable mention celebrating Alejandro’s love of classic Reggaeton sampling Daddy Yankee and Nicky Jam’s iconic hit ‘En La Cama’. While Reggaeton was not Alejandro’s exclusive listening habit during his youth, it was undoubtedly formative for his style, publicly stating his admiration and desire to collaborate with Yankee. He has explored this to a degree on a previous track ‘Soy Una Gargola’ recreating Alex Gargolas’ classic banger with Randy and Arcangel. ‘Cosa Guapa’ also builds on Alejandro’s previous hints at an affinity with the drum’n’bass transitioning into a club/rave style sound at the halfway mark. This track also briefly features a rare occurrence of Alejandro performing in English.

Credit must also be given to the production quality first to Alejandro’s regular producers, Mr. Naisgai and Caleb Calloway, who have worked in parallel to craft and develop his new sound. Credit must also be given to Latin Production legend Tainy, who contributes his unmistakable quality. In particular ‘¿Cuándo Fue?’ offers an unexpected, but very much welcome acceleration of pace with synth snares and cymbals.

VICE VERSA perfectly captures Alejandro’s unique voice and his personality, imprinting it on an array of styles and sounds amounting to an album that should be seen as huge personal, technical, and commercial success. ¡Dice, Ra-Rauw!

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