On “Dando Break,” the first single from Tego Calderón’s long-awaited new album, the Puerto Rican rapper and reggaetón pioneer stays true to his roots, combining slow jamming, straight-to-the-hips rhythms with a street-talking delivery that has the intensity of a heads-down conversation in a dark doorway. The track is a reminder of how tight the urban tropical fusion genre was with hip-hop when it came out of the projects of San Juan.
El Que Sabe, Sabe, due in early 2015, is Calderón’s first major studio album in eight years. But it’s not exactly a comeback, since the toke-voiced barrio poet, who first got people’s attention with 2002’s El Abayarde, has continued to perform and record, as well as appearing in a couple of the Fast and Furious movies. He was nominated for a 2012 Latin Grammy for The Original Gallo Del País, a “mixtape” released by his own Jiggiri Records. (The marketing plan involved handing copies of the album out at New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade.) He gave a boost to the young reggaetón duo Plan B by appearing on the 2013 song “Zapitito Roto,” which made the Billboard Latin charts.
A year after Daddy Yankee started burning up dance floors with the pivotal track “Gasolina,” it was Calderón who, in 2005, became the first Puerto Rican reggaetón artist to sign with a major. The Atlantic Records deal yielded the 2006 album, The Underdog/Subestimado, a title that rang true when the label’s rushed attempt at crossover failed to meet expectations, and the artist went his way.
While Yankee, Don Omar and others went on to global stardom with music that strayed far from the original Puerto Rican reggaetón sound, Calderon has hunkered down on the island. He’s become something of an urban legend, posting gritty, locally-produced videos from his studio in Santurce; videos whose authenticity contrasts sharply with the interchangeable yachts, cars and ass-centric productions of other Latin urban stars.
El Que Sabe Sabe will be released by Siente Music, a Venevision label distributed by Universal.
“I keep on producing, writing new songs and enjoying the process in addition to be debuting with a new record company,” Calderón said in a press release from the label. “So I’m ready to keep contributing to the development of the genre, with lyrics that in addition to make people dance, have a message they can identify with.”