The nicest thing one can say about the Grammys this year is that, mercifully, they’re over. Still deserving of all the millennial criticism levied at “Music’s Biggest Night” sloganeering, the 61st annual ceremony performatively bent over backwards in an attempt to make up for outgoing Recording Academy president Neil Portnow’s inherently sexist gaffe in the problematic aftermath of the prior year’s event. From performers and presenters to winners and honorees, women took the stage seemingly more often throughout the night than in recent years, a move that only slightly distracted watchers from the night’s obvious absentees and apparent boycotters.
Still, if you were looking for Latinx representation in the wake of música urbana’s breakout 2018, the Grammys likely disappointed. Camila Cabello’s collaborative “Havana” show opener probably sounded better on paper than how it turned out in practice, with J Balvin, Ricky Martin and jazz great Arturo Sandoval vying for time with the chewable scenery and the song’s original guest star Young Thug. Rather than seize the opportunity with Balvin present in the building, Cardi B elected to play “Money” alone than “I Like It” together. Those artistic choices aside, the Grammys unceremoniously buried Spanish-language music in the pre-show webcast, with Anuel AA and Ozuna, among other urbano stars, snubbed in the only category their music technically qualified for: Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album. It was if the last 12 months or so of Billboard Hot 100 hit-making by Latin American artists simply hadn’t happened.
The night before, all the way on the other side of the country, last year’s Grammy city hosted a decidedly different kind of event. Some seven miles north of Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, the Washington Heights’ historic movie theater turned evangelical church known as United Palace began to fill its 3,300 seats with predominantly brown, mostly young men and women for Trap Fest. On stage, below the ornate terracotta decor of the venue’s incredibly preserved walls and ceilings, a stream of reggaetoneros and traperos performed in front of a DJ booth and some video screens. While admittedly far from the production values of the Grammys, this inaugural installment of an apparently ongoing festival series showcased high profile headliners Bryant Myers and Noriel uptown alongside respected locals on their grind like Kapuchino and Lito Kirino.
Even with DJs spinning as much reggaeton and Dominican dembow as Latin trap, the artists expressed urbano’s present range. Decked out in a flat-brimmed Yankees cap, New York scene mainstay Messiah El Artista chose to be democratic with his time. As part of a bevy of hometown spitters, he welcomed fellow vet Tali Goya repeatedly to the stage even after the latter had already performed an impressive mini-set of his own. While venue curfew concerns appeared to cut short Myers’ closing set, which incidentally seemed to cut into Noriel’s as well, he still managed to squeeze in “Tanta Falta,” a summery cut so popwise that it threatens to eclipse his cred as raspy and guttural trapero.
The genre’s adjacent R&B wave found strong representation in Alex Rose, the Puerto Rican singer most likely to reach the American mainstream in 2019. Judging from all the women who rose to their feet to shout along with last year’s “Darte,” a refreshing interpolation of Akon’s “I Wanna Love You,” he’s well on his way. Occasionally joined by an agile quartet of dancers, he belted out single after single, repeatedly reprising his hooks over little more than a drum beat while the audience loudly backed him up. Rose later joined Miky Woodz, who even belated Bad Bunny fans no doubt know from their “Estamos Clear” collab, for their current trap anthem “Na’ Personal.” The redbearded Carolina-born rapper also performed several of his recent YouTube hits including “Everything Es Oro” and “No Hay Limite.”
No stranger to Latin music programming, United Palace has hosted a number of significant Latin trap shows in just the last year. Even before reaching the English-language mainstream, Anuel AA and Bad Bunny respectively sold out multiple nights there, reminding of how important New York is for breaking Spanish-language hip-hop talent. While still many months away from the Latin Grammys, a night which likely will give those now well-established acts plenty of attention, Trap Fest reinforced that, beyond the antiquated notion of crossover, música urbana isn’t slowing down in the slightest.
Los Favoritos Del Mes:
Amenazzy - "Baby Mala"
Mere months after dropping “Dios Bendiga” with Noriel, the versatile trapero flows luxuriously over the beat up to and through its altogether unexpected electric guitar solo outro.
Brray - "Sheesh"
With “Te Bote” co-producer Young Martino in tow, the Puerto Rican lyricist weaves his streetwise narrative with a touch of braggadocio and a knowing glare.
Catalyna featuring Farina - "Alma Desnuda" (Remix)
Roc Nation’s Colombian signee drops in for the remix to this trap-meets-R&B hybrid with a solid verse and added clout.
Macotea featuring Lito Kirino - "No Quiero"
Ahead of his forthcoming Atrás De Un Plato mixtape, the Diplomat Jim Jones affiliated artist maintains mellow uptown vibes with Lito Kirino for the project’s latest single.