If you know who Anuel AA is, chances are you have a strong opinion on him. A Boricua singer/rapper known for his bold and frequently controversial public image and powerful voice, Anuel AA doesn’t pull punches.
Some of his statements are blatantly problematic, such as his use of homophobic insults in a diss track on a rival (for which he later apologized, after major backlash). He has expressed controversial views about other artists. Advertised his music during a court trial. Picked fights with many of the biggest artists of his generation on social media. These things are entirely on-brand for the loud-mouth Puertorriqueño. For many people who are familiar with his work, there is little room for opinions that lie between general dislike and serious fandom (sound familiar?).
In 2018 Anuel released his debut album, Real Hasta La Muerte (Real Until Death) which achieved critical acclaim. In 2020 he dropped his second album, Emmanuel. Many fans said the album lacked strength and power, and it didn’t initially gain much public attention. My initial criticism was that while it was adventurous and had some good songs, it was not super interesting as a whole. However, revisiting this album, it has really begun to grow on me. Despite its initial lukewarm response, this is a fire album, and it deserves a place in the reggaetón story. Let’s take a dive into the central elements that make this album what it is.
Hit or miss, you decide. But you can’t deny that Anuel steps outside previous comfort zones of reggaetón. The opening track, which features Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, is No Llores Mujer (a cover of the Bob Marley classic, No Woman, No Cry). Right off the bat you know not to expect a generic pop album. He continues to expand on this with the third track, Reggaetonera, which switches vibes every few seconds but keeps a consistent mood and story. The songs range from aggressive Latino trap to reggae-influenced pop, covering a multitude of diverse genres. While it might not be as bold/different as Bad Bunny’s newest album EL ÚLTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO, Anuel doesn’t confine himself solely to what reggaetón has traditionally sounded like. Rather, he uses the reggaetón blueprint as a guideline to expand upon. The strength of the diversity of the album keeps interest and attention throughout its double-album length 99 minutes of play time.
There’s no denying that Anuel AA has flow. But not only does his lyrical style deliver, the entire structure of the album has it. Before streaming, music was mainly consumed on the radio or on full albums (plus MTV music videos). Production of albums centered around the flow of the record as a whole piece. In the production of Emmanuel, clear emphasis was placed on the flow of the album as a whole, more than many other modern-day albums which are more song-oriented. But that’s not to say that there aren’t some fire individual bangers.
With very few exceptions, no matter how well the album flows, there needs to be a handful of bangers to carry it. Outstanding individual songs that lay the foundation of the album, and that the other songs frequently function as a segue in between. On this album, depending on context and mood, most of the songs could be considered bangers due to the diversity of the project. However, here are a few that stood out to me. Some for being particularly strong and driving, good for dancing, working out, or even being a moody angsty teenager:
- Somos o No Somos
- Hasta Que Dios Diga
- Fútbol y Rumba
- Rifles Rusos
- Estrés Postraumático
The secret ingredient to any good Latino album. Sabor – flavor. Sabor is what puts the “Real” in “Real Hasta La Muerte”. This is the sauce, or in this case, the salsita, of the music. This is the rhythm we tap into when we dance, and the energy that defines the culture. Throughout the varying sounds of the different songs on the album, the sabor is consistently present and strong. Not only is it the glue that holds it all together, but it is the foundation of sound and energy.
Overall, throughout this album, Anuel AA artfully blends the essential ingredients of Risk, Flow, Bangers, and Sabor to cook up some heat. Calling in other pop/reggaetón/rap legends from Bad Bunny, to Mariah, to Lil Wayne, Anuel created an album that I predict will age very well when revisited. While it could be argued that it lacked the explosiveness necessary to make a splash in the moment it was released, the quality of Emmanuel should not be overlooked.