Mellow Man Ace

Escape From Havana

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Cypress Hill, the Mexikinz, Kid Frost and Afro-Rican are among the Latinos who have made valuable contributions to rap -- a genre historically dominated by Black males. Like those MCs, the distinctive Mellow Man Ace has used his experiences as a Latino to his artistic advantage when rapping. On his debut album, Escape From Havana, the L.A.-based Cuban-American fluctuates between aggressive hardcore rap and more melodic and commercial fare. Ace, who raps in both English and Spanish, had a major hit in "Mentirosa" -- an infectious, salsa-influenced gem sampling Santana's "Evil Way." That song and the ballads "B-Boy in Love" and "If You Were Mine" show that even at his most commercial, he still has integrity -- while "Rap Guanco," "Mas Pignon" and "River Cubano" demonstrate how hard and forceful he can get. Ace, like a lot of rappers, spends too much time boasting about his microphone skills. Nonetheless, Escape From Havana is an individualistic, risk-taking work that's well worth hearing.

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