Various Artists

Latin Lingo

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A compilation of Latin hip-hop is an idea whose time has come. Actually, it came some time ago -- kudos to Rhino for being the first to actually do it. Latin rap has been around pretty much as long as rap itself; Latinos were counted among the trendsetting old-school rappers of the late '70s, and modern rappers like Kid Frost, Mellow Man Ace, and Proper Dos hark back to a tradition started by such early Chicano figures as Ruby D. and Grand Wizard Theodore. But given the proud traditions in which the tunes on this album are steeped, things get off to a kind of dismal start. Opening up with the robotically unfunky "Sumthin Ta Bump" by Proper Dos, Latin Lingo then almost grinds to an aesthetic halt with the smarmy "Ring My Bell," Jew Lay's remake of an old Anita Ward single that raises hardly a glimmer of musical interest. Things pick up quickly from there, however: Kid Frost's masterful "La Raza" kicks all kinds of butt, featuring a deep, heavy groove and Frost's graceful Spanglish flow. Mellow Man Ace's "Mentirosa" is an amusing ode to a lying girlfriend based on a stock rhythm popularized a few years back by Tone-Loc, and then Proper Dos redeem themselves somewhat with the muscular "Mexican Power." Hi-C and Tony A check in with a musically sophisticated answer to the James and Bobby Purify classic "I'm Not Your Puppet." Those who have a high tolerance for puerile, chest-pounding sex talk will have no problem grooving to either that track or the more upbeat "Froggy Style." One of the album's highest points comes when some of the young rappers collaborate with old-school funksters War. A weak start and occasional machismo excesses aside, this is a fine album overall.

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