When Mean Machine included some rapping en español on the groundbreaking "Disco Dreams" back in 1981, much of the burgeoning hip-hop community treated the idea of Spanish-language rapping like a cute novelty. But a lot has transpired since then, and these days, Spanish-language rap is a huge industry that includes all kinds of subcategories and reflects the diversity of the Spanish language itself. There are rappers in Buenos Aires who flow in Argentina's lunfardo dialect; there are MCs in Madrid who wear their castellano accents like a badge of honor -- and in Barcelona, things can get complicated because you never know if the MC you encounter is going to bust a rhyme in Spanish or Catalan (another romance language). So when a label assembles a collection of Spanish-language rap, there is plenty to choose from. At the risk of oversimplifying things, Musica Urbana: Lo Mejor de Hip-Hop en Español (Urban Music: The Best of Hip-Hop in Spanish) can be broken down into two main categories: Mexican rappers and Puerto Rican reggaetón rappers (who have been greatly influenced by dancehall). There are rappers on this 59-minute CD who are neither Mexican nor Puerto Rican; Gerardo (heard on "Sueña") was born in Ecuador, and Crooked Stilo are Salvadorans. But taken as a whole, Musica Urbana (which favors a mixtape format) does -- to a degree -- become a study of the contrasts between Mexican and Puerto Rican rapping. David Rolas, Mexiclan, Azteka and Jae-P flow with recognizably Mexican accents and address Mexican concerns; reggaetón offerings by DJ Eric, Tego Calderón and Noelia (all Puerto Ricans) favor Caribbean-style Spanish. Actually, Noelia isn't a full-time rapper -- she's primarily a Latin pop singer but explored reggaetón on her Melao album in 2004. Musica Urbana is far from the last word on Spanish-language rapping in the 2000s, but it's a lively, often engaging demonstration of how diverse the rap en español market has become.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson