Orishas

A Lo Cubano

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AllMusic Review by

The debut from expatriate Havana rap quartet Orishas (named for the gods worshipped by Yoruba tribesmen), who met in Paris during a student exchange program, is solid evidence that finally the Americanski labels are looking beyond their own borders for quality hip-hop. It's a good thing, too, since the gringo scene has suffered such a dearth of creativity since 1998. These cats take the House of Pain approach and cover their territory with "raise your hands and shout your hood" chants, while keeping the scratch mix direct and in the pocket. The rhythm tracks are layered against solid, traditional Cuban son and merengue. Lyrically, the set is completely free from the trappings that plague most Yankee hip-hop: There is no sexism, no violence, and no idle MC boasting. Instead, Orishas, in "Represent," "Barrio," "1.9.9.9," and "537 C.U.B.A.," takes an approach that deals with issues like returning home, the struggle of Cuba, self-determination while living in the shadow of the beast 100 miles away, and the quest for freedom (both political and spiritual). But despite the heavy messages -- and the intense Santeria influence -- Orishas is among the most musically refreshing quartets hip-hop has ever produced. With music every bit as sophisticated and catchy as the Buena Vista Social Club and three times as tough, the Afro-Cuban rhythms and folk song forms are married effortlessly to a seamless loop, scratch, and bass mix. This is the down groove on the steamy humid tip. It's also a historical, sociological, and musicological lesson that can be partied to. What else can you ask for?

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