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Reggaetón -- an infectious mixture of hip-hop, dancehall reggae, club grooves and Latin rhythms -- has become incredibly popular in the Spanish-speaking world. And just as countless English-speaking R&B and pop stars have been going out of their way to feature rappers on their albums, more and more Latin pop artists have been acknowledging reggaetón -- which is what Noelia does on Melao. This hip-hop-drenched effort is a major departure from the Puerto Rican singer's previous albums, which favored a sleek, smooth, polished style of Latin pop that occasionally ventured into salsa romantica/tropical territory; occasionally, Noelia has been described as a female equivalent of Marc Anthony. But those Anthony comparisons seldom apply on this 2004 release, which finds her collaborating with two male Puerto Rican hip-hoppers: DJ Eric (who produced the album) and Yamil. Eric and Yamil are much more than mere guests on Melao; they play an incredibly prominent role on this CD -- so prominent, in fact, that Noelia pretty much ends up taking a back seat on her own album. Eric and Yamil do the most to shape Melao's personality -- and when Noelia sings, she comes across as a backing vocalist who is supporting the male rapping. Melao doesn't feel like "Noelia with special guests DJ Eric and Yamil -- more like a DJ Eric and Yamil project with backing vocals by Noelia. And while those whose introduction to Noelia was 2000's Golpeando Fuerte or 2003's Natural may find that to be problematic, Melao isn't a bad album by any means. The grooves are generally infectious, and Noelia's excursion into Latin pop-rap and reggaetón is enjoyable -- even if Melao does feel like more of a DJ Eric/Yamil disc than a true Noelia album.

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