N.O.R.E. y la Familia...Ya Tú Sabe

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About a year and a half after the unpredictable and underproductive rapper N.O.R.E. promised the album One Fan a Day with the Neptunes, Mariah Carey, and Beanie Sigel as his guests stars, the reggaeton-flavored N.O.R.E. y la Familia...Ya Tú Sabe appeared in its place. With a high-profile album in the can and the lucrative reggaeton train bringing everybody who rides it plenty of bling in 2006, there's every reason to suspect La Familia is an embarrassment waiting to happen, but it's hardly that at all. While N.O.R.E. might not be the first to mix hip-hop and reggaeton, only mixtapes, mashtapes, and bootleg white labels have blended the two genres with such abandon, weaving a hip-hop stance into a hyped-up bachata number or dropping smooth Latino crooning over an old-school boom-bap beat. The latter is what "Soy un Gangsta" does perfectly, but most of the album draws upon reggaeton beats, many thanks to SPK, who previously brought the spice to some Tony Touch tracks. "Mas Maiz" is one of the producer's best efforts, with an extravagant set of guest stars that goes from Fat Joe to the darling Nina Sky. Elsewhere, slick dancehall team T.O.K. makes an appearance, Ja Rule hangs for a track, and reggaeton vets Don Omar, Ivy Queen, and Daddy Yankee step up to the plate. The album's bulging guest list does make this more of a N.O.R.E.-hosted party than a N.O.R.E. album, something that might disappoint fans coming off his very focused, very hip-hop album God's Favorite. But as track after track swirls and hypnotizes with infectious raps and hooks, the fact that this isn't a grimy hustler or a N.O.R.E.-centric album matters less and less. The inclusion of "Oye Mi Canto" -- an in-your-face reggaeton stunner that was originally released to promote One Fan a Day -- as a bonus track is just the icing on the cake, and if you can't get over the sharp left turn the rapper's discography takes, it's your loss and reggaeton's gain. La Familia is a spicy thug party that breaks plenty of rules and never feels contrived or anything but inspired. After listening to it, an album with a Mariah Carey duet as its centerpiece doesn't seem that exciting at all.

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