As the next-big-thing reggaeton story line was repeatedly narrated throughout 2005 and 2006, detailing how the Puerto Rican musical style had quickly ascended to commercial prominence among Latinos, a certain conventional knowledge arose about who the figureheads were, namely Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Tego Calderón. And so a horse race seemed to be taking place among these three, with Omar even going so far as titling his 2006 album King of Kings in acknowledgement. Such bravado is unsurprising, of course, given the deep influence of hip-hop upon reggaeton, but still, a certain segment of the swelling reggaeton audience was put off by the cock-fight-like swaggering. Hence the widespread embrace and celebration of Calle 13, a clownish duo that was a breath of fresh air for many, and also hence The Underdog/El Subestimado, Calderón's similarly refreshing sophomore album. (Calderón's previous release, El Enemy de los Guasíbiri  was mostly comprised of stray recordings that predate his debut, El Abayarde .) The Underdog/El Subestimado is refreshing because it eschews the boilerplate aspects of so much reggaeton -- that is, the production style patented and mass-marketed by Luny Tunes, and duplicated ad nauseam by lesser bandwagon-jumpers, to the point where this style became not just generic but a serious liability seized upon by critics who remarked over and over, "It all sounds the same!" Well, it doesn't all sound the same on The Underdog/El Subestimado. This is an album that revels in its willingness to freewheel from salsa and dancehall to straight-up rap in its earnest attempt to showcase a unique style of reggaeton that is creative as well as rousing. Calderón certainly plays an important role in this attempt, as his flow purposefully varies from track to track and his wry persona looms large over the album. His selection of producers is also key, as he works with relatively unknown beat-makers who stretch the boundaries of reggaeton, coloring outside the lines. The end result is a polychromatic take on the style, one that demonstrates how creatively rich reggaeton can be when artists are willing to take risks and move beyond the proven marketability of the Luny Tunes template. Sure, much of the same could be said about Omar's King of Kings, released a few months earlier. Yet as bold as that album is at times, its adventurousness pales in comparison to the whimsy of The Underdog/El Subestimado. Omar and Daddy Yankee may be reggaeton's kingpins, competing for an intangible throne of respect and admiration among the masses of the reggaeton nation, but with The Underdog/El Subestimado, Calderón, the style's other figurehead, abandons the horse race and trailblazes his own path, one that's considerably more interesting musically, and respectable in its own way.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
feat: Oscar D'León
feat: Don Omar
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