Crespo tops the charts again after 14 years with a new twist on his sound.
In the late '90s, Elvis Crespo was the king of Latin music, with his infectious brand of ultra-fast, energetic merengue.
Singles "Tu Sonrisa" and "Suavemente" topped Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart, while the album "Suavemente" sold 864,000 copies in the United States and Puerto Rico, according to Nielsen SoundScan, notching phenomenal figures for a Latin album.
It's taken 14 years for Crespo to hit the top again, albeit under very different circumstances and demonstrating how much the market has changed.
Crespo's single "Yo No Soy Un Monstruo" (I Am Not a Monster) topped the Hot Latin Songs chart in the Aug. 25 issue after a tortuous ascent beginning in March, during which the track climbed, sputtered, then rose again to the top. Album "Los Monsters" arrived May 1.
"My biggest challenge was taking him out of the tropical mold," says Crespo's manager Robert Fernandez of Famous Artist Music & Management (Pitbull), who has managed Crespo since the beginning of the year. "As soon as you say, 'Elvis, merengue, tropical,' that's where [the interest] ends," he says, alluding to the fact that Crespo is a core tropical act and few such stations exist anymore. "I wanted more."
The "more" began with the song itself, a kind of urban merengue penned by Vladimir Dotel of Ilegales, who are featured on the track.
Then came remixes, which allowed entry with reluctant programmers and "made a 100% difference," says Summa Marketing & Entertainment senior director Gabriel Buitrago, who spearheaded radio promotion. "In Texas, 80% of the stations played remixes. In Los Angeles, they played both versions. Stations wouldn't play him because he was too old for their demographic. The music makes the difference."
The song's lyrical refrain-"I'm not a monster"-also made a difference. It was turned into a back story about a bully victimizing kids, currently a hot topic on newscasts, and the video depicted teen bullying at schools.
"It was a song with an identity and a story," says Jorge Pino, VP of music for Venemusic, which licensed Crespo's album. "The song had legs. It's Elvis' best moment in 10 years."
Pino, a former Sony executive, met Crespo when he was signed to the label at the time of "Suavemente". Despite the fact that Crespo hadn't had a radio hit or significant sales in years, he believed in his artistry. Last year, he signed Crespo to a licensing deal that gives the artist control of his master recordings and puts Vene in charge of distribution in the United States and Latin America. Vene also signed a 360 rights deal that includes management and booking in several territories, including Venezuela, where "Yo No Soy Un Monstruo" also went to No. 1.
And signing with Fernandez was the last step in rounding up a new team with fresh points of view.
"I thought the guy could make hit records," says Fernandez, who notes that the main stumbling block was shedding all remnants of Crespo's merengue musical sensibility for the new material.
"Los Monsters" has sold 5,000 U.S. copies (according to SoundScan), a far cry from the nearly 1 million in album sales from decades past. But that doesn't bother Crespo's team, which is making money from digital sales and touring.
Even in that regard, Fernandez has made big changes. Now, Crespo tours not only with his 20-piece band, but also a less expensive DJ-and-dancer ensemble that enables him to play in new markets and on radio shows, which further propels the record. "If you can make that brand," Fernandez says, "the gigs make up [for the investment]."