Listen to “Dando Break,” the toke-voiced barrio poet’s first single from 'El Que Sabe, Sabe.'
On “Dando Break,” the first single from Tego Calderón’s long-awaited new album, the Puerto Rican rapper and reggaetón pioneer stays true to his roots, combining slow jamming, straight-to-the-hips rhythms with a street-talking delivery that has the intensity of a heads-down conversation in a dark doorway. The track is a reminder of how tight the urban tropical fusion genre was with hip-hop when it came out of the projects of San Juan.
El Que Sabe, Sabe, due in early 2015, is Calderón’s first major studio album in eight years. But it’s not exactly a comeback, since the toke-voiced barrio poet, who first got people’s attention with 2002’s El Abayarde, has continued to perform and record, as well as appearing in a couple of the Fast and Furious movies. He was nominated for a 2012 Latin Grammy for The Original Gallo Del País, a “mixtape” released by his own Jiggiri Records. (The marketing plan involved handing copies of the album out at New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade.) He gave a boost to the young reggaetón duo Plan B by appearing on the 2013 song “Zapitito Roto,” which made the Billboard Latin charts.
A year after Daddy Yankee started burning up dance floors with the pivotal track “Gasolina,” it was Calderón who, in 2005, became the first Puerto Rican reggaetón artist to sign with a major. The Atlantic Records deal yielded the 2006 album, The Underdog/Subestimado, a title that rang true when the label’s rushed attempt at crossover failed to meet expectations, and the artist went his way.