“Un, dos, tres, cuatro!” Nothing proves to hype up a crowd better, and this easy hype-up chant lights up dance floors from clubs to quinceañeras–ad nauseam.
However, Oakland/Panamanian rappers –call it “Panabay” for maximum swag–have found a way to successfully resuscitate this schoolyard chant off their forthcoming EP Chancletas y Camisetas Bordadas. With a supple beat anchored by chirping bedsprings for a party jam that leaps off the speakers and makes a pop connoisseur’s heart stop, “Borracha (Culea)” is the freshest take on what could be “Hotel Room Service” redux, showcasing Los Rakas at their most comfortable in bridging the gap between Latin music and hip-hop.
Unfortunately, the Rakas crew does not always seem so at ease on Chancletas, occasionally deviating from their wheelhouse and sounding unconvinced and half-hearted. “Vengo de Panama” is an adequate shout-out to their homeland, but it’s slightly deflated by a whiny synth straight from 1999. It’s slipshod and unnecessary, much like the following track “Panty Wanty,” featuring a hook that sounds like the Ying Yang Twins with six weeks’ worth of Rosetta Stone Spanish.
Fortunately the closing combination of “Camisetas Bordadas” and “Soy Raka” cement this EP as an preview of two Latin rappers capable of really exciting things. “Camisetas Bordadas” (roughly translating as “fly tank-tops”) shows the duo as sharp and assured while rapping on familiar subject matter for those who know their catalog. In fact, the EP title shows that they are extremely aware of their roots and have no desire to change themselves, a mentality that is enforced by the playful children’s voices in the background.
“Soy Raka” is something of an anthem for the duo. Already a proven jam that recieves a quick polish and thrown into the closing slot on the album, is the ultimate package showcasing their embrace and love for both Panama and Bay-Area precisely. Buttressed by more children’s voices, Rakas Rich and Dun turn in their crispest consonants over a hypnotic hyphy-beat, complete with heart-stopping on-point bass and wobbly vocals. This song’s closing choice is completely sealed by the bridge, with an slowed-down refrain of “Turfin.” Shouting out their adopted hood’s dance of choice is a sign that Los Rakas is finally comfortable with their amalgam of their roots and their present style. It’s an intoxicating blend and while they still have their growing pains, I can’t wait to see what Los Rakas will do next.
– Hal Bergold