So a belated follow-up/expansion of this blog’s greatest hit (los exitos de unfashionablylate) so far with some further thoughts on merengue de calle. Proyecto Uno was (is?) a Dominican group mixing merengue with hip hop and club dance back in the go-go ’90s. There’s something charming and cheesy about these weird little major label forays into niche-market hybridity, where house beats pop up everywhere — I get it from El General’s lesser ’90s work as well, not to mention some of the weaker 90s hip-house cuts, which seem to be the antecedent of this stuff. Definitely NOT authentic, to reference an earlier discussion, and often not very good either.
Though I must say, the boys at Proyecto Uno have something. Their biggest hit, “El Tiburon” still gets plays on La Calle (the “hurban” station here in Chicago, which has mercifully diversified from its all-reggaeton playlists of 2005). Their sound is a very self-conscious patching together of merengue, hip hop, and house – the seams show, although that’s not always a bad thing. And it makes sense, since these guys were based in NYC and almost certainly scarfing down the hot club sounds along with a healthy diet of more traditional Dominican sabrosos.
I’m wondering how influential these guys were on merengue de calle, though it’s possible that they aren’t at all. Still, I hear more than a trace of what’s to come in “Pumpin.'” Yeah, it’s called that. What they lack in cool sophistication (and rapping ability), they make up in enthusiasm. If they didn’t inspire merengue de calle, they were plowing a similar furrow, but more synthetically/syncretically.
I picked up their greatest hits in Bowling Green of all places. Perhaps the most interesting is the “Techno” mix of “Merengue Con Letra” (which also appears in its merengue version). Shamelessly cribbing the synth riff from Reel 2 Reel’s “I Like To Move It Move It”, it sounds a whole lot like that “Calabria” tune that’s as universal a hit as we’ve got these days. Has anyone mentioned that the sax riff in “Calabria” is basically a restrained, slightly interpolated version of the hook on Reel 2 Reel’s infamous party starter? No cheeky nu-rave DJs mashing it up? The melody’s already locked away in our brains, it just takes a Scandinavian producer to trigger those dormant neurons.
Anyway, to bring this back to my original topic and maybe digress somewhere else, I wonder how this 1990s stuff — El General, Proyecto Uno, Reel 2 Reel — fits into the global ghettotech nexus. It sounds cheesy to my ears in a way that a lot of contemporary stuff doesn’t, and it hasn’t made its way into hipster record crates. Perhaps it lacks the undercurrent of violence and menace that makes the Other authentic in the post-gangsta music-scape? Or maybe it’s just time: will flogging the 808 Volt riddim will sound passe in the next generation’s funk carioca (and for whom will it be passe)? The papers keep telling me those ’90s synth presets are retro-cool again, so maybe Proyecto Uno’s proyecto techno is due for a reappraisal.