Historically, there have been few points of cosmological overlap between reggaetónfans and William Gibson readers. But this is no longer the case. The No. 1 record on this week's Billboard Latin albums charts is iDon, the third studio release by Puerto Rican superstar Don Omar, and the rapper's first foray into dystopian cyberfantasy.
iDon is a short, tight theme album—just 10 songs in 38 minutes—though the particulars of the theme are obscure. The songs have titles like "Sexy Robotica," "Galactic Blues," and "Sci-Fi"; there are blippy R2D2-like effects and computerized female voices that intone phrases like "Phase one/ You will now experience an astonishing rate of decibels." The 10-minute-long video for "The Chosen/Virtual Diva" features lots of icy-blue light, plumes of smoke, guys in lab coats, jackbooted women in leather, and Omar alternately strapped to a gurney and bellowing through a bullhorn. A press release informs me that iDon's plotline concerns "a mysterious scientist" who performs "a series of operations and experiments on the Latin music superstar with the purpose of enhancing his musical and human abilities through futuristic technology. During this process the experiment goes wrong and iDon is born."
Of course, Omar has been doing just fine with his musical abilities—and with technology, futuristic and otherwise—for a while now. He is a kind of reggaetón Kanye West: a big mainstream star who stands slightly to the left of mainstream tastes, with a penchant for sonic experimentation and defying fan expectations. His great 2006 album King of Kings packed in a lot: inspirational Christian bromides and sexy come-ons; party tunes and protest; detours into Jamaican dancehall and Dominican bachata; all kinds of samples, styles, and rhyme flows that swerved clear of genre clichés.
iDon is sneaky in a different way. It is a stealth conventional reggaetón album: Beneath the cybernetic mumbo-jumbo, foreboding synth chords, and techno twitches are lyrics about clubs and sex (and sex in clubs); disses of rivals; and smack-downs of record executives, who should be pleased to learn that they still exist in the sci-fi future. There is one ballad, "Ciao Bella," ably sung by Omar, that rare rapper who can carry a tune. But iDon is mostly a big, booming dance record, with beats (by producers Diesel, Echo, and Danny Fornaris) that move from reggaetón's standard boom-chicka to 4/4 house thumps to jump-blueslike swing. And, surprisingly for an album full of bionic lovers, iDon hasn't a trace of Auto-Tune—proof positive that iDon really is a man, or man-machine, from an alternate reality.