Our Local Spotlight: Top 10 Puerto Rican Albums of 2020

Puerto Rican music is often associated with its culture—tropical sounds, an upbeat Caribbean influence, and diverse origins from our sister islands and Latin America. Salsa reigned over La Placita, a night-life marketplace filled with clubs and kiosks. On weeknights, clubs played the most recent reguetón/trap songs and, in other spaces, bomba y plena was the norm, with barrels and timbales reinforcing tradition. However, due to the immense commercial success from US artists, the local scene has been constantly overshadowed and struggled to achieve similar international recognition. 

A chaotic 2020 has come to an end, and with quarantine, it brought some of the best records to streaming services and social media. These social media platforms are such ideal outlets for exposing artistic material to new audiences, since you can share your favorite local artists with friends and mutuals.

Choosing this year’s best albums wasn’t an easy task. With the help of fellow Twitter mutuals, and few acquaintances who delivered some amazing features, this list won’t rank the projects in order of favorites, but will instead highlight the best of the best, with a playlist, curated by yours truly, adding some talents that still deserve a good deal of recognition. 

And our list starts with:

  1. The R&B Puerto Rican singer is direct and completely honest. The production of Bourbon Honey feels crafted with detail, and Charlie Renée also proves to be a bilingual, smooth writer. Anyone who isn’t into the local scene would think she’s another R&B girl, but at the same time, her essence feels native.

  2. As we learned in this past month’s Our Local Spotlight profile, LAPERRERA debuted Palis as an experimental album portraying his daily encounters with vices (drugs, alcohol, guns, etc.), structurally based on Paliques, a short essay compilation written by poet Nemesio Canales. LAPERRERA’s trap music is not limited to a genre but maintains the essence of traditional Puerto Rican music. There’s no hesitation nor fear in his delivery. Through a bold choice of words and non-forced rhyming, he manages to be precise, concise, and laid-back, while sharing raw yet relevant stories.

  3. Quirky lyrics and fun productions are added value to the unique way Ana Macho performs: she’s authentic and spontaneous. Her first EP, Bairópolis, proved production was part of her artistic proposal, but in Frío Tropical she finds solid ground, not only in her innovative writing, but also in her simplistic approach. Her persona allows Ana Macho to not only serve a fun dialogue ("Ana Winter") but also shows off the vocals we knew she had ("Blin Blin").

  4. Easy Money Baby is a bulls-eye album. Myke Towers’s ability to paraphrase similar situations in diverse ways, the power in his fluid wording and connected thoughts with little correlation, but sounding so smooth while doing it, make this such a fun project. With the use of alliteration, similes, and anaphoras (maybe I did learn something in English class), the urban artist doesn’t need to explain himself. Fan-favorites "MIB," "Diosa," and "Ronca" stand out for their own strength—his path in the music industry, idolizing the love of his life, or stating his dominance, respectively.

  5. What started as local gigs in pubs and bars, now feels like day-to-day music. It’s exciting to hear our language in a genre so not present in today’s local scene. Space Corolla manages to reminisce on old, but better times, somehow ingeniously, because of their delivery. This punk rock band moved me while listening to a genre I didn’t even frequent. Nostalgia grew in me when hearing a cover of beloved "Lento," originally played by Julieta Venegas, and the rest of the songs on Cordales. A well-made piece of work.

  6. Trap has never sounded so queer! Villano Antillano reinvents and deconstructs the common nuances within this male-dominated genre. Explicit lyrics and a daring production turn heavy when they open up about their experiences, glaring at them with groundbreaking collaborators in Ketaprincesa. "Reggie Miller" features a strong vocal contrast that's to die for while adding gunshots and street sound effects to the beat. Meanwhile, "Tusi" is a catchy, sexually driven, and political party anthem. They do it all while still being gracious, sexy, and climbing up the ladder of success.

  7. Buscabulla moved to New York after Hurricane María struck the island in 2017. Throughout their musical journey, the married couple planned to return to Puerto Rico and keep making music. Regresa describes, in essence, what it felt to transition from country to country, especially with their comeback, accompanied by the Puerto Rican social climate and the album’s pertinence. Its replay value and memorability are attributes that spark joy and much dancing. Upbeat tracks like "Vámono" and "Ta Que Tiembla" inspire a call to action, while subtle "Nydia" and "Club Tú y Yo" are intimate synth-pop classics, known in popular music. Their alternative approach brings a new perspective into our known scope and Buscabulla is here to stay.

  8. Bashed in exquisite instrumentals, RaiNao is blunt, sensual, and harmonic. This graduated drama student’s music is smooth and just vibey enough. Her lyrics in En Vivo y Coleando are so up-to-date and fun, and with its production, feels fresh. Her reggae presence and jazz fillers are enough to tell a melodious story, told in "Track 1" and "Celular." RaiNao also challenges herself and covers "He Tratado," a salsa track made famous by Puerto Rican salsero Victor Manuelle, turning it into a delightful reggae.

  9. This is what happens when you mix the catchiest songs and beats with high standard quality and production. YHLQMDLG is a gift. As the record progresses, it solidifies what Bad Bunny, as an artist, is: versatile and ready to take on the world. It doesn’t matter if he’s heartbroken or just having a good time, his songs are unforgettable. "La Zona" represents the build-up in perreo, while "Yo Perreo Sola" embodies perspective in consent while dancing, and "Hablamos Mañana" is a fusion of the dynamics of power, paired with an amazing outro. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the songs entirely—you’re hooked, you instantly recognize them, and you certainly can decipher that this album is one of the best of the year.

  10. How does it feel to listen to an album for the first time and feel like you’ve heard this all your life? How melodies enter your ears and stay stuck in your head? The rustic, one-with-nature experience that is Sentir no es del tiempo led by 26-year-old singer Andrea Cruz is one of the most ambitious local projects to date. Her subtle tone feels warm, in touch with high-level production and goosebumps provoked by her lyrics. This no-skip album features beautiful work: "¿Quién nos amarró?" is haunting, yet heartwarming; "Altar de los santos" harmonizes with background vocals and a percussion presence; and uses charming storytelling in "Caminero."

Many local artists and singers made the short-list of some of the best songs released this year, and each one has amazing projects themselves. This is your chance to share with me which were your favorite albums, or if you found your new best on this list, using #OurLocalTop10 on Twitter, and even tagging me, @rsantanafonseca. Also, be sure to listen to this playlist with some of my own favorite tracks. Enjoy, and remember to support your local artists!