‘Ahora’ by Christian Nodal
Regional Mexican music’s golden boy, Christian Nodal, broke out in 2017 with his single “Adiós Amor,” but this year he fined-tuned his “mariacheño” sound (a mix of mariachi and norteño music) on his second album, Ahora. With the timeless timbre in his big voice, he’s able to connect with different generations of fans while conveying a wide range of emotions. There’s heartache in “Perdóname” and defeated resignation in “Nada Nuevo” to the sexy swagger of the gossip-tackling “No Te Contaron Mal” and Nodal’s vaquero charm on “De Los Besos Que Te Di.” The future of Mexico’s most beloved genre also kept it fresh with Colombian pop star Sebastián Yatra on “Esta Noche.” Nodal’s time is now and this album makes that known. -Lucas Villa
‘iLevitable’ by iLe
Suddenly drawing her own massive spotlight after a decade as PG-13, supporting her brothers in the renowned hip-hop act Calle 13, was a surprise. Not because iLe isn’t a commanding performer, but because of the new style with which she debuted (and won a damn Grammy for, hello). Romantic and aching boleros make iLevitable feel vintage, like a dusted-off relic from Puerto Rico’s past. A couple songs, in fact, were written in the ‘40s by her late grandmother, and there’s the homage to Cheo Feliciano, “Dolor,” a posthumous duet.
Embraced by multiple generations, the record was a reminder of the rich history of Latinx music; it was a combination of nostalgia and tribute delivered flawlessly by someone who was instantly understood as a torchbearer of established culture who’d give these sounds renewed life in modern times. -Jhoni Jackson
‘Futura Via’ by Bam Bam
Monterrey was living a contrasting reality by the beginning of the 2010s: while its music scene was in an outstanding creative moment, the rise of cartel-related violence negatively impacted the city. Bam Bam managed to strive in this context, cutting through the noise with their debut album, 2011’s Futura Via. Futura Via allowed Bam Bam’s ideas to go big; the album’s cryptic sci-fi themes of outer space run like Philip K. Dick fiction, and the band’s psychedelic sensibility perfectly matches them. The songs slowly mutate as if their dynamics are also part of the stories they tell, and are guided by a sense of melody and orchestration that would make Brian Wilson proud. The making of the album and subsequent promotion led the band to a spectacular breakup, but they left us with an astonishing piece of work that shoots us up into space with every listen. -Cheky
‘Prisma Tropical’ by Balún
There are bands and artists that create their own worlds, each song another glimpse into a unique paracosm. Balún is one of those bands, and Prisma Tropical, released about a decade after married co-founders Angélica Negrón and José Olivares left Puerto Rico’s indie music scene for NYC, is their most complete fantasy yet. Built by nostalgia for home while simultaneously embracing the evolution of Puerto Rican and Caribbean culture in the diaspora, it’s an electronic conversation that makes possible the coexistence of reggaeton and dembow, with Negrón’s sparkling classical orchestration and ethereal vocals.
In a sense, Prisma Tropical feels like virtual reality, a digitally created place you can mindfully, albeit not physically, enter. What you encounter there depends on your own relationship to the past, to where you call home, to your present – but for Diasporicans and the folks on the island who miss them, it seems a magical place to reunite. -Jhoni Jackson
‘Vega Intl. Night School’ by Neon Indian
Four years after its release, Neon Indian’s magnificent third full-length album Vega Intl. Night School remains a bewildering and extremely enjoyable concoction of Italo-disco sci-fi with a psychedelic twist. Monterrey-born, Dallas-raised mastermind, Alan Palomo, conceived the album as a greatest hits compilation for a fictional band – bucking the chillwave sound that made him an indie darling and digging through his back catalogue, most notably his former project Vega (and even further back to his long-defunct bad Ghosthustler), to refashion himself as a god of nightclub excess. Singles like “Annie,” “Slumlord” and “Techno Clique” epitomize the album’s retro-hedonistic spirit, bursting at the seems with rich, pulsating bass lines and a tidal wave of synthesizers that would make Kraftwerk blush. -Richard Villegas
‘La Dinastía Scorpio’ by El Mató a un Policía Motorizado
In the 2010s, Argentine band El Mató A Un Policía Motorizado went from being a niche audience’s treasure to becoming one of the most beloved rock bands in the region, and their second album La Dinastía Scorpio represents that turning point in their career. Here, they found power in restraint; limiting the instrumentation to a classic rock formation with the occasional synth or acoustic guitar, and confining most drum patterns to their trusty motorik, they managed to squeeze the energy and emotion of these elements to support singer Santiago Barrionuevo and his honest poetry. It’s the lyrics and the melodies that carried them where La Dinastía Scorpio found its transcendence. The words are candid and generous, often selfless, hoping for a collective state of well-being. They gave us anthems we can keep in our hearts for life and chant with our eyes closed and fists in the air. -Cheky
‘Fireboy Forever II’ by Fuego
What began as Dominican-American rapper Fuego’s foray into covering popular English-language rap songs in Spanish, has gradually morphed into him unintentionally defining the budding genre of Latin trap. On Fireboy Forever II, Fuego didn’t set out to spearhead a movement; he just wanted to make music in Spanish. But the effect of this album is still being felt today. With Fireboy Forever II, Fuego became the progenitor of Latin trap (along with artists like Fuete Billete and Alvaro Diaz), and even invented trapchata (“Se Me Nota”) along the way – a sound that others hopped on – most notably on Bad Bunny’s “La Romana.” -Eduardo Cepeda
‘Wannabeithu’ by Cuco
Omar Banos, aka Cuco, refined the sad boy trip-hop of his first EP as Heavy Trip on Wannabewithu, a mixtape of distorted horns and heartfelt confessions. Self-produced when he was 16, the 7-track collection encompasses what the bedroom pop romantic continues to be about: nostalgia, longing and dissociated young love. There’s an undeniable honesty in his lyrics, woven into the psychedelic soundscapes that bolster them. “Lover Is a Day,” still one of Cuco’s most enduring tracks, opens the record with this earnest philosophy as he contemplates his place in a relationship. “Furthering my distance from you / Realistically I can’t leave now / But I’m okay as long as you / Keep me from going crazy,” he drones, a blasé delivery of emotional vulnerability that somehow doesn’t feel the slightest bit disinterested. We’ve all been there, but nobody said it before quite like Cuco. -E.R. Pulgar
‘Invasion of Privacy’ by Cardi B
More internet-than-music-famous before releasing Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 and II, Cardi B often explained her artistic prowess rather conspicuously then. That’s not to say her firsts weren’t great mixtapes, but as her celebrity grew and singles dropped, expectations for her follow-up were high. Of course, she delivered.
Though she’s never shied from transparency, the palpable vulnerability on Invasion of Privacy was new; “Get Up 10” and “Be Careful” are distinctly different in their honesty, but nevertheless felt confessional and relatable. Yet she still reminded us of the pedestal she built and stood proudly atop, with plenty of braggadocious self-empowerment tracks, like “Bodak Yellow” and “Drip.” Lest we forget the enduring “I Like It,” either, where her Afro-Latinx identity is spotlighted alongside J Balvin and Bad Bunny.
Cardi B has espoused the righteousness in being your true self since day one, but on Invasion of Privacy, she showed us that ideology in action. Invasion of Privacy felt less like an intrusion than Cardi B willingly opening up, showing us how multi-dimensional she is, how funny, serious and idiosyncratic she can be – and her fame exploded exponentially as a result. -Jhoni Jackson
‘La Confianza Ciega’ by Algodón Egipcio
“Future pop” was an elusive tag that had been used to describe a few forms of music, from mainstream artists embracing different sounds to avant-gardists dabbling in more melodic material. Yet if we take that genre literally, few artists could have a better claim than Cheky Bertho as a musician that keeps predicting what pop can become. As heard on the second of two stellar albums released this decade, La Confianza Ciega finds radical lyricism in empathy and new harmonies and textures in familiar tunes and rhythms. It’s also mixed and matched by his love for different Afro-Caribbean styles, as well as the long history of modern pop – delivered with a unique sense of compositional skills. Songs like “La Estrella Irregular,” “El Olvido,” and “El Ciclo Del Agua” offer radical reinterpretation of ultra-melodic music that lands with sympathy instead of sharpness, welcoming the listeners instead of confronting them with a path to progress that (sort of) promises a happy ending. -Marcos Hassan
‘Energia’ by J Balvin
Colombian superstar J Balvin first gave música urbana a much-needed jolt to the system with his aptly-titled 2016 album Energía. Backed by his longtime producer Sky Rompiendo El Bajo, the two made reggaeton music more alluring to wider audiences with synthier sounds on the slinky “Ginza” and the sexy “Solitario.” The sleek production meant Balvin was also hitting his stride as a smooth operator. He was sliding into the DMs on the dreamy “Snapchat” while offering himself as a remedy to the clowns that usually fill them on the hypnotic “Bobo.” There was a bit of heart underneath the gloss as well on the soaring “Sigo Extrañándote.” Balvin’s breakthrough album was absolutely electric and it still sounds as fresh as ever. -Lucas Villa
‘Love & Sex’ by Plan B
After debuting on DJ Blass’ Reggaeton Sex compilation in 2000, Plan B – comprised of cousins Chencho and Maldy – became one of the main driving forces behind raw and bellacoso reggaeton. With the release of their third studio album, Love & Sex, the duo polished their sound and eased up a bit on the profanity, and managed to find a global audience. With production from Haze, Luny Tunes and Tainy, among others, Love & Sex has become the soundtrack to countless nights out dandole hasta abajo. -Eduardo Cepeda
‘Cost of Living’ by Downtown Boys
Releasing Cost of Living on Sub Pop marked an expansion close to major-label heights – Warner Music Group is the indie label’s parent company, after all – for Providence-based activists and musicians of Downtown Boys. Earlier in the year, the band played Coachella which, of course, drew the expected “sellout” criticism.
But did the band lose an ounce of its grit, its commitment to its ideals? After playing the massively famous fest, Downtown Boys published a letter condemning the owning entertainment group’s ties to homophobic and transphobic causes, called for higher pay for its workers and announced they’d donate a portion of their pay to pro-LGBTQ organizations. And releasing on Sub Pop, of course, was an upgraded megaphone in terms of reach.
The broader world needed to hear front person Victoria Ruiz even more loudly in August of 2015, when Cost of Living was released, as white supremacy surged violently in Virginia and Trump offered dog-whistle approval. Revisiting the album now, its urgency remains just as effective a tool for protest, as with Downtown Boys’ previous work. But Cost of Living was especially timely as a soundtrack for action. Its anger was focused; it reverberated. Most importantly, though, the album shucked individualism for collective action instead – because during challenging oppressions, we are stronger en masse. -Jhoni Jackson
‘Música de Capsulón’ by Füete Billete
At the top of the decade, back when acts like Ana Tijoux and Calle 13 were defining Latin American hip-hop and rap with rousing, conscientious anthems, a scrappy wave of trap-influenced artists elbowed their way into the scene with a refreshing dose of sleazy lyricism and creeping club beats. One of the first iconic manifestos of the Latin trap era came from raunchy Puerto Rican trio Füete Billete, who in 2013 unleashed Música de Capsulón, a watershed mixtape reflecting urbano’s rising affinity for Atlanta trap and mirroring the explicit naughty boy antics of reggaeton’s OGs. Tracks like “Hasta el Piso” and “Bien Guillao” became explicit nuggets of late-night bellaqueo, while “La Trilla” showcased the softer side of trap’s newest bad boys, demonstrating that even maleantes have a squishy heart. -Richard Villegas
‘Formula Vol. 1’ by Romeo Santos
As if taken from a Hollywood script, the band we loved for bringing “sentimiento” back around to world stages called it quits in April 2011. All four Aventura band members continued making bachata in three different projects as if it were a contest to prove who had the sauce. When it was Romeo’s chance to prove his royal status, he delivered an album with instant classics such a “Llevame Contigo,” “La Diabla,” “Debate de 4” and my all-time favorite, “Promise,” featuring Usher. Formula Vol.1 was Romeo Santos’ first of many star solo moments. -Joel Moya
‘Arca’ by Arca
Alejandra Ghersi might be the most influential, radical musician working near the mainstream of this past decade, a figure that personifies what it means to break the mold and be true to oneself. While her work with Kanye West and Björk made Arca a recognizable name for general music fans, solo work established her as a seminal icon for experimental electronic music. What makes Arca so compelling is boiled down to her conflict to stay true to synthpop forms, and her willingness to rid the music of rhythm, melody or listenability. Her biggest contribution to the decade might be the flawed, beauty-through-ugliness humanity that comes through her art, from her blend of human touch with technology, to her personal, emotive lyrics and heartstring-tugging vocals that kick her art to a higher plane. Hers is a plane most people have not yet been able to reach, but perhaps will in the future with Ghersi’s help. -Marcos Hassan
‘El Mal Querer’ by Rosalía
In 2018, Catalan artist Rosalía turned her university thesis into a game-changing second album, El Mal Querer. The 13th-century romance text, Flamenca, inspired Rosalía to create the album’s 11 chapters around her passion for flamenco and penchant for pop and urban sounds. Rosalía and El Guincho co-produced the album, and with the aid of a long list of musical collaborators, they break down words and sounds to enhance the strong, conflicting feelings of sorrow, oppression, jealousy and empowerment contained here. Beyond the dazzling album singles like “Malamente” and “Pienso En Tu Mirá,” El Mal Querer reveals Rosalía’s true artistic spirit and hunger to subvert the rules. Due to the album’s ubiquitous influence of the historically discriminated Spanish Roma culture used from a place of privilege, conversations about appropriation and appreciation have been sparked and still go on, but the impact El Mal Querer has had is undeniable. -Cheky
Read our full review of the album here.
‘Música, Gramática, Gimnasia’ by Dënver
There is no doubt that the Chilean pop explosion defined an entire generation of angsty indie kids, and while we’ve repeatedly sung the praises of breakout stars like Javiera Mena, Alex Anwandter and Gepe, it was Dënver who gave the movement its defining thesis statement. Música, Gramática, Gimnasia is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece, swirling with jagged synthpop, evocative chamber music, twee wanderlust and poetic hyperbole. Songs like “Lo Que Quieras,” “Los Adolescentes” and “En Medio de Una Fiesta” are the sonic equivalents of stolen glances and clammy hand-holding — capturing the sublime awkwardness of budding romances and teenage indecisiveness one epic earworm at a time. -Richard Villegas
‘1992’ by Princess Nokia
If New York City remains the capital of the world, Princess Nokia immortalized what it means to live, love, struggle and thrive here in the 2000s as a young queer person of color on 1992. The Nuyorican rapper, whose real name is Destiny Frasqueri, infuses her second LP with an autobiographical, anti-colonial stance that venerates her emo coming-of-age and ties it to the ever-changing metropolis. 1992 sees Frasqueri taking listeners through a Manhattan quickly undergoing gentrification, the queer clubs that nurtured her, the bodegas that fed her, the 6 train that got her around and the Taíno mysticism that grounds her. She raps “Got a show, come and see, New York is the place to be / Here you go and live your dreams” in standout track “The ABCs of New York,” invoking the possibility those who move to the Big Apple hope for, and affirming that it does, in fact, still exist. –E.R. Pulgar
‘Amanecer’ by Bomba Estéreo
Throughout 15 years of music-making, Bomba Estéreo has been described as electro-cumbia, tropical elegance (their own term), Latin pop, experimental, psychedelic and even trip-hop. Most of that works, in varying degrees, to paint a picture of the band’s fourth album released in 2015. On Amanecer, there are moments that feel like the whole world collaborated with core duo Simón Mejía and Li Saumet in the songwriting process — like on the exhilarating, mesmeric “Soló Tú.”
But Amanecer is also, out of the group’s entire catalog, the album that most clearly presents its philosophy. Bomba Estéreo’s enduring message, basically, has always been that love is the solution to all the world’s problems. Call it a platitude, but the Bogotá band seems to put full faith in love as a core salve, which, when paired with other elements — a connection to nature (“Raíz”), the liberation brought by dancing in one’s community (“Fiesta”), committing to self-love (“Soy Yo”) or the happiness found in being absolutely present with someone you care for (“Somos Dos”) — can all bring real change. Amanacer made us want to believe all of that is possible. -Jhoni Jackson
‘Private Energy’ by Helado Negro
By the time Helado Negro released Private Energy, the Roberto Carlos Lange project had been active and turning heads for most of the decade thanks to his particular brand of serene, melodic music. Yet the 2016 album may be the pinnacle of Lange’s powers as a gentle sonic force. Private Energy blends electronic and acoustic instruments in an organic mix of warm sentiments that wrap around Helado Negro’s secret weapon: His voice, an expression tool so exquisite that it deserves its own chapter when discussing this music. With a small flutter of his vocal chords, Lange delivers lyrics with a unique, unmatched passion, warping and expanding the meaning of the poetry of his words. Standout cuts like “It’s My Brown Skin” and the anthem “Young, Latin, and Proud” are delivered with compassion rather than zeal, and the result is an album more radical than mere sloganeering – elevating him into a vital part of the Latinx musical history of the past ten years. -Marcos Hassan
‘X100PRE’ by Bad Bunny
In his short career, Bad Bunny has managed to redefine what it means to be an urbano artist – from shattering outmoded standards of masculinity with his colorful nails and even more colorful personality, to seamlessly navigating between genres and sounds. After an almost never-ending run of successful singles and guest appearances, Conejo Malo re-emerged from a Vega Baja vacation house with a veritable urbano masterpiece in hand, 2019’s X100PRE. Produced in conjunction with Tainy and La Paciencia, the album sidestepped any notion that an urbano album had to be a collection of bangers, and instead focused on creating a cohesive experience for the listener – one in which getting lost in Bad Bunny’s nostalgia and childhood memories felt effortless. Much like Bad Bunny changed how an urbano artist could behave, X100PRE changed how an urbano album could behave. It’s just a shame no one else seems to have followed suit. -Eduardo Cepeda
‘Club Negro’ by María y José
Judging from the timid opening piano chords of “Granada,” the sullen first track on Club Negro, the last thing you’d expect is one of the wildest, most nihilistic records of the decade. Loaded with darkly humorous ruminations on heartbreak and family (“Ultra,” “Loop de Sangre”), and bordertown anxieties like colonization (“La Conquista”) and narco violence (“Violentao,” “Club Negro”), Tony Gallardo’s paranoid and excoriating 2013 opus launched a barrage of musical grenades from behind the rabid, balaclava-clad persona of María y José. As one of the pillars of Tijuana’s Ruidosón insurrection – alongside acts like Santos, Los Macuanos and Siete Catorce – María y José chopped, screwed and smashed together a plethora of samples and makeshift sounds drawing from tribal, hip-hop and ambient genres. As a result, Club Negro is a violent, danceable and unexpectedly cathartic rampage of cutting social criticism and pent up aggression. -Richard Villegas
‘Mena’ by Javiera Mena
After helping refresh the face of Latin American pop music in the 2000s with her debut album Esquemas Juveniles, Javiera Mena entered this decade with Mena — an album which not only cemented her status as one of the best songwriters of her generation, but also catapulted her to the star status she rightfully deserves. The Chilean artist crafted nine pop fantasies using vintage stylings, where she captured stories of love and heartbreak that feel timeless, welcoming, and shyly queer. Co-produced by her former partner-in-crime Cristián Heyne, Mena yielded some of the most striking tracks of her career, like the disco-fueled “Hasta La Verdad,” her ode to 80s Latin American pop “Primera Estrella,” or the Lido Pimienta-featuring Italo disco bomb, “Luz de Piedra de Luna.” It was one of those albums that sounded important from the beginning, and time has proven it to be so. -Cheky
‘El Juidero’ by Rita Indiana y Los Misterios
It’s impossible to guess how the annals of history will remember the 2010s, but looking back on the decade today, there is no denying it has been a period of convulsive transformation. Everywhere from politics to the global economy, the fabric of our society has experienced a chaotic and seemingly inevitable shift, and few artists captured (or foretold, really) this cultural evolution as expansively as Rita Indiana. All the way back in 2010, the reclusive Dominican author and recording artist unveiled El Juidero, a conceptual masterpiece that weaved roots music with DIY urgency; elegant poetry with razor-sharp Caribbean wit; and incisive historical criticism with relatable personal narratives. However, the record’s sonic and lyrical achievements are only half the equation. El Juidero is also, and perhaps most importantly, an astute and devastatingly compassionate deconstruction of identity — peeling back the layers behind queer womanhood (“Bajito a Selva”), companionship (“Flores de Fuego”) and spirituality (“Guarara”). Even Rita Indiana’s own resilient Dominican essence becomes subject to scrutiny – first from the perspective of a frustrated artist railing against the injustices that have long plagued her homeland (“El Juidero,” “Da Pa Lo Do”), and later as a once-displaced immigrant echoing a universal sense of diasporic longing (“La Hora de Volvé”).
Though released at the very beginning of the decade, El Juidero is as relevant today as the day it dropped – a staggering yet remarkably accessible ode to belonging. It’s unlikely that 2010’s Rita Indiana knew exactly what the future held, yet even so, her music continues inviting us to reexamine our place within history and society. Hers is a pearl of rare and valuable wisdom – so rare it comes but once a decade. -Richard Villegas