Review: Dillon Francis Tries Latin Pop on ‘Wut Wut’
Producer enlists De La Ghetto, Fuego, Toy Selectah and more for first LP since 2014
Electronic producers’ mad dash to work with Latin stars continues: After David Guetta released a pair of collaborations with J Balvin this month, DJ Snake made “Taki Taki,” a rush-hour-traffic-jam of a single that includes Ozuna, Selena Gomez and Cardi B, and Dillon Francis has a new album, Wut Wut, which incorporates features from the Puerto Rican star Residente and the deft Dominican American youngster Yashua, among others.
Francis portrays his album not as an attempt to ride on Latin music’s coattails but as a return to form. “I’ve been doing it since 2012, and I was just kind of going back to it,” he said recently. “It” here is moombahton, a hybrid of reggaeton and Dutch house. In America, moombahton is notable because it enjoyed popularity at electronic music festivals where the largely white crowds would not otherwise listen to reggaeton.
Despite his moombahton pedigree, Francis had the good sense to consult versatile performers from around Latin America while making Wut Wut: The album is executive produced by Toy Selectah, a veteran Mexican producer/multi-instrumentalist who excels at mixing traditional forms like cumbia with hip-hop and electronic music. Wut Wut also incorporates iLe, who came up in the musically omnivorous, highly decorated Puerto Rican group Calle 13 before pivoting to make a handsomely nostalgic solo debut album, along with De La Ghetto and Arcángel, slippery singer-rappers who were exploring Latin trap and American R&B a decade ago, long before many of their fellow reggaetoneros.
But all this talent doesn’t prevent Wut Wut from being a slaphappy mishmash. “Cuando” with Happy Colors and “BaBaBa” with Young Ash sound dated, though they would still do fine in the headlong-brawl-like context of an electronic festival mosh-pit. Arcángel‘s feature, “Ven,” lacks zing — you’re better off with “Original,” which came out this year on his Ares album.
The songs improve when Francis focuses on conjuring forward momentum. Ximena Sariñana, a Mexican singer, moves her voice in surprising ways on “Esta Noche,” which relies on the wiggly instrumental hook that is often popular in moombahton. Fuego, a Dominican-American artist, has a winning, raspy whisper on “We the Funk.” Both tracks employ the flat, marching drums and clean melodic lines of Eighties pop.
Still, it’s hard not to be confused by the attempts at fusion displayed on Wut Wut. Not from the perspective of the producers — they need the streams and a whiff of relevance. But for the artists from Mexico and Puerto Rico and Colombia and elsewhere, team-ups with major electronic producers are mostly unwarranted, an almost-guaranteed aesthetic compromise without much commercial payoff. It’s true that almost every one of the Spanish-language songs that cracked the Hot 100 this year was a collaboration. It’s also true that almost every one of those collaborations was between Spanish-speaking artists.