What Tego Knows After 40

By: Marcelo Báez

It’s not easy being an ageing rapper (just ask Andre 3000). Thing is, urban music is a young man’s game. Because being a 40-year-old man with a 20-year-old’s problems—or interests—comes off as pathetic, but hip-hop, trap, reggaeton or [insert any millennial’s favorite party genre here] won’t be considered cool unless its subject matter is about things youngsters are into (sex, drugs, booze and parties). And if there’s anything more embarrassing than dad rock, it’s dad rap. The kids don’t want to listen to some old dude being all existential, or whatever, you know?

Now let’s talk about Tego Calderón’s El Que Sabe, Sabe, the rapper’s fifth studio record, released this week by Jiggiri Records. Tego’s latest offering is impressively eclectic—hip-hop, reggaeton, reggae, dub, salsa, pop—and lengthy (16 tracks plus two interludes). But even if he’s one of Latin America’s most prominent rappers, is the quadragenarian still on top of his game? Yes. Well, mostly.

When certain songs, such as the buzzy and dubstep-ish “Al Grano,” or the dark and funky “La Media” come on, Calderón sounds as cool as ever. One pictures the O.G. rapper playing dominos in some smoky basement and not giving a fuck about anything. Tego used to be a drummer in a rock band and he actually studied percussion at some point in his life, thus it’s not surprising to hear drum-heavy tracks such as “Están Fritos” or “El Papá.”

Ah, but there are a few cringeworthy takes on here. Because no self-respecting rap record is complete without at least a few “I’m better than the rest” takedowns, in “Mamey” we get to hear Tego deliver some flat, unfortunate (not to mention played out) wordsmithery (“Yo sé que tú eres... un real hater”). Not only is the track weak in terms of programming, but there’s nothing cool about an established 40-something-year-old musician who still feels threatened by petty rivalries.

Then there’s “Quisiera Ser Cantante,” Tego’s love song of sorts. “I know that my forte is not making schmaltzy songs,” he accurately croons in one verse (next time, trust your gut, Tego). Oh, and fans should also be spared “Quién Diría,” a duet with Kany García, because 1) Kany sounds like a poisoned cat, and 2) although it’s a well-meaning track concerning child abuse, Tego awkwardly—and out of nowhere—portrays himself as a conscious storyteller. The latter wouldn’t be weird if Calderón didn’t drop lines such as “None of those boys made you scream ‘¡Qué rico!’” on the track right before “Quién Diría.”

Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad, and although there’s a few close calls, El Que Sabe, Sabe has plenty of material which safely curves Tego’s fifth LP away from dad rap territory. But if Tegui Calderón Rosario—that’s his real name—falls asleep at the wheel next time, it will be one of those accidents people do look away from.

LOGISTICS: Listen to El Que Sabe, Sabe here

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.