By Yasmeen Altaji
30 Oct, 2019
When Omar Apollo took to Twitter early in September to vaguely announce his plan to “drop this reggaeton shit,” I’ll admit, the premise had me skeptical.
Many of his listeners know the Hobart-native Mexican-American (born Omar Velasco) by his funky, bassy R&B earworms, such as “Hijo de Su Madre” and “Kickback” off of his albums Stereo and Friends, respectively. A guitarist and singer himself, Velasco typically builds his music around heavily instrumental sets, something we can expect given his four-piece band is comprised mainly of percussion, strings and vocals.
Little else could explain why, upon its release at 10:00am on Thursday, the ethereal, synthy opening of his newest song, his first Spanish-language song titled “Frío,” came as a surprise to avid listeners like myself. Despite its catching me slightly off guard, however, Velasco’s music once again left me pleasantly surprised.
A classic bouncy reggaeton bassline — the first immediate tip-off to the listener that this song wouldn’t sound quite like its predecessors — quickly enters the scene and continues steadily throughout the duration of the song. The melody, a structurally simple repetition of up-and-down stepwise motion doubled by a higher, harmonizing vocal line, bore into my head pretty easily, forcing me to pay attention to the more dynamic component of the song — his lyrics — and the spiky vulnerability of their nature.
Without beating the meaning out of the song more than I need to, it’s worth pointing out that the lyrics, a melancholy display of a trademark post-breakup inner-dialogue lament (“I can’t love you back…/Don’t leave me”), serve multiple purposes. Aside from their more obvious role as a narrative to accompany the instrumental backing, the soulful lyrics that Velasco so often uses in his music provide a sense of familiarity and continuity from his older works to this novel sound —something for his followers to latch onto.
With that in mind, we can take into account that, beyond the framework of the elements of the song itself, Velasco showcases his talent in his display of dynamism and his ability to adapt his strengths toward what’s arguably an entirely new genre for him. He masterfully uses components like those aforementioned lyrics and the signature raw, emotive vocals that his fans keep coming back for.
Although his music has displayed a certain few Latin undertones in the past, it’s clear that Velasco took “Frío” as an opportunity to step away from his distinctive foundation of R&B and soul and dip further into the Latin side of his musical character, testing out a new spectrum of sounds on his iconic style. Omar Apollo has, in the most satisfying way possible, toed the line into the realm of reggaeton while keeping a foot in the door behind him to bridge the best of both musical worlds.