Ozomatli first caught the attention of hip-hop listeners through the release of their self-titled debut album, most likely because two of their members also shared membership in Jurassic 5. Cut Chemist was pulling double duties as the DJ for both Ozo and J5, while Chali 2na worked as an emcee for both crews. Ozomatli’s debut was an incredible word-of-mouth sleeper hit, with virtually no radio or video play, just a quickly spreading fanbase, and “Como Ves”, making a few appearances on various movie soundtracks (EdTV, Any Given Sunday, Very Bad Things).
But Ozomatli isn’t a hip-hop band; it’s a latin-funk-hip-hop hybrid, talking loud with the voices of the urban community with incredibly catchy, but paradoxically subtle, fight music. While at surface value, the band’s up-tempo party rhythms may seem like nothing more than the margarita soaked soundtrack to Cinco de Mayo, there is a deeper message within the lyrics. While happy gringos may be getting smashed to the sounds of “Guerrillero”, the irony is that Ozomatli comes with the illest of subliminals – fighting the powers that be, en espanol.
What attracts the hip-hop crowd to Ozomatli is its strong political ideals, the same that groups such as Public Enemy or Boogie Down Productions have shared in the past – not to mention the strong hip-hop influence that is prevalent in their music. While Ozo’s Spanish dialect may obviously alienate some listeners, the group’s resident emcee, Kanetic Source, (like Chali 2na before him), translates their messages into perfect ebonics, best evidenced on “Dos Cosas Ciertas”, a passionate anthem that breaks down into a junglist rhythm for a verse of Kanetic’s inspirational and uprising rhymes. While Kanetic is a worthy enough emcee to take the place of Chali 2na, Ozo has intelligently used their newfound clout to bring in some bigger names to keep the attention of fickle hip-hop fans, such as Common adding his own lines of freedom to album’s most important song, “Embrace The Chaos”. Meanwhile, De La Soul, Medusa, and Black Eyed Peas each turn in verses for more light-hearted party-starters such as “1, 2, 3, 4″ and “Vocal Artillery”.
While Cut Chemist, as well as the presence of an incredible DJ is missed (hint: get DJ Revolution to fill in), Ozomatli’s Embrace The Chaos picks up right where their debut album left off. Ozo is much more than the next band to emerge from pop music’s so-called “latin invasion”, they’re a political staple of streets of Los Angeles, that fuses the plight of inner city life into the music of revolution. Some hip-hop heads may initially be afraid to delve into what may haphazardly be defined as a Latin salsa band, but as appearances from their favorite emcees reel them in, they’ll be singing along to “Pa Lante” and “Suenos en Realidad” before they know it. No matter if you consider yourself an aficionado of Latin music, hip-hop, or just a fan of music itself, the best course of action is to simply check Ozomatli out; you’ll soon be passing it to a friend.
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