Now I can't claim to be acquainted with every rap album ever made, but I can safely say that Magic Juan's album "Inevitable" is one of the first of its kind. The concept of the double album has been pretty much played out, but Juan flips this completely, releasing a bilingual album with a disc of English music and a disc of Spanish. This is ambitious, to be sure, and some would believe far too ambitious. It would take an artist of considerable dexterity and versatility to pull this off, especially due to the language barrier alienating the two distinct audiences.
Before going any further, I must say that I was as amused by this rapper's name as you probably were. Magic Juan is one of the corniest names I have ever heard for a rapper. Luckily, the gimmicks stop here. "Inevitable" is a party record to some extent, but there is plenty of pensive musing as well. The English disc, titled "U Gotta Believe," starts out right with "OK…Ta'To'" and "Fish Grease (Just Move It)." Juan supplies his own bouncy funk (as he does throughout the two cds), and despite the light subject matter, also demonstrates a unique flow. At times his rhymes venture into sing-song territory, but he has enough inflection in his voice to make this work. The first thing you will notice is that the line between the two languages is frequently blurred, as Juan seamlessly blends rhymes in English with Spanish. Still, the line does exist, as the first disc is mostly in English.
Juan's self-supplied production is surprisingly effective on the first disc, as he applies a dash of salsa influence to the heavily funky west-coast base. An instrumental version of these songs would fail miserably due to Juan's formulaic approach. Fortunately, combined with his energetic linguistic bending, the freshness is never lost on the "U Gotta Believe" side. He slows it down nicely on the title track and "Ball or Die," providing listeners a peek at his introspective side. Many rappers have struggled with relating their emotions on songs like these, but Magic Juan's writing here is impeccable. Again, credit is due to Juan for putting in work behind the boards; he never crafts a killer beat but is remarkably consistent.
The catchiness of the first disc is not abandoned on the second, "El Duro." The most noticeable problem that listeners will have with it is the less accessible Spanish rhyming. The sound actually fits better with Juan's production, creating a border flavor that loses its edge but is very catchy. Unfortunately, towards the middle of "El Duro," everything begins to sound the same. The beats never stray from the formula applied to the first disc, and to English listeners, the language barrier will be daunting. I am a relatively competent Spanish speaker, so I could understand much of Magic Juan's rhyming on here. Having spent all of my life listening to rap, though, it is difficult to pull myself from the expectations I have. Additionally, it is tough to tell just how good his rhymes are in another language, and cultural connotations are lost in the translation to English.
Ultimately, the double-disc idea suffers from monotony, because Juan's production never tries anything new. "U Gotta Believe" has some great stuff, and Juan demonstrates some superior rhyming skill on the English side of things. Aside from the language barrier, "El Duro" is an inferior disc musically, so listeners should find themselves gravitating towards the English side. Regardless of his debatable skill in Spanish, it still is a remarkable feat to rap proficiently in both languages. With some outside help on the boards, and some trimming on the Spanish side (or combining both to one disc), "Inevitable" could have been great. As it stands, it is a fitting introduction to a unique voice that can flip it impressively in multiple languages.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: November 30, 2004