Recording as Pedazo De Carne Con Ojo, Steven Pérez mainly keeps his vocals to a mumble, but his debut full-length is a full-throated statement. ¿Pero Like Cómo E’ta? sees the Philly-based hip-hop artist pay homage to the Dominican music he inherited from his parents while mixing in his own interests, from jazz to trap. It all adds up to a lively and thoroughly wrought album with a sound all its own.
Each of its nine tracks is fairly short–the whole project comes in at a tidy 23 minutes–but they’re more developed than those on Pérez’s 2019 EP, Pedazo De Clarence Con Ojo. Here, his ideas are punchier and more layered, like the bustling intro to “Mind Racing,” where a noisy stack of drums and cowbells spills into the track’s chaotic story. In a rapid-fire verse, Pérez looks back on his youth, throws off a bilingual quip about plátanos, and gets down to the grown-up business of building a legacy.
Then there’s a turn in the beat, like he’s stopping to collect his thoughts. It’s a move he deploys often on the record, which is liable to take a new form as soon as you get too settled in one of its wild, halting loops. Take the single “Hold Me Down,” where Pérez mumbles over rough-cut horns and jangly percussion until acoustic guitar–warped almost past recognition–leads into a looser drum machine groove. “I Trip U Trip” follows a similar pattern with suspenseful brass that suddenly drops into a lighter, breezier B section.
Those shifts work so well partly because Pérez uses silence as confidently as he uses sound. He cuts off instrumental loops so sharply that the space between cycles becomes a percussive element unto itself. On the intro to “Capicú,” he uses those breaks to intersperse vocal bits, and on “Maybe Don’t,” he uses a less than a second of silence to slide a chill pad under the recurring drum pattern. It’s slick, dynamic, and just plain cool.
It also throws the more fluid moments into relief, as in the piano melody of “Handle Yr Business” or the smooth, sighing guest vocal from sentient bbq on “I Need The Bag.” She stands out as the only voice on the record aside from Pérez, bringing a welcome extra dimension as she sings a low-key duet with a modulated croon.
Stylistic eclecticism sits front and center as Pérez shifts in and out of syncopation and sprinkles his tracks with congas, cowbells, and 808 claps–and speaking of eclecticism, did I mention he also plays in punk band Big Heet? That said, ¿Pero Like Cómo E’ta? also covers a lot of emotional ground. There are all-out dance breaks, and then there’s “Cómo E’ta,” loaded with contemplative keys and so much lurking uncertainty in the titular question.
It’s fresh, fun, and unpredictable. Then, with a rush of stretched-out samples, ”It’s Gone.”
¿Pero Like Cómo E’ta? is available as a limited cassette release from Citrus City Records