There’s a lot going on with the new Xenia Rubinos album. Just from the pre-album single “Working All the Time” we gleaned that Una Rosa wouldn’t be afraid to cram a countless number of genre snippets—highly experimental pop undergirded by aggressively crunk sound effects—behind Rubinos’ bouncing, bilingual vocals. Considering there’s 40 more minutes of this constant-left-turn approach to storytelling almost makes you dizzy.
Fortunately, after a few listens—and, for the gringos among us, a few visits to Google Translate—a cohesive story begins to emerge from the project, comprised of individual characters who populate each individual song. It’s these defined and constantly changing musical personas that make Una Rosa the shapeshifting LP it is, with the dramatic mood change midway through the album only supporting this thesis of constant contrast.
Written and recorded during a period of rebuilding for Rubinos, who was diagnosed with perdida de espiritu—“loss of spirit”—before diving into the project, her inspiration from artists like Bad Bunny, Kali Uchis, and Arca who embody eccentric characters in their music is certainly evident. With this in mind, Rubinos put together a playlist for us collecting the tracks that felt most inspiring. “I called [the playlist] ‘Personajes’ and I included a list of different artists from today and yesteryear who I think embody the idea of ‘un personaje/building a character’ in their performances,” she shares. “I was mostly looking for tragedy, but also included some of the personalities who I feel carry on that tradition of building their output around really emotive characters that excite me aurally and visually.”
Hear the playlist below—Una Rosa drops tomorrow via ANTI- Records, and you can pre-order it here.
La Lupe, “Fever”
The queen, la yiyiyi! To me she is the ultimate character singer—this performance is a good entry point to those unfamiliar with her work and persona. It instantly comes across the way she coos and laughs es sabroso, highly recommend digging into her full catalog if you liked this vibe and watching videos of her live performances. She is frightening, passionate, gorgeous—the ultimate icon of the kind of tragedy and drama I love.
Kali Uchis, “Que Te Pedi”
I’ve loved Kali Uchis ever since I heard a mixtape she completely self-produced called Drunken Babble. Been feeling her visual world for the last years and love her storytelling in her videos and portraits. This one is a snippet of a classic song La Lupe is famous for singing, I loved hearing her drop it in her album and think she plays that old timey diva character extremely well and brings in a more pillow-y, cloudy timbre in her singing that reminds me almost of a Marilyn Monroe persona. So much admiration and respect for her growth as an artist, can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Lucha Villa, “Amaneci en tus Brazos”
This is one of the singers my abuela would listen to. It’s very much of that time, canciones clasicas y tragicas. We would make fun of abuela saying she would only sing songs para “cortate las venas” to just totally over-the-top drama in these songs. This is one of those that I never learned the lyrics to, but everyone’s eyes seem to water when it comes up at a family function.
Arca, in a way, is La Lupe of today. She’s totally unpredictable, and this song has a fire that reminds me of the essence of that dramatic diva I love so much. She’s bringing a very strong character into all of her work visually, as a producer and artist, and I’m excited to witness how she continues to develop and unfold this world. I find her absolutely fascinating and hypnotizing.
Nathy Peluso, “Amor Salvaje”
There’s a lot of hatorade out there for Nathy Peluso with her “hip hip hopperrr” and recent bachata foray, pero I’ve got to give it to her in that she embodies so much of that “show woman” aura that I find so inspiring. All over this record she’s erupting with an undeniable chispa and twisting and turning her vocals around in surprising ways that make her voice come out of the speakers and grab you. The intro of this song reminds me of ’90s hip-hop/R&B skits that were at one point commonplace on albums, I just think she does it so well and naturally. No matter what you think of her, she’s an undeniable talent and I think would be an incredible actress in a spy thriller. I’d cast her as a badass supervillain.
ANOHNI, “Drone Bomb Me”
This song was in the palette of inspiration for my song “Don’t Put Me in Red.” I love the tone of her voice and the way she brings the drama and expressiveness in a really calm and expansive way. She reminds me of an ocean tidal wave unfurling.
Willie Colon y Hector Lavoe, “El Malo”
The iconic bad boys themselves doing what they do best, tremenda salsa. Lavoe is the definition of a don, there just isn’t anyone who has that swagger and swing. He’s the original salsa gangster, and I love the way they play up those vibes in the cover art and in Hector’s improv at the end of the song on those juicy choruses.
Bad Bunny, “Quien tu Eres?”
To me, on this record Bad Bunny was the modern day continuation of Hector Lavoe—the gangsta playboy with all the swagger—and this song could almost be the response to “El Malo.” I love BB’s visual storytelling around all of his music with the super talented director Stillz, I feel that together they continuously create and expand on the characters he brings into his songs.
Chavela Vargas, “Que te Vaya Bonito”
The voice that haunts me always, Chavela has been a visual inspiration to me for a long while, and every single time I hear her voice it does something to me on the inside. She’s the ultimate vocalist who embodied and was a vehicle for that deeply elegant and timeless tragedy I love so much in music.
San Cha, “Levanta Dolores”
I’m just now discovering San Cha and love the way they carry on a tradition in their visual persona while making it feel fresh and very much their own.
Combo Chimbita, “Ahomale”
One of my favorite vocalists around now, Carolina Oliveros has a voice that is smokey and full of fire, and seems to be singing from the past and future all at once. Watching her and the band perform live is a spiritual experience, and the way she carries herself and the emotion of what the band is transmitting is to me the incarnation of an absolute diva.
Rita Indiana, “La Hora de Volve”
Rita’s work has been hugely important in my growth as an artist. She’s another artist whose work feels very character- and narrative-driven in the writing, production, and visuals. She’s a living legend, and her album El Juidero changed my life.