Album Review: Peso Pluma – ÉXODO

[Double P; 2024]

Surely as 2 follows 1, Peso Pluma naming his last album Génesis meant this one was always going to be Éxodo. “Exitos” is the word for singles and could be a double entendre for the back half of this double album that’s filled with cameos and hip-hop/Latin-pop stars. But Éxodo could just as well mean “out”: out of poverty, out of corridos, out of this political beehive he walked into, out of that ridiculous haircut, out of Mexico. Out, out, out. ¡Éxodo!

Peso Pluma’s other name – apart from Doble P – has unofficially become ‘First Mexican’.  First Mexican to bring traditional music to the top of the US charts. First Mexican to play traditional music on late-night shows like Jimmy Fallon’s. Genesis was among the 10 most-streamed 2023 albums on Spotify. Mexico has produced international pop stars before, but almost always on the backs of another culture’s music. Peso Pluma – Lebanese heritage aside – is theirs. Read the YouTube comments on his Fallon appearances and the pride gushes forth. Centuries of being treated like inferiors by Americans – even international-football dominance has collapsed – a flaco from Guadalajara is interrupting the gringos’ industry and putting down roots.

Unfortunately, the titular First Mexican, a.k.a. Presidente AMLO, doesn’t like him representing the country. Sure, he’s fair-skinned, dresses LatinX, and speaks fluent English… the sort of thing preferred by the Mexican elites who trace their ancestry back to Spain. Peso Pluma has proudly represented the narco state in song, however, and last year canceled a concert in Tijuana because a cartel threatened his life. The nation’s recent history has also shown Peso Pluma that the backing of the people is rarely enough.

Except for vanishing, his only real choice is to embrace the fame and run into Los Angeles’ open arms, become a chicano, and if not untouchable then less-touchable. Éxodo’s two halves represent a farewell party and an unknown, glitzy future. Guests on the former include usual suspects Junior H, Oscar Maydon, Tito Doble P, Gabito Ballesteros, Luis R Conriquez, and Natanael Cano plus relative newcomers such as an underutilized Ivan Cornejo, Neton Vega, and Chino Pacas. The side blows by largely with minimal fuss: tololoche bass, requinto guitar, alto horns, and charchetas. 

Bar the strong singles “La Durango”, “La People II”, and “Rompe La Dompe”, the standouts include “Mami” and “Belanova”, the latter of which morbidly ends, “Bélico me muero”, akin to vowing to die fighting. 

In the increasingly crowded corrido field, Peso Pluma’s calling card is his raspy vocal and he uses Éxodo almost like a shop window to showcase its possibilities (or limits). “Santal 33” recalls recent Bob Dylan in that regard: a big, hoarse gravedigging-shovel of an instrument. He tries a more tender, upper-register approach on “Ice” that pinches slightly but shows potential. It’s when he raps on the album’s second half – doing his best to mimic his duet partners – that shows where the real work is needed. 

Toward the end of the first section, the trio of “Rejol”, “Vinto Tinto”, and “14-14” point to the future of his and ostensibly corrido’s sound. The Cornejo-assisted “Reloj” (wristwatch) marries their traditional and psychedelic sounds where each serenades the same woman, split evenly by an intermission. They take turns harmonizing one another to mesmerizing effect, in mutual-admiration society. “Vino Tinto” with Ballesteros and Cano showcases the interactivity of multiple vocalists almost to perfection, an often hilarious drunkfest with a line suggesting that the woman who hurt them fully intended for the three of them to band together. Lastly, “14-14” sees him down the yellow brick road to Hollywood, talking to the crucifix around his neck, wondering if the past will come back to bite him.

Exceedingly less conceptual, the second half shows Peso Pluma open for business. “Peso Completo”, featuring Puerto Rico’s Arcángel, stands the most on its own with a trap-light aesthetic and non-verbal hook. The megahit “Bellakeo” with Anitta auto-tunes the personality right out of him and ultimately sounds like any Rauw or Becky G reggaeton nugget. Despite being on ultimately forgettable tracks, Rich The Kid, Cardi B, and Quavo acquit themselves well with Cardi, in particular, primed to frustrate her impatient fanbase further. The DJ Snake cut, “Teka”, spins its wheels. 

If Éxodo means to close a chapter, then it does so effectively. The door, however, remains open for the further development of corrido on the likes of “Vino Tinto” or endless, cameo roulette. The next album could well marry them both. But the odds are it won’t be called Leviticus.