SotaRico finds its soundtrack

The youthful and skilled Maria Isa delivers with her sophomore LP

Maria Isa – singer or aspiring auto show model? 

Ashley Goetz

Maria Isa – singer or aspiring auto show model? PHOTO COURTESY SOTARICO

Maria Isa ALBUM: âÄúStreet PoliticsâÄù LABEL: SotaRico WHAT: Maria Isa (CD release show) WHERE: 701 First Ave. N. WHEN: Friday, June 5, 8 p.m. TICKETS: $6 advance/ $8 door Maria IsaâÄôs considerable talent is no secret within the Twin Cities scene. The Minnesota-born singer/emcee with strong Puerto Rican roots has been performing locally since 2002 and in 2007 released her acclaimed debut LP âÄúM.I. Split Personalities.âÄù The entire time, it was painfully obvious to observers that the now 22-year-oldâÄôs combination of singing, rapping and dancing ability, combined with her intense personality, was a perfect cocktail for broader successes. And now, with the release of IsaâÄôs sophomore effort âÄúStreet Politics,âÄù all that potential is channeling through all the right places. The result? Locally, itâÄôs this yearâÄôs most commercially viable and listenable record to date. âÄúStreet PoliticsâÄù opens with a simple, elementary beat on the track âÄúImage.âÄù But 15 seconds in, IsaâÄôs eight-piece band shellacs the beat with a build-up of electric guitars, tight drums and loping bass. Isa demonstrates her tight rap flow on the verses then absolutely wows with a hooky chorus of soaring, layered vocals. Although âÄúImageâÄù is a stellar song in its own right, it contains none of IsaâÄôs trademark reggaeton/Afro-Boricua elements. ThatâÄôs where âÄúCarameloâÄù comes in. The albumâÄôs second track is pure reggae as Isa tears through the first verse in rapid Spanish over bongos, up-stroked guitars and intermittently booming bass. The verses switch in and out of Spanish and English, and itâÄôs clear IsaâÄôs equally comfortable rhyming in either tongue. âÄúCarmeloâÄôsâÄù grooved, island vibe is equipped with further proof of IsaâÄôs penchant for hooks with the sensually crooned chorus that simply repeats, âÄúYo quiero caramelo, caramelo.âÄù From there, the record features the relationship-themed ballad âÄúNever Let Go,âÄù with an underwhelming guest verse by Muja Messiah . MujaâÄôs tone is emotive and earnest, but for a man who is outspoken against âÄúrapping about rapping,âÄù he sure doesnâÄôt say much. The following track, âÄúPassion Fantasy,âÄù is âÄúStreet PoliticsâÄô âÄú most musically ambitious offering. The hyper-sexual, genre-hopping song is loaded with R. Kelly-inspired drips, blasting synths, horns and wild guitars. âÄúStreet PoliticsâÄô âÄú title track, tucked in the middle of the record, showcases IsaâÄôs ability to not just exude style and sensuality but also a sense of social consciousness. With urgent guitars, splashing drums and a generally panicked tone, the song paints a portrait of urban violence. Like her other tracks, it also has a radio-ready chorus in which Isa dramatically belts, âÄúBless the steps of the concrete/while the guns pop off/while the sun comes down/hope the innocent sleeps/while the beasts stay awake.âÄù The album finishes strong with old-school R&B (âÄúActing StrangeâÄù), vocally triumphant soul balladry (âÄúRest in PeaceâÄù) and the horn-heavy, upbeat salsa closer âÄúAfter Party.âÄù As a whole, âÄúStreet PoliticsâÄù is undeniably mainstream-ready but artistically valid in every right. Considering the pre-release press fest Isa embarked on (The Current , Radio K , KFAI ) and the fact that the CDâÄôs release party is being First AvenueâÄôs career-validating main room, it appears Isa may be ready to capitalize on her overwhelming talent. Armed with an exceptionally rounded record in âÄúStreet Politics,âÄù IsaâÄôs future is whatever she wants it to be.