With “Road 2 Neverland,” Pink Pablo Navigates the Highs and Lows of Love
For a small island, Puerto Rico has an outsized musical footprint. From salsa to hip-hop to reggaeton, for decades the Caribbean nation and the diaspora have contributed to birthing genres that have gone on to sweep the globe. With that international success has also come certain formulas for repeating it. On his debut EP, “Road 2 Neverland,” Pink Pablo eschews all of them in favor of a sound that breaks from the confines of the established mainstream. Instead, it favors something a little freer. And over the course of six tracks, he finds it.
The introductory track, “Neverland,” opens with blaring synths before morphing into a futuristic, funky disco beat that underscores Pablo’s light harmonizing. The beat changes up again whenever his rapping takes over, this time going rock with heavy cymbals and kick drums accentuating the artist’s more exaggerated delivery. It’s a fun track that raises the energy level right out of the gate and is a great introduction to Pink Pablo’s style of music: the style of no style. He’s an artist for whom genre comes second to the story he’s trying to tell or the feelings he needs to express.
That’s not to say that “Road 2 Neverland” doesn’t have style or intent behind it. On the contrary, Pablo’s intent is part of the reason he’s able to traverse drastically different sounds in an organic way. After bringing the energy up, he keeps it right there with the EP’s second track, “No Es Culpa Mía,” a defiant, up-tempo anthem that has a garage-rock feel at times. And it’s fitting, as the track sees Pablo rejecting the expectations placed upon him and calling out those who feel the need to comment on his life. But in the grander theme of the project, one that charts the highs and lows of young love, that defiant attitude is also a necessary step along the road to introspection and healing.
Things switch up a little with the next track, “Falco.” On it, Pablo dials up the electronic synthy vibe but brings in some samples and a classic hip-hop breakbeat to change the tone of things. This results in one of the best tracks on the album, with Pablo delivering lyrics like, “Con ese culo pide lo que quiera,” in a way that is more emotional than vulgar. The song oozes nostalgia and stands as a testament to the power of attraction, capturing the feeling of wonder that often accompanies the early days of new love.
Playing with genre like Pablo does on “Road 2 Neverland” isn’t new to artists on the island. Part of Bad Bunny’s global success was due to the fact that he was so willing to deviate from established norms, and his fourth album, “Un Verano Sin Ti,” is a love letter to Caribbean genres. The indie scene in Puerto Rico has also been around for a while, and the willingness of its artists to experiment with different sounds and depart from simply catering to the streets has definitely influenced mainstream artists in recent years. But even alt-perreo and alt-trap stars like RaiNao and Tommy Blanco play for the most part within the confines of their respective subgenres.
On the other hand, “Road 2 Neverland” plays almost like a deconstruction of genre itself, with Pink Pablo piecing the disparate elements back together in unexpected ways. Most of the songs on the EP are feel-good and danceable, but not in the ways you’d expect. There is nothing resembling a traditional perreo cut on the album. So, if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll have to keep looking. That’s not what this EP is about.
Instead, Pablo is more concerned with transmuting the reality of a toxic relationship into music. The whirlwind of conflicting emotions, the highs and lows, genre becomes just another tool for depicting these things. The next two tracks on the project are perfect examples of this, with “Veo Luces”‘s electropop vibes capturing the excitement and natural high of new love and “Perdimos el Control” depicting the inevitable drug-fueled crash through of the feelings that follow a hard breakup with a pumping garage-rock bass line. The last song on the EP, “No Me Haces Bien,” slows things down and features the only dembow riddim on the project. Here, Pablo finds the clarity to understand where things went wrong in the relationship but lacks the strength to completely leave it. This sentiment is perfectly encapsulated in the song’s chorus, “Tú no me haces bien, pero lo haces bien / Tú no me conviene, pero me entretiene.”
While “No Me Haces Bien” concludes the project, it leaves listeners wanting more. That’s because there’s still more story to be told. There’s already a second EP in the works that aims to conclude Pablo’s tale of amor y desamor later in the year. But as part one of that tale, “Road 2 Neverland” is an ambitious project that succeeds in giving listeners something different while serving as a great introduction to a talented artist.
It might not be for purists, and fans of unadulterated reggaeton and trap (like myself) will miss the inclusion of elements that at this point have become embedded in our collective culture. But there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy those elements. Instead, on “Road 2 Neverland,” Pink Pablo provides a much-needed third space, breaking through the dyad of reggaeton and trap to allow for a greater range of expression – both by the artist himself and the rest of us. It’s a vulnerable album that doesn’t take itself too seriously and never lets that vulnerability stop it from being fun. And because of that, it’s a great playlist for a day at the beach or a drive across the island – you know, the moments in life that don’t require una cara de maleante o que le pone en cuatro, of which there are surprisingly many.