Latin rap, gently soulful

East Side Story (Virgin Records)
Kid Frost

By Kory Wilcoxson

Most artists from the Las Angeles rap scene boast the power of a sawed-off shotgun, pump-loading ferocious beats and blasting with raw rhymes. Taking a different path, Latino rapper Kid Frost steps out of the shadows of L.A. hip-hop giants like Ice Cube and Ice-T by using innovative methods to bring his comparatively diluted musical message to the masses.

Frost's new album, East Side Story, is a collage of sounds, one which may leave the listener disillusioned. At times he portrays himself as a gangster, spitting out images about the harsh realities of the streets. On other tracks, he's a silky smooth prophet, letting words of wisdom flow like liquid from the speakers. Frost is at his best in the latter mode, his guttural voice sliding across intricate beats punctuated by Flamenco guitars and trumpet blasts.

These unlikely accompaniments help Frost create a more polished sound than other rappers. And missing from the lyrics are the Neanderthal-like displays of overt violence and chauvinism that can cheapen the content. But that's a double-edged sword-- his lyrics are not nearly as potent, and all messages are presented with a good dose of ambiguity. This wishy-washiness can be viewed as either an asset or a drawback, depending on what you like in your rap music.

What ultimately determines the successfulness of East Side Story is the extensive rhythm and blues undercurrent prevalent on most of the songs. It propels the album past mediocrity. There's a little funk and a lot of soul in songs like "Smiling Faces" and "It's a Thin Line;" what could have sounded cheesy is instead sultry and satisfying. Using English and Spanish interchangeably, Frost gets results with a certain seductiveness. Although he doesn't seem out of place when roughing up the mic, he sounds much more comfortable caressing it.