By: Sam Fleming
Xenia Rubinos is a singer, occasional rapper, and multi-instrumentalist from Hartford, Connecticut. Her newest album, Black Terry Cat, blends her Puerto Rican and Cuban roots with more contemporary R&B grooves. It represents an intense exploration of identity, while also giving us a lot of catchy summer jams.
Rubinos dances between Spanish and English while telling stories of her youth, police brutality, and the overuse of social media. Whether you choose to read into her lyrics or not, Black Terry Cat is a complex, beautiful and engaging experience.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what kind of mixture of pop, R&B, hip-hop and Latin music Rubinos is creating, but it’s easy to see that she is doing it at the highest level. The album starts on a relatively pop-y note, but Rubinos’ pure voice immediately grabs your attention. The lyrics hit you next; they take a turn to become aggressive and reflective on “Mexican Chef” where Rubinos raps about the reality of being brown in America, over a jarring guitar rhythm. She raps, “Brown walks your baby, Brown walks your dog, Brown raised America in place of it’s mom.” Throughout the album Rubinos highlights the struggles of being brown in the United States and describes how she tries to overcome the obstacles in her path. Social commentary is so prevalent within Rubinos’ music that it is easy to miss the statements she makes. For example on the song “Black Stars,” she begins by quietly singing the word “quiero” which over the course of ten seconds seamlessly transforms into calls of the word “ghetto.”
Rubinos’ voice is not the only element that shines on this project. While her wordplay takes the album to another level, Black Terry Cat is rooted in its instrumentation. In every track the drummer keeps a steady rhythm while Rubinos feverishly plays her keyboard. She has incredibly firm command over her music and it shows on almost every track on the album.
Although many tracks have a deep underlying message, there are just as many ballads about love and loss. Sharing the same intensity as her tracks about identity, these ballads stand out. The album’s highlight “Lonely Lover,” perfectly demonstrates what makes Black Terry Cat unique. She exudes optimism while singing about heartbreak with upbeat brightness.
Rubinos is one of the most compelling voices in music. Even when she tackles intense, traditionally sad topics, her joy shines through. Black Terry Cat is the most jubilant album that you will hear this summer. It gives life to so, many hard to tackle concepts and portrays them in an intriguing way.
Photo: Wiki Commons