Elvis Crespo first gained fame in the mid-1990s as a member of the contemporary merengue band Grupomanía in Puerto Rico. After three successful years with the group, he decided to pursue a solo career in 1998. Despite the pressures of going solo after being part of such a successful band, Crespo’s debut was a huge international hit. His first album’s release, Suavemente, was not only a big seller throughout Latin America, but in the United States as well. Its first single, also titled “Suavemente,” quickly crossed over onto English-language radio station playlists, and sales of the album earned Crespo Billboard magazine’s Latin Music Award for Best Male Tropical/Salsa Album. Still in his twenties, the young singer did not take his success for granted. As he told Marcela Quiros in an interview with Costa Rica’s La Nación in March of 1999, “It took me by surprise, although I had many years of experience, first in the chorus and then as a singer in Grupomanía. I believe that it’s a challenge because I have to take on the responsibility to be consistent in my future projects [author’s translation].”
Crespo was born in the New York City borough of the Bronx on July 30, 1971. He lived there until he was six years old. After his parents divorced, he left with his mother to live in Guaynabo, just outside of Puerto Rico’s capital city, San Juan. Although Crespo would visit his father back in New York City almost every summer as he was growing up, he identified more with his Puerto Rican roots. Indeed, he was so immersed in the Puerto Rican communities of Guaynabo and New York City that he later had to relearn English as an adult in order to do extensive promotional work in North America.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Crespo at first dreamed of a future as a baseball player, until he realized that his skills were probably not good enough for a professional career. He also held another ambition: to join the Puerto Rican pop group Menudo. A long-running entertainment institution in Puerto Rico, Menudo consisted of several adolescent male singers who were replaced as they became teenagers. The ever-youthful lineup was one of the most consistently popular acts in Latin America, and even made headway in the United States with a couple of releases. Perhaps the most famous alumnus of the group, Ricky Martin, would later become an international star in his own right.
Unfortunately, Crespo’s regular summer visits to see his father in New York City prevented him from making it to one of the Menudo auditions, and he had to bypass the opportunity. His growing interest in music, however, led him to pursue a position with the Willie Berrfos Orchestra in San Juan when he was 17 years old. He also sang with other merengue outfits, including those led by Lenny Perez and Toño Rosario. In addition to his flourishing musical career, Crespo pursued studies in
For the Record…
Born on July 30, 1971, in New York, NY. Education: Studied at the Metropolitan University of Puerto Rico.
Sang with merengue band Grupomania in Puerto Rico; began solo career with release Suavemente, 1998; released Pintame, 1999; released Wow! Flash, 2000.
Awards: Billboard magazine Latin Music Award, Best Male Tropical/Salsa Album for Suavemente, 1999, and Pintame, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Sony Discos, 2190 N.W. 89th Place, Miami, FL 33172, website: http://www.sonydiscos.com.
business administration at San Juan’s Metropolitan University of Puerto Rico.
In 1995 Crespo landed an opportunity that cemented his reputation as an innovator of merengue music when he joined the established act Grupomania. Merengue had originated on the island of Dominica in the eighteenth century. With its conga beat, call-and-response lyrics, brass section, and accordions, it typified the cultural mix of the Caribbean. By the late twentieth century, some of the best contemporary merengue music came not from Dominica, but from Puerto Rico. Adding a hip-hop sheen to its music, Grupomanfa became one of the leading acts of what some called “merenhouse,” or “merengue-house” music that broadened the traditional music’s fan base to include younger listeners.
Although merengue songs had typically invoked sly criticisms of the upper classes or lewd sexual references, Crespo developed his own, more romantic style as a songwriter with Grupomanfa. He told La Nación, “I don’t like the double entendre. I prefer direct lyrics, simple ones, that are able to be understood by youngsters [author’s translation].” Coming to the forefront of Grupomanfa as its primary songwriter and lead singer, Crespo became a heartthrob and merengue superstar throughout Latin America during his stint with the act. After three years, however, Crespo decided to leave the group to go out on his own. “Leaving a group like [Grupomanfa], one that works every day, was a very hard decision,” Crespo told Billboard magazine in February of 1999. “But I didn’t want to say to myself someday, ‘What a coward I was.’ I decided to take a chance.” His former bandmates were miffed by his decision, but Crespo quickly signed a solo contract with the Sony Discos label.
Despite his romantic image, Crespo was married and enjoyed time with his son, born in 1993 and also named Elvis. In fact, Crespo gave his son some of the credit for the success of his very first single release from his debut album, Suavemente. “I began to sing it, and my son, who was taking a bath, heard it, and he spent all afternoon singing it,” Crespo recounted to La Nacion. “That told me that the song would be a hit [author’s translation].” Indeed, his son’s instincts were correct, and “Suavemente” quickly made Crespo into an international solo star as it conquered the charts throughout Latin America. His album went platinum in the Venezuelan and Central American markets and gold in Chile.
Released in 1998, Crespo’s debut also earned a gold album for sales of over 500,000 copies in the first year after its release in the United States. “Suavemente” set a record for holding the top position on Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks chart for six weeks, longer than any other merengue single. Part of the song’s success was its unexpected crossover appeal to English-speaking listeners, particularly in Miami and New York. Some of those who were unaware of Crespo’s previous career with Grupomanfa, however, attributed the success of “Suavemente” simply to the popularity of Latin music that swept the North American charts in 1999. Crespo himself scoffed at such a coincidence. “It’s something that can’t be forced, otherwise people will see right through it,” he told Billboard about his unexpected success in April of 1999.
Suavemente eventually earned the Billboard Latin Music Award for Best Male Tropical/Salsa Album. Consequently, expectations for Crespo’s follow-up album were high. Pintame, which appeared in 1999, featured a mix of contemporary merengue and salsa tunes in addition to a couple of ballads. Most critics appreciated Crespo’s efforts to broaden his stylistic range, even if the results on the ballads were “a little cheesy,” as a Miami Herald reviewer noted. Although the reception for Pintame did not quite match the enthusiasm for Suavemente, the album earned Crespo his second consecutive Billboard Latin Music Award for Best Male Tropical/Salsa Album.
For his third album, Wow! Flash, released in 2000, Crespo continued to venture outside of merengue territory. As the singer told Billboard in an October of 2000 profile, “I think evolution is good as long as it’s well thought out. This is an evolved production that hasn’t lost its essence.” Crespo added, “The idea was to feature an Elvis Crespo who not only sang merengue. I wanted to prove I could do other things. But we also took care not to create the impression that we were just mixing things up. It’s hard to please everyone. If you change too much, they’ll also be disappointed. Now, think I have a balance.” In addition to exploring new musical styles, Crespo changed his image with a haircut; his trademark shoulder-length locks were replaced by a more conservative style.
Although he had yet to record an English-language album to gain greater success in North America, Crespo did not discount such an option for the future. Indeed, with three well-received and strong-selling solo albums under his belt, he had already demonstrated that his appeal went far beyond a simple fad for Latin music. He continued to tour extensively around the world, solidifying his status as one of the leading merengue artists of his generation.
Suavemente, Sony, 1998.
Pintame, Sony, 1999.
Wow! Flash, Sony, 2000.
Broughton, Simon, et al., eds., World Music: The Rough Guide, Vol. 2, The Rough Guides Ltd., 2000.
Billboard, May 16, 1998, p. 45; February 20, 1999, p. LM-1; April 24, 1999, p. 1; April 29, 2000, p. LM-8; October 21, 2000, p. 1.
Miami Herald, May 25, 1999.
“Biography—Elvis Crespo,” La Vida Latina, http://www.lavidalatina.com/entertainment/elviscrespo.asp (December 6, 2001).
“Elvis Crespo,” Fundación Nacional Para la Cultura Popular, http://www.prpop.org/Biografias/Biografias%20EF/elvis_crespo1.html (December 6, 2001).
“Elvis Crespo,” La Musica, http://www.lamusica.com/main/elviscrespo.shtml (December 6, 2001).
Tiempo Libre: En Vivo, “Elvis la pegó,” La Nacion (San José, Costa Rica), http://www.nacion.com/tiempolibre/1999/marzo/11/envivo1.html (December 6, 2001).
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