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Puerto Rican Artist Raps About Spiritual Change

Orange tree on album cover for Metanoia

Wilfredo, a Florida-based Puerto Rican rapper, operates in a unique lane. You could call him a “pastor by day, rapper by night,” but that juxtaposition would put too much distance between the two identities that he has artfully blended together. With a recording catalog launched back in 2019, Wilfredo has been steadily carving out a niche for himself through his playful word choice, bilingualism, high-energy delivery, and consistent work ethic.

The rapper branched into new territory with his first project of 2023, Metanoia, Vol. 1. The four-track recording was released on February 24, 2023, and shows Wilfredo exploring new artistic avenues. Clocking in at just under ten minutes, Metanoia, Vol. 1 lives up to the label of EP (extended play, as in slightly longer than a single) while still being dense with concepts, emotion, and atmosphere in fulfilling way.

Two notable facts about the EP stand out immediately. First, this project forgoes the bilingualism that has been so characteristic of Wilfredo’s past work. This is an entirely English-language affair. While this will be a bit of a shift for longtime listeners, it does present an opportunity for Wilfredo to highlight his lyricism for the strictly anglophone side of his audience. 

That second element is Wilfredo’s singing. There have been melodic moments in some of his previous work, but Metanoia seems to be making a distinct statement through this lyrical choice. The EP is moody and atmospheric, and there are moments where Wilfredo’s vocal performance communicates a real sense of longing and earnestness. On the second track, “something else,” he floats between rapping and singing, at times leaning more toward the one than the other, but never clearly breaking the fusion.

The chord progression in “something else” often returns to a loop of B7, C, and A minor, allowing the vocal lines to play around in E harmonic minora sound that feels characteristically Latin. The lyrics may not be in Spanish, but the melodies certainly are.

Wilfredo’s lyric writing exists somewhere between mournful Ecclesiastes self-reflection and Pauline kerygma. There are lines that piqued the interest of my seminary-trained brain, proclaiming messages that I could only recognize through repeated listening and careful analysis. Speaking both devotionally to God and didactically to the listener, Wilfredo sings:

God, I need to let go of some things
That’s a lie I stopped telling myself
You don’t want me to surrender my things
But You want me to surrender myself

It’s poignant, if a fair bit simpler than his usual lyrical fare. But this hardly speaks for the whole EP.

The third track in Metanoia,has led me,” is the first song that unambiguously falls into the conventional rap genre. The style cues certainly align with the genre’s present moment; the song even has a sudden tempo and beat change that would feel right at home on a Kendrick Lamar record.

After listening to this track multiple times, I realized that I had let the lack of Spanish and the prominence of melodic singing distract me from Wilfredo’s deft wordplay. The first verse is cleverly constructed, and if it hadn’t been for a little Koine Greek easter egg, I wouldn’t have paid close enough attention to notice the intricate writing choices.

When did I fall asleep? When I became a yes man
A series of unfortunate events
loomed, felt doomed like a man on the moon
I'm tryna find me, myself, and Irene [Εἰρήνη], I mean peace, it sounds like Greek
You'll either understand or get dumb and dumber with time
I'm tryna reach eternal sunshine of a spotless mind
But I'm filled with ire by all the liar liars, a true man shows [Truman Show] how to inspire
Ace losing his poker face praying the venture don't expire [Ace Ventura]
Liquor promises to take you to the brim, slim, trim at the gym
Carry
[Jim Carrey] the hope to, bury the old you
Off the wall like the egg man with sonics and protocols
[Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik is the primary antagonist to Sonic the Hedgehog]
Pass me the canvas I'm done acting
All I see in 23 and me is living colors contrasting, mask off

Those clever references might have flown over my head, but Wilfredo packed in enough hints to tip off even a casual listener (or casual movie fan) that something is going on—in this case, multiple references to Jim Carrey films, noted above in bold. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Wilfredo. The song “I AM” from his 2021 LP Bloomed in the Moonlight features an entire verse built around Marvel Cinematic Universe references. It’s a clever literary device, and the atmosphere and vocal delivery are so smooth and disarming that it’s easy to miss when Wilfredo juggles these rapid fire references. This kind of attention to detail makes for solid replay value and reinforces the fact that skillful rap is an art.

The closing track, “over the hills,” feels at home alongside the other tracks tonally but manages to adopt an air of whimsy and positivity that isn’t present in the more somber songs. While the background vocals are solid across the whole project, here they lend a gospel-tinged backing that lifts the concluding track up from the mire. The listener gets a clear sense that this is the “metanoia” (μετάνοιαchanged mind/thinking, repentance) moment that the title of the EP was referencing.

The chorus accentuates this positive shift in mood with a beautiful allusion to Psalm 121. Some of the higher notes in the first chorus do betray the use of pitch correction in what otherwise feels like a very natural vocal performance. This, though, gets quickly overshadowed by the rest of Wilfredo’s delivery. It’s clear that he has a profound amount of control over his voice, and he’s able to manipulate it into different personas and feelings fairly effortlessly, slippery high notes aside.

Throughout the closing track, the sense of meandering uncertainty that permeated the rest of the EP melts away at the arrival of Jesus, whose thematic introduction in the second verse ushers in a new glimpse of confidence and assurance in the artist. The song is artfully crafted and definitely feels like a “payoff” that the rest of the project sets up. “Over the hills” is an example of how mentioning Jesus sparingly can actually be a powerful creative tool—a point that many Christian creatives would do well to take note of.

Overall, attention to detail is really what makes this short project feel like more than the sum of its parts.The gapless transitions between songs mirror the cohesive nature of the song titles, which form a meaningful sentence when placed together. Everything feels intentionally placed. Whatever Metanoia, Vol. 2 has in store, it certainly has a standard to live up to. But with a track record as consistent as Wilfredo’s, I know he’ll be up to the challenge.

 


Maxwell Aka is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Toronto, and works as a fundraising writer for ADRA Canada.

Title image by Wilfredo for Metanoia, Vol. 1.

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