The music world is used to seeing artists change styles: Pop and rock singers turn to country to help jump-start sales. English-speaking pop singers go to mariachi or other Spanish-language music and get away with it.
But going from hip-hop to salsa?
Marc Anthony raised eyebrows when he made that move in 1993, launching the most successful chapter in a musical career that began with commercials when he was 6 and has led to a second career as an actor.
Would the singer--whose 1992 single "Ride on the Rhythm" reached No. 1 on Billboard's dance charts--be taken seriously in music that has seen great soneros like Hector Lavoe and Ismael Rivera? Or would he be dismissed as just one more teen-oriented mixture of playboy and singer?
Salsa hard-liners might remain skeptical, but the 24-year-old New Yorker is holding his own, both critically and commercially.
His salsa debut, "Otra nota" (Another Note), produced by top salsa producer Sergio George, was one of 1993's best albums. "Todo a su tiempo" (All in Due Time), his 1995 follow-up, earned a Grammy nomination for best tropical Latin performance. The two albums have sold 600,000 in the United States alone, and Marc Anthony will take a break from his opening slot on Ruben Blades' national tour to headline the House of Blues on Saturday.
Marc Anthony (the singer, whose surname is Mun~iz, uses his two given names professionally) can understand why the salsa world would question his background. "I'm not a traditional sonero, at least not in the way they want me to be," he says. "I'm an interpreter, and I reach people in a different level.
"At first, people were like bees all over me, but fortunately things are a lot easier now."
Marc Anthony had never seriously considered moving into salsa, even declining the invitation of RMM Records President Ralph Mercado to record a salsa album. But the next day he heard Mexican superstar Juan Gabriel's popular romantic ballad "Hasta que te conoci" (Until I Met You) as he was riding in a car in Manhattan, and he was so moved by the melody that he asked the driver to stop.
"I jumped out of the car and called Ralph from a pay phone," Marc Anthony recalls. "I told him that if I could record a salsa version of the song, I was willing to start recording tomorrow." Mercado agreed, and thus began the Marc Anthony trademark: infusing slow, romantic ballads with the fast-driving energy of salsa.
"I come from a pop background, but I'm also a Puerto Rican and I do feel this music," the singer says. "My approach to salsa is a humble one, and I defy anybody to prove that I'm faking it."
Even if he were faking it, he might pull it off. After all, as an actor he is good enough to land small but notable roles in Hollywood pictures such as "Hackers."
"I'm fascinated with the movies, and acting is something I always wanted to do," says Marc Anthony, who is in "The Substitute" with Tom Berenger and just finished shooting "The Big Night" starring Isabella Rossellini.
"But that is a choice," he adds. "Singing, on the other hand, I was born to do, I had no other option. That's what I want to do--to sing and do my thing, not try to be like the old-timers."
* Marc Anthony plays Saturday at the House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 9 p.m. $25. (213) 848-5100.