Overview – Origin – Features of Reggaeton
Reggaeton (also spelled with the Spanish accent as Reggaetón, and sometimes as Reguetón in Spanish) is a form of dance music which became popular with Latin American (Latino) youth during the early 1990s and spread to North American, European, Asian, and Australian audiences during the first few years of the 21st century. Reggaeton blends Jamaican music influences of reggae and dancehall with those of Latin America, such as bomba and plena, as well as that of hip hop. The music is also combined with rapping (generally) in Spanish. Reggaeton has given the Hispanic youth, starting with those of Puerto Rico and Panama, a musical genre that they can consider their own. The influence of this genre has spread to the wider Latino communities in the United States, as well as the Latin American and Central American audience.
While it takes influences from hip hop and Jamaican dancehall, it would be wrong to define reggaeton as the 'Hispanic'- or 'Latino'- version of either of these genres; reggaeton has its own specific beat and rhythm, whereas Latino hip hop is simply hip hop recorded by artists of Latino descent. The specific rhythm that characterizes Reggaeton is referred to as "Dem Bow". The name is a reference to the title of the Jamaican dancehall song that first popularized the beat in the early 1990's.
Reggaeton's origins represents a hybrid of many different musical genres and influences from various countries in the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States. The genre of Reggaeton however is most closely associated with Puerto Rico, as this is where the musical style later popularized and became most famous, and where the vast majority of its stars originate from.
Reggaeton lyrics tend to be more derived from hip hop than dancehall. Like hip hop, reggaeton has caused some controversy, albeit much less, due to a few of the songs' explicit lyrics and alleged exploitation of women; supporters claim this criticism is misplaced due to most reggaeton songs having completely clean lyrics, as well as non-violent lyrics. Further controversy surrounds perreo, a dance with explicit sexual overtones which is associated with reggaeton music.
Early History and Origin
The origins of reggaeton begin with the first Latin-American reggae recordings being made in Panama during the 1970s. Reportedly, the Jamaican reggae influence on Panamanian music has been strong since the early 20th century, when Jamaican laborers were used to help build the Panama Canal.
Artists such as El General, Chicho Man, Nando Boom, Renato, Black Apache are considered the first raggamuffin DJs from Panama. El General has been identified as one of the fathers of reggaeton, blending Jamaican reggae into a Latin-ised version. It was common practice to translate the lyrics of Jamaican reggae song into Spanish and sing them over the original melodies, a form termed Spanish reggae or Reggae en Español. Meanwhile, during the 1980s the Puerto Rican rapper Vico C released Spanish-language hip hop records in his native island. His production of cassettes throughout the 1980s, mixing reggae and hip hop, also helped spread the early reggae sound, and he is widely credited with this achievement. The widespread movement of Spanish reggae in the Latin-American communities of the Caribbean and the urban centres of the United States help increase its popularity.
During the 1990s reggae production took off seriously in Panama; this also occurred separately in Puerto Rico due to the increased popularity of Jamaican ragga imports. Towards the middle of the decade, Puerto Ricans were producing their own "riddims" with clear influences from hip hop and other styles. These are considered the first proper reggaeton tracks, initially called "under", a short form of "Underground". DJ Playero was one of the most famous producers at the time, releasing several "underground" cassettes that featured early performances of some soon-to-be-famous artists like Daddy Yankee. The basis for reggaeton was laid in Puerto Rico at this time, with the melding of Panamanian Spanish reggae, with influences from dancehall, hip-hop and various other Latin American musical genres.
The genre morphed through the years, at various points being termed Melaza, musica underground, reggae de Puerto Rico, and Dem Bow. This last name originated from reggaeton's distinguishing rhythmic feature: the Dem Bow (alternately spelled Dembow) beat. This beat was constructed by Jamaican record producer Bobby "Digital" Dixon, and first became popular in the song "Dem Bow" (They Bow) performed by Jamaican dancehall artist Shabba Ranks in 1991. The song and beat achieved greater popularity among Spanish-speaking Latin Americans when Panamanian artist El General released the song "Son Bow" in 1991, a Spanish language cover of "Dem Bow" using the same musical track. It should be pointed out that neither Shabba or El General sang "Reggaeton" as neither the genre nor its title were as yet formed. Additionally "Dem Bow" was just a single song in Shabba's catalog, with Ranks not singing another significant song using the "Dem Bow" beat. However the influence of the original Bobby Digital beat is undeniable, and modern Reggaeton often still reflects the original instrumentation, as well as the original rhythmic structure.
Rise to popularity
Reggaeton soon increased in popularity with Latino youth in the United States when DJ Blass worked with artists such as Plan B and Speedy in albums such as Reggaeton Sex. The first song which introduced Reggaeton to a big amount of fans is the song "Tra Tra" by Don Chezina. From there on reggaeton gained fans with songs such as "Amor Con La Ropa" by Speedy, "No Puedo Estar Sin Sexo" by Plan B, and "Dembow" by Wisin and Yandel.
Reggaeton expanded and became known when other producers followed the steps of DJ Playero, like DJ Nelson and DJ Eric. In the mid 90s albums like Playero 37 (In which Daddy Yankee became known) and The Noise 5 and The Noise 6 were very popular in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Singers like Don Chezina, O.G. Black & Master Joe, Baby Rasta & Gringo, Lito & Polaco among others were very popular.
Many now popular producers, such as the Dominicans Luny Tunes, Noriega and Eliel, first appeared in the reggaeton scene in 2003. Albums such as Mas Flow, The Last Don, and Las Gargolas 4 expanded reggaeton's popularity among Latinos in the United States.
2004 was the year that reggaeton gained widespread popularity in the United States, eventually gaining attention in many "Western" countries. This was due to N.O.R.E. introducing the genre to mainstream America with the song "Oye Mi Canto", followed by Daddy Yankee who came out with his album Barrio Fino and his mega hit single "Gasolina". Another important artist that contribuited to gain popularity to reggaeton, especially in Europe, is Don Omar, with singles like "Pobre Diabla" and "Dale Don Dale". Other very popular Reggaeton groups include Zion y Lennox, Voltio, Calle 13, Ivy Queen, Wisin & Yandel, Héctor "El Bambino" and Tego Calderon.
Don Omar's May 2006 album, King of Kings, became history's highest ranking reggaeton LP in the top 10 US charts, with its debut at #1 on the Latin sales charts and the #1 spot on the Billboard Latin Rhythm Radio Chart with the single "Angelito". Don Omar was also able to beat the in-store appearance sales record at Downtown Disney's Virgin music store previously set by pop star Britney Spears, further demonstrating Reggaeton's massive rise to popularity in the United States.
Reggaeton's most notably unique feature is a driving drum-machine track, which sounds almost identical in virtually all reggaeton songs, and was derived from a popular Jamaican dancehall rhythm. As stated previously this beat is called "Dem Bow", from the Bobby Dixon-produced Shabba Ranks song of the same title.
Many of the sounds found in a typical reggaeton beat are electronically synthesized. Simple melodies may be produced with keyboards, electric guitars, and other electronic instruments. Other forms of electronic dance music have significantly influenced reggaeton beats, such as techno, house, and genres such as the merengue hip hop (also called merenhouse) of groups such as Proyecto Uno and Zona 7.
Reggaeton beats are highly versatile. The great variety and flexibility of reggaeton beats can be illustrated by Luny Tunes' CD The Kings of the Beats, which is a collection of purely instrumental beats. Reggaeton beats can be based on merengue, bachata, bolero, and especially hip-hop beats. The introduction of bachata into reggaetón beats in particular has been credited as a development that has expanded the genre's musical vocabulary beyond its original two- or three-chord song structure.
Reggaeton and hip-hop
Reggaeton bears many resemblances to hip-hop. The most notable resemblance to hip-hop is that reggaeton, in most cases, is recited instead of being sung. Another feature is that reggaeton CD's are laid out like hip-hop CD's, including intro's, occasional interludes, and hidden bonus tracks. Reggaeton also has hooks throughout a song that may include a chorus of singers. Reggaeton artists also adopt pseudonyms comparable to those of hip-hop artists. Overall, reggaeton and hip-hop are both thought of as street-styled music popular among urban youth.
Despite the similarities, reggaeton only roughly fits into the Latin hip-hop category but is not synonymous with hip-hop. True Latin hip-hop has beats that almost exactly resemble mainstream hip-hop beats. These "hardcore" Latin hip-hop artists include Big Pun, Fat Joe, Akwid, and Jae-P. Reggaeton, though, has rap-styled lyrics but has a very different beat that is influenced not by hip-hop, but by reggae, dancehall, merengue, and techno. Although reggaeton has been highly influenced by American hip-hop, it has also borrowed features from many other genres as well and is not strictly considered to be Latin hip-hop.
Reggaeton and hip-hop are often remixed together, and reggaeton songs and live concerts may feature hip-hop artists such as Lil Jon, 50 Cent, and Eminem. Hip-hop songs such as Usher's Yeah and Snoop Dogg's Drop It Like It's Hot have been remixed by replacing the original beat with a reggaeton beat. In other remixes, reggaeton DJ's may rap out an English song in Spanish. Reggaeton and hip-hop are accepting influences from each other today, and these musical blends also signify a cultural melting pot in today's urban scene.
Lyrics and themes
Reggaeton lyrical structure highly resembles hip-hop lyrics. Like hip-hop, reggaeton artists recite their lyrics rap-fashion rather than sing it melodically. Like hip-hop music, reggaeton songs have hooks that are repeated throughout the song. Reggaeton also started as a genre composed of mostly male artists, with a slowly increasing number of female artists debuting over the years. Notable female reggaeton artists include Ivy Queen and Glory.
Reggaeton lyrical themes are versatile. Typical themes may include dancing, love stories, partying, short anecdotes of the rapper's life, and problems in life. Popular reggaeton songs are mainly intended to be danceable, rhythmic, party-like songs for young people. Reggaeton may or may not be objectionable depending on the artists, song, and the listener's interpretation, as one reggaeton song may have many interpretations because a song's meaning may not be very clear and direct. For example, the song Gasolina is often considered appropriate for children and has made it into the Reggaeton Niños series. However, because of the various possible connotations and literal interpretations of the song, some people criticize Gasolina as having possibly inappropriate sexual content .
Usually, reggaeton CD's are not labeled "explicit" like many hip-hop CD's are. One exception is that Daddy Yankee's Barrio Fino en Directo (Barrio Fino Live) was labeled explicit for objectionable content in the live concerts (and for explicit language by Snoop Dogg in Gangsta Zone), even though the regular studio version of Barrio Fino was not labeled explicit. Most reggaeton songs have completely clean lyrics (as in no profanity); very few songs have cursing/swearing in the lyrics.