A hybrid of reggae and rap, reggaeton is a music with Spanish-language lyrics and Caribbean aesthetics that has taken Latin America, the United States, and the world by storm. Superstars—including Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Ivy Queen—garner international attention, while aspiring performers use digital technologies to create and circulate their own tracks. Reggaeton brings together critical assessments of this wildly popular genre. Journalists, scholars, and artists delve into reggaeton’s local roots and its ...
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A hybrid of reggae and rap, reggaeton is a music with Spanish-language lyrics and Caribbean aesthetics that has taken Latin America, the United States, and the world by storm. Superstars—including Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Ivy Queen—garner international attention, while aspiring performers use digital technologies to create and circulate their own tracks. Reggaeton brings together critical assessments of this wildly popular genre. Journalists, scholars, and artists delve into reggaeton’s local roots and its transnational dissemination; they parse the genre’s aesthetics, particularly in relation to those of hip-hop; and they explore the debates about race, nation, gender, and sexuality generated by the music and its associated cultural practices, from dance to fashion.

The collection opens with an in-depth exploration of the social and sonic currents that coalesced into reggaeton in Puerto Rico during the 1990s. Contributors consider reggaeton in relation to that island, Panama, Jamaica, and New York; Cuban society, Miami’s hip-hop scene, and Dominican identity; and other genres including reggae en español, underground, and dancehall reggae. The reggaeton artist Tego Calderón provides a powerful indictment of racism in Latin America, while the hip-hop artist Welmo Romero Joseph discusses the development of reggaeton in Puerto Rico and his refusal to embrace the upstart genre. The collection features interviews with the DJ/rapper El General and the reggae performer Renato, as well as a translation of “Chamaco’s Corner,” the poem that served as the introduction to Daddy Yankee’s debut album. Among the volume’s striking images are photographs from Miguel Luciano’s series Pure Plantainum, a meditation on identity politics in the bling-bling era, and photos taken by the reggaeton videographer Kacho López during the making of the documentary Bling’d: Blood, Diamonds, and Hip-Hop.

Contributors. Geoff Baker, Tego Calderón, Carolina Caycedo, Jose Davila, Jan Fairley, Juan Flores, Gallego (José Raúl González), Félix Jiménez, Kacho López, Miguel Luciano, Wayne Marshall, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Alfredo Nieves Moreno, Ifeoma C. K. Nwankwo, Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Raquel Z. Rivera, Welmo Romero Joseph, Christoph Twickel, Alexandra T. Vazquez

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

How does a genre of music seem to appear suddenly, grow and develop, and be taken seriously by listeners, businesses, and scholars alike? Rivera (Ctr. for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter Coll.; New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone), Wayne Marshall (Florence Levy Kay Fellow, ethnomusicology, Brandeis Univ.), and Deborah Pacini Hernandez (anthropology, Tufts Univ.; Bachata) cover this and more in a densely packed collection of articles by experts on cultural and sociological aspects of this emerging underground music. Out of the barrios of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Panama, mixed with other Caribbean and U.S. music such as rap and dance hall, this rich aggregate has puzzled the Latin music industry of Miami, befuddled authorities in Cuba, and provided the music for a generation of young dancers throughout the Caribbean and in U.S. cities with major Spanish populations. Exceptional coverage of gender relationships, life in slums across these areas, and how young musicians have coped and created something new out of a variety of older music makes this a fascinating study.
—William G. Kenz

From the Publisher
Reggaeton is a truly important contribution to our understanding of the most pervasive and perhaps most misunderstood Latin musical genre at the turn of the 21st century. The blend of academic and journalistic writings with artistic statements, interviews and visual art offers the reader an extraordinary window into the complex landscape of reggaeton. . . . Raquel Z. Rivera, Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Pacini Hernadez have established the foundation for the rich and productive academic conversation that the genre will still generate.” - Alejandro L. Madrid, Dancecult

“This collection of essays is the first attempt to critically engage with the phenomenon, and wisely hedges its bets with a broad collection of writings—earnest academic appraisals are effectively offset by punchy location reportage from Latin America, Q&As with major protagonists and landmark magazine pieces from the music’s early days. . . . [A] largely informative and sometimes exhilarating survey of a multinational phenomenon.”
- Derek Walmsley, The Wire

Reggaeton is an excellent collection which itself occasions many surprises. Overall the book is structured in much the same way as its subject (reggaeton), as a series of overlapping, interconnected and often contradictory layers. . . . This book is a tour de force of criticism and analysis which is relevant not only to the study of reggaeton but to the study of popular music in general.” - Cameron White, Transforming Cultures

“The admirable book Reggaeton . . . invites us to carefully ‘read’ this extraordinary musical and social phenomenon of our times. . . . The authors in this volume extensively document the crossing of geographic, racial, ethnic and linguistic borders. . . . As the essays in this book skillfully demonstrate, the ‘reggaeton nation’ constantly moves between numerous countries and cities, between Spanish and English, between Caribbean and African American rhythms.” (Translated from the Spanish) - Jorge Duany, El Nuevo Día

“I cannot overstate how critically important this volume is. It captures the synergies of a musical and cultural movement that few have seriously grappled with, even as the sounds and styles of reggaeton have dominated the air space of so many urban locales.”—Mark Anthony Neal, author of Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic

“It’s about time academia dared to include reggaeton. This might mean that we’re finally understanding that all of us are los de atrás (the ones behind): our country, Puerto Rico, and the whole Caribbean. I hope people support this book so it can be translated into Spanish, and kids in Puerto Rico and Latin America can read it. Because we Caribbean people, even if we don’t want to, even if we don’t like it, even if it hurts, we come from behind . . . and there’s a value to that. There’s a beauty to being los de atrás.”—Residente, frontman of the Grammy and Latin Grammy award-winning duo Calle 13

“The kinetic contributions in Reggaeton melt false borders—ones wrapped like straitjackets around peoples, knowledges, and cultures—and move the crowd. More than an exciting, exhaustive treatment of this vital musical culture, this anthology is a fine blueprint for engaged cultural scholarship right now.”—Jeff Chang, author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

“This anthology opens a chapter in hip-hop history that brings it all back home, back to our transnational Afro-Spanish-speaking countries and diasporas and ’hoods where young people are going through their hip-hop ecstasies and traumas, but in their own language, and in their own unique and hitherto-unknown style.”—Juan Flores, author of From Bomba to Hip-Hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity, from the foreword to Reggaeton

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822392323
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2010
  • Series: Refiguring American Music
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Raquel Z. Rivera is a Researcher at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, City University of New York. She is the author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone and many articles for magazines and newspapers including Vibe, Urban Latino, El Diario/La Prensa, El Nuevo Día, and Claridad. She blogs at reggaetonica.blogspot.com.

Wayne Marshall is the Florence Levy Kay Fellow in Ethnomusicology at Brandeis University. He blogs at wayneandwax.com, from which a post on reggaeton was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006 anthology.

Deborah Pacini Hernandez is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Tufts University. The author of Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music and a co-editor of Rockin’ Las Americas: The Global Politics of Rock in Latin/o America, she has written many articles on Spanish Caribbean and U.S. Latino popular music.

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Read an Excerpt


Duke University Press

All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4360-8

Chapter One


From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino The Cultural Politics of Nation, Migration, and Commercialization

When Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" galloped up the charts on a catchy chorus, some shifty snares, and a riff befitting a bullfight, it expressed as much a sense of where reggaeton had come from as where it might go. Though some detractors heard it as little more than the latest quasi-Caribbean commercial confection (and a rather sexist bit of ear and eye candy at that),8 a closer listen, with ears attuned to the genre's aesthetic history, reveals a number of ways that the song embodies a complex history of social and sonic circuitry. In particular, if one attends more carefully to the pista, or track, propelling the lexically and musically suggestive vocals of Daddy Yankee and his eager foil, Glory, one can hear Luny Tunes' sleek, powerful production not only as a quintessential example of contemporary, commercial reggaeton style but as a musical text engaging with a long history of circulating sounds, people, and ideas about self and other, race and place.

One might hear such social and sonic circuitry in the explicitly electronic sounds of "Gasolina," which include brittle, chintzy, "preset" virtual instruments from such popular music software as Fruity Loops (or, as it has rebranded itself, FL Studio) as well as more sophisticated "synth patches" offering sounds, such as orchestral strings, with a greater verisimilitude. Ranging from bright and needling to low and buzzy, the track's interwoven synthesizer lines evoke engagements with contemporary hip-hop, pop and R&B, dancehall reggae, and even techno as they provide a dense harmonic texture for Yankee's sing-song, rapid-fire rap. Conjuring club culture, the track's crescendoing kick drums and periodic "breakdowns" seem more clearly borrowed from "trance" and dance anthems than from any of reggaeton's more typically cited "tropical" sources. The harmonic movement of the track, shifting a semitone or half-step every other measure-especially with its galloping figures, adding 32nd note flourishes to propel the pista forward-may suggest to some, including listeners who first heard such clichés via the producers' namesake (i.e., Looney Tunes cartoons), the classic contours of bullfight music or pasodoble, as typified by Pascual Marquina Narro's well-worn sporting anthem, "España Cañí." Appearing to affirm such associations, Yankee boasts, "En la pista nos llaman los matadores" (On the track they call us the matadors). Figuring Spain in this manner, or Spanish colonial legacies (as mediated by pop culture fantasies), "Gasolina" not only features the harmonic movement and marchlike figures associated with bullfight music, it also employs, as do many contemporary reggaeton productions, a I-V or "oompah" style bassline, hence gesturing as well to the polka and other social dance forms that have long resounded across the colonial Americas (as can also be heard in Mexican banda).

Daddy Yankee's vocal style similarly embodies a range of forebears, from the nasally tinged projections of salsa soneros (or, for that matter, of bomba singers), to the double-time deliveries and lilting melodies of dancehall DJS, to the more complex rhyme schemes and speechlike flows of hip-hop MCS. Accordingly, Yankee's lyrics touch on themes resonant with the race- and class-based concerns so central to these stylistic forebears-genres which, as we shall examine, have long informed reggaeton. The song's blatant sexual innuendo and apparently asymmetrical gender relations, for instance, could be heard as celebrating simple pleasures, affirming patriarchy, and challenging middle-class mores in a similar manner to hip-hop, reggae, or salsa. Suffice to say, though, for all its obvious qualities, Yankee's suggestive, central metaphor has been interpreted by audiences and observers to mean any number of things, from synecdoche for speed to an allusion to oral sex. Indeed, the song's inclusion on the compilation Reggaeton Niños (EMI Latin 2005) would seem to confirm its inherently multivalent character. Unsurprisingly, in an era of gas hikes and instability in the Middle East, many heard "Gasolina" as a rather literal reference, including some surprisingly empathetic listeners in Iraq.

But all these potential meanings only scratch the surface of the track's suggestive figurations. Indeed, for many listeners and dancers, it is no doubt the steady kick drum and syncopated snares, marking out reggaeton's trademark, bedrock rhythm, which primarily catches their ears and hips. Sometimes referred to as the dembow-recalling a connection to Bobby Digital's and Shabba Ranks's early '90s dancehall reggae recording "Dem Bow" (1991), a song and a riddim (i.e., backing track) which has profoundly shaped the sound of reggaeton-the snares in "Gasolina" play against the steady four-on-the-floor kick pattern, creating a 3 + 3 + 2 groove that cross-cuts as it reaffirms the downbeat emphasis of the track: boom-ch-boom-chick boom-ch-boom-chick. Overlapping in rhythmic orientation (and embodied dance movement) with a wide variety of Caribbean genres, from salsa to son to reggae to soca, reggaeton's prevailing pattern allows the genre, for all its connections to hip-hop and reggae, to circulate as a regionally inflected form of global pop.

Attending more closely to the snares, the production also takes on a more particularly Puerto Rican character. Not only do the snares play a rhythmic role; perhaps more crucially they delineate the song's form while making direct, timbral connections to such foundational source materials for the genre as the Dem Bow and Bam Bam riddims-Jamaican dancehall "versions" (or instrumental sides) which became staples of the "proto-reggaeton," self-proclaimed underground scene in Puerto Rico during the 1990s. Rather than employing a single snare drum sample for the duration of the track, as most pop songs tend to, Luny Tunes alternate between a couple of particular, familiar snare sounds, shifting the sample every four measures to create a subtle, stylistically grounded sense of movement against the otherwise repetitive structures of the track (though it should be noted that the duo also manipulate the layers of synths in a similar, regular manner). By directly indexing the classic building blocks of reggaeton, the snares in "Gasolina" suggest connections to a long history of pistas and mixtapes which preceded the breakthrough pop smash and which remain as audible, palpable, if subtle remnants of an unbridled, underground, sample-based past in a genre that has since embraced slick synthesizers and commercial channels.

By beginning with this close reading of what many might dismiss as a disposable, overly commercialized example of the genre, I hope to have suggested some of the ways that contemporary reggaeton style emerges from a longstanding, technologically enabled practice of culturally charged musical engagement. Given how fraught discussions of reggaeton's origins and history tend to be, especially along the lines of nation and style (often putatively cast as national provenance), it is worth taking a closer look at the particular ways that so many social and sonic flows coalesced in Puerto Rico in the 1990s, connecting North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean in symbolic, sensual form. The aim of this essay is to examine reggaeton's aesthetic history to date, tying its shifting shapes and enduring forms to articulations of community relationships amidst shared living spaces and soundscapes. Considering such processes as migration, mediation, identification, and commercialization, I attempt to tease out how the social and sonic have been deeply intertwined in the history of the genre, dialectically informing each other in the music's production, circulation, and reception. Although I analyze verbal and visual texts in order to explore the correspondence between musical style, sartorial and linguistic symbolism, and the politics of culture, my focus here is on musical texts-primarily, the genre's pistas, the underlying tracks which propel reggaeton into the global mediascape and so suggestively embody its complex twists and turns. Reggaeton's driving rhythms and dense textures, I contend, give shape and form to myriad movements across the Western Hemisphere, with metropoles and labor centers serving as crucial sites for the music's creation and dissemination. Connecting musical style to cultural politics (as historically grounded and complexly cross-cut by race- and class-commitments, ideologies of color, gender, and nation, and market forces), I seek to lend you my ears-admittedly, the ears of an engaged outsider-as I hear the genre's musical development reflecting and informing the sonic and social flows of the postcolonial Americas.


Despite some serious contention, reggaeton's publicly negotiated narrative has tended to locate the music's genesis in Panama, while other places-from Jamaica to New York to Puerto Rico-remain significant, if secondary, sites for the genre's genealogy. On the one hand, all of these places have played a pivotal role in the music's development. On the other, a number of important figures in the music's history have moved back and forth between various sites over the course of their careers, and so to some extent the most well-worn arguments about national provenance tend to overlook the imbrications of these places due to (circular) patterns of migration and the reach of mass media. The established narrative also tends to proceed in far too linear a fashion, for the interplay between hip-hop and reggae in Panama, Puerto Rico, and New York was rather simultaneous. As I will attempt to tease out, each of these symbolic sites might better be understood as representing both distinctive, local contexts as well as mobile, fluid sociocultural constellations. Depending on where one draws the lines around reggaeton, one draws different lines of community, and various observers, enthusiasts, and participants have sought to circumscribe or expand the genre's geographical-cultural borders according to incompatible if overlapping ideologies of race, class, nation, and the like. Given how heated such debates can become, it is imperative to attempt to clarify the relationships between these various central sites of reggae/ton history. In this section, I will consider and appraise some of the more common connections made between the current, ascendant sound of the genre and its alleged antecedents, namely reggae en español, "meren-rap" and "merenhouse," bomba and plena, salsa and merengue, (Latin) hip-hop, and reggae itself.

Journalists and cultural nationalists (or pan-nationalists) alike have been eager to tie the sound of reggaeton to other Latin (or "tropical," to use the music industry term), Puerto Rican genres, or a combination of them. The explicit, if exceptional, appearance of Afro-Puerto Rican folk forms such as bomba on the recent recordings of Tego Calderón and La Sista has helped to encourage this perception. Similarly, the increasing presence in the last few years of musical figures (and direct digital samples) from salsa, merengue, and bachata-as will be discussed in some detail later in this essay-serves to fuel fantasies about reggaeton's inherent latinidad. Such perceptions of Latin or Afro-Latin musical identity in reggaeton are not without merit, though one would have to propose a more general theory of Latin-Caribbean musical influence and Afro-American (in the broadest sense) musical unity in order to reconcile history with the imaginary. It is telling that some observers hear reggaeton's musical structures not as "Latin" at all, but as essentially Jamaican or African American in constitution, while others make reference to concepts such as clave in order to place the genre firmly in an Afro-Latin-Caribbean tradition. If we consider the prevailing, if not crucial, rhythmic template of reggaeton, we can see and hear how it overlaps with various regional styles (figure 1).

The rhythmic pattern in figure 1-accenting a steady 4/4 pulse with 3 + 3 + 2 cross-rhythms-is ubiquitous in the Caribbean and, given some differences in emphasis and arrangement, can be heard in such diverse genres as reggae and mento, soca and calypso, salsa and son, merengue and "meringue," "konpa" and zouk. Such overlapping structural features allow some listeners to hear reggaeton less as a "Yankee" thing, as a symbol of cultural imperialism, than as a return to Afro-Latin roots. With specific regard to Puerto Rican traditions, one could understand how reggaeton's persistent kick drum and polyrhythmic snares might dovetail in the musical imagination with plena's steady pulse and playful syncopations or with similarly structured, propulsive bomba rhythms such as sicá, cuembé, or seis corrido.

In this sense, we might compare articulations between reggaeton and various Afro-Latin traditions with Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson's proposal for hearing the minimal rhythms of 1980s and '90s dancehall reggae-the very rhythms that underpin reggaeton-not so much as an example of a tech-heavy, northward-leaning corruption of Jamaican style but as a modern return to Afro-Jamaican folk forms:

With the discovery of digital recording, an extreme minimalism has emerged-in the music of people like Steelie and Clevie, for example. On the one hand, this music is totally technological; on the other the rhythms are far more Jamaican: they're drawn from Etu, Pocomania, Kumina-African-based religious cults who provide the rhythms used by Shabba Ranks or Buju Banton. So despite the extent of the technology being used, the music is becoming even rootsier, with a resonance even for quite old listeners, because it echoes back to what they first heard in rural Jamaica.

Whether or not one agrees with Johnson or, if you will, his hypothetical Puerto Rican brethren, this rhythmic resonance between dancehall's ultramodern rhythmic minimalism and traditional Afro-Caribbean forms seems at best a subconscious phenomenon. At worst, especially with regard to reggaeton, it encourages the uncritical reproduction of stereotypes about an essential Latin sabor, or "flavor," "hot" rhythms for "hot blooded" people, and so on. Such ideas can support strategic mobilizations of racial or ethnic identities in particular contexts and moments, but the historical record-not to mention the musical record-offers a much more precise, and less problematic, account of the connections between Jamaican reggae and reggaeton.

For all the resonance with Afro-(Latin-)Caribbean music and with Afro-diasporic music more generally, the predominant rhythmic orientation of reggaeton is derived directly, and quite audibly, from dancehall reggae (sometimes referred to as ragga, short for "raggamuffin," connoting the music's rough-and-tumble environs). Thus Jamaica-or more accurately, Jamaica via Panama and New York-merits no small acknowledgment in a genealogy of reggaeton aesthetics. (Explicit tribute is paid, of course, in the derivative name of the genre itself.) One can hear the direct link between these genres quite clearly in the dancehall-derived rhythms and riddims underlying both Panamanian and Puerto Rican recordings and in the borrowed melodies that propel so many of the "proto-reggaeton" recordings from the early and mid-1990s. Although "roots" reggae maintains a degree of popularity in the same sites where reggaeton now rules-such that one still finds "purist" scenes in which Bob Marley is the model-dancehall reggae's synthetic textures, dance tempos, rapid-fire rap, and minimalist focus on 3 + 3 + 2 cross-rhythms starkly demarcated by heavy, synthesized drums, have much more strongly influenced what is today called reggaeton. Indeed, demonstrating a continued engagement with contemporary dancehall style, one occasionally hears in reggaeton pistas, rather than the rhythms illustrated in figure 1, a stripped-down pattern more characteristic of dancehall riddims from the mid- to late 1990s. Sometimes referred to as the bomp bomp-an onomatopoeic phrase gesturing to the proclivity for tracing out the 3 + 3 + 2 by employing two kicks followed by a snare-dancehall's distinctive rhythmic profile might be represented as in figure 2.


Excerpted from REGGAETON Copyright © 2009 by DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Foreword: What's All the Noise About? Juan Flores....................ix
Introduction: Reggaeton's Socio-Sonic Circuitry Wayne Marshall, Raquel Z. Rivera, and Deborah Pacini Hernandez....................1
From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino: The Cultural Politics of Nation, Migration, and Commercialization Wayne Marshall....................19
Placing Panama in the Reggaeton Narrative: Editor's Notes Wayne Marshall....................79
Reggae in Panama: Bien Tough Christoph Twickel....................81
The Panamanian Origins of Reggae en Español: Seeing History through "Los Ojos Café" of Renato Interview by Ifeoma C. K. Nwankwo....................89
Muévelo (Move It!): From Panama to New York and Back Again, the Story of El General Interview by Christoph Twickel....................99
Policing Morality, Mano Dura Stylee: The Case of Underground Rap and Reggae in Puerto Rico in the Mid-1990s Raquel Z. Rivera....................111
Dominicans in the Mix: Reflections on Dominican Identity, Race, and Reggaeton Deborah Pacini Hernandez....................135
The Politics of Dancing: Reggaetón and Rap in Havana, Cuba Geo Baker....................165
You Got Your Reggaetón in my Hip-Hop: Crunkiao and "Spanish Music" in the Miami Urban Scene Jose Davila....................200
Visualizing Reggaeton: Editors' Notes Wayne Marshall and Raquel Z. Rivera....................215
Images by Miguel Luciano....................218
Images by Carolina Caycedo....................221
Images by Kacho López....................222
(W)rapped in Foil: Glory at Twelve Words a Minute Félix Jiménez....................229
A Man Lives Here: Reggaeton's Hypermasculine Resident Alfredo Nieves Moreno....................252
How to Make Love with Your Clothes On: Dancing Regeton, Gender, and Sexuality in Cuba Jan Fairley....................280
Chamaco's Corner Gallego (José Raúl González)....................297
Salon Philosophers: Ivy Queen and Surprise Guests Take Reggaetón Aside Alexandra T. Vazquez....................300
From Hip-Hop to Reggaeton: Is There Only a Step? Welmo E. Romero Joseph....................312
Black Pride Tego Calderón....................324
Poetry of Filth: The (Post) Reggaetonic Lyrics of Calle 13 Frances Negrón-Muntaner....................327
Bibliography: Selected Sources for Reading Reggaeton....................341
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