Editor’s Note: This article was written by Becca Wig, Austin McLain & Rose Coppola.
With various influences from the Caribbean Islands, Latin America, & North America, Reggaeton has evolved into one of the most popular music genres. Over the past decade we’ve seen it grow from the Puerto Rican underground to the international mainstream with the help of notable artists like Daddy Yankee & Ivy Queen.
Reggaeton roots were planted in the 70’s when Jamaican workers moved to Panama and brought the Dembow beat with them. Originating in Jamaica, the dembow beat is a syncopated, three-beat pattern paired with a steady kick drum: boom-chk-boom-chk. As the Dembow beat & Reggae’s popularity grew, so did rap, specifically Puerto Rican rap. Down the line, the two genres were fused together to create what we now know as Reggaeton.
Latin Rap + Jamaica’s Dancehall Sounds + Bomba + Plena Rhythms (salsa) + Presto (fast rhythm) = Reggaeton
Similar to American Hip Hop, Reggaeton music was an outlet for the poorer more urban communities to share their culture. The genre remained underground and was in fact heavily criticized by upper class society and the government during a time of censorship. During the mid 1990s, the Puerto Rican government sponsored campaigns against underground music and its influence. Despite the friction it caused, Reggaeton gained acceptance and popularity in the Puerto Rican mainstream, later in the United States & Europe, and finally global recognition.
Ivy Queen, known as the Queen of Reggaeton, joined a collective of rappers, producers and DJs called The Noise in 1995 during the initial emergence of the reggaeton music scene. Throughout her career, Ivy Queen has shown disdain for many of the overtly sexual and violent lyrics in reggaeton, turning her sights to topics such as love and self-respect, as exhibited by her biggest hit, “Quiero Balia.” Queen has often included hip-hop and bilingual elements in her music.
Daddy Yankee is most often cited as the “King of Reggaeton.” The term “Reggaeton” was coined by Daddy Yankee in 1994 during the emergence of the genre. He is known as one of the most influential artists of the genre with multiple chart topping hits such as “Gasolina” and “Despacito.” His album Barrio Fino was the first reggaeton album to reach the top of the Top Latin Album Charts.
Ozuna: It would be an understatement to refer to reggaeton/crossover artist Ozuna’s rise to fame as anything less than meteoric. At the age of 28, he is one of the best-selling reggaeton artists of all time. He holds multiple records for most nominations at the Billboard Latin Music Awards, most wins, most weeks at number one on the Top Latin Albums charts, and most videos with more than one billion views on YouTube. His song “Taki Taki” has over 1 billion plays on Spotify and he has multiple songs such as “Adicto” and “MAMACITA” with hundreds of millions of plays. His songs often cross over from reggaeton to urbana, trap and hip-hop.
- Bendi Music’s “Reggaeton 2020” exhibits today’s hottest reggaeton hits from the genre’s most well known artists such as Ozuna and Maluma.
- Curator MG’s playlist “Reggaeton Old School” contains many artists that emerged in the burgeoning reggaeton scene in the 1990s such as Don Omar and Wisin & Yandel.
- Spotify’s tastemaking playlist “Baila Reggaeton” is regularly updated with today’s biggest reggaeton hits from newer crossover artists such as Karol G and legacy artists like Daddy Yankee.
When culture and music are so tightly intertwined, that genre can take on the form of a lifestyle. There has been an evolution in sound and lyrical themes as reggaeton has moved from from underground to mainstream. Topics have historically revolved around life in the barrios, including topics of love, violence, gang activity, and personal experiences/hardships. This genre was once oriented towards those in similar situations, but as it has become more mainstream, themes have shifted to become slightly more radio-friendly with more focus being on party and dance culture. However, there is still a spotlight on cultural issues, as this genre is one way for afro/latinx/caribbean communities to have a platform and share their experiences with the world. The main difference is that new tracks and artists seem much more interested in introducing the world to the richness and complexity of their culture. Many people can relate to the perspectives that are represented, and with catchy dancehall sound and hip-hop lyrics, the audience widens every day. It seems that the modern reggaeton target audience includes: parties, young adults, and any community around the world that has influence from the many cultures represented in reggaeton.
This is one particular genre that is about so much more than just a similar beat. The lyrics, musical influences, and historical context have all contributed to the complexity of reggaeton. It’s almost more accurately described as a movement than a genre. Reggaeton is a fusion of many cultures, but lighter-skinned latinx seem to be the “face” of the genre in 2020. However, the author of Remixing Reggaeton: The Cultural Politics of Race in Puerto Rico, was quoted in an article in The Atlantic saying: “We wouldn’t have reggaeton if we didn’t have complicated historical patterns of migration in the Caribbean basin.” It’s important to remember that the stories told through reggaeton music may come from the same geographical location, but the backgrounds of these authors differ vastly.
Lyrics and different representations can confront issues like violence, machismo culture, and racism. There has been some controversy over whether the discussion of these issues promoted these undesirable ideas or increased awareness of these issues. In the mid-90s, the Puerto Rican government decided it was the former of the two. There were various censorship efforts by the Vice Control Division of Puerto Rican Police (aided by the National Guard). They began confiscating reggaeton tapes from record stores. However, these efforts did not work out in the government’s favor, as it really only got more people talking about the genre. It also gave the genre much more of an intrigue into the “rebellious” culture that authorities were trying so hard to suppress.
“It took me three decades to take [my] music to the world. Nowadays, the music reaches the world in one day through the platform.” — Daddy Yankee.
Spotify’s recognition & relationship with Reggaeton is a relatively new one. In 2013, Spotify created its first playlist with the hottest reggaeton hits: Baila Reggaeton. Seven years later, with the help of talented artists & their listeners, Baila Reggaeton has become the fourth-most-followed playlist with over 10 million followers. Not only has Spotify shared Reggaeton’s influence on an international level, it has also aided in breaking in a new wave of reggaeton artists.