Who hasn't heard at the radio or the club the catchy Latin vibes? But even though we have all heard this happy music, I can assure that not everybody knows the hard history begin the genre. Join us in this article to discover the reggaeton and its greatest hits
Reggeaton finds it’s roots in reggae. No surprises there. In this long read, I’ll try to introduce you to the political and musical history of this genre, that’s now been appreciated all over the world.
Reggae emerged in Jamaica in the 1970s, as a form of protest. It was characterized by lyrics alluding on the economic, social, and political situation of the Antilles. Reggae music became world famous thanks to the appearance of singers like Bob Marley & The Wailers. It has undergone many changes over time, allowing influence of rhythms and genres. The music composition of reggaeton is a combination of reggae beat, known as ‘offbeat’ and the sounds of hip-hop that was starting to become famous in the United States during the last years of the 80s. To understand how reggaeton came to be, it’s important to understand what was happening in Panamá and Puerto Rico, where it all began.
Panamá was the first place where reggae was sung in Spanish, by the artist called Chicho Man. He was a huge fan of reggae and started a career using the melodies and rhythms of reggae, with Spanish lyrics. Meanwhile, rap and the sounds of the hip-hop movement, upcoming genres from the United States, were often heard in the streets of Puerto Rico. Vico C, an artist who has been attributed the nickname of the pioneer of reggaeton, was the first singer ever to create hip-hop songs in Spanish (in 1985.) Vico C was known for his colloquial language which was filled with regionalism of Puerto Rico´s dialect, strong social and political criticism and violent topics, which was why his music was being criticized and not widely appreciated.
From the 90s, reggae in Spanish continued to be popular, but sounded just like it’s Jamaican root genre. Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, in addition to rap, Jamaican reggae began to spread, which had quite good acceptance. Taking advantage of this small success, the rhythm that the Panamanians had created began to be introduced in the Puerto Rican country. The perfect mix for a new cocktail.
The creation of reggaeton takes place in 1994 in a Puerto Rican discotheque called ‘The Noise’, where a disc jockey, known as DJ Playero, played one rap song of Vico C with a reggae song in the background, creating a fusion of both genres which produced a highly catchy rhythm which was named ‘dembow.’ This beat has a musical structure divided in a 4 per 4 compass, and it varies in a range from 80 to 100 beats per minute. This was the first reggeaton song.
In its early years, the first Spanish rap songs were about the increasing violence in latin America, the elevated condition of poverty and the lack of opportunities that a big group of the population had. The lyrics were raw and criticized the government and it’s policies. Specially because of the well known corruption cases and the inability to act in order of the people needs.
It’s lyrics were describing the life of the ‘caseríos’. A caserío is a Puerto Rican citizen; socially endangered, conflictive, poor and living in insecure neighborhoods. Living in ghettos or favelas. Their lyrics described their daily life, the things they had to do for money, they constant fears and the frustration of seeing a government that did nothing to help them get out.
It was common to hear the word ‘corillo’, a corillo was introduced to the Spanish language dictionary by the Puerto Rican people as a word to describe a group of friends, but in the early days the word had a different connotation. A corillo was a group of people who lived in the same ‘caserio’ or neighborhood and dedicated themselves to illegal activities in order to survive.
A lot of the first reggaeton singers were members of a corillo, and even though a lot of them never did anything illegal or morally wrong, reggaeton was associated with a low social status, as something repulsive and unworthy. Receiving the name of being a criminal genre, with criminals as artists and fans of the genre ignorants
Reggaeton wasn’t socially accepted and there was tension between the genre enthusiasts and the people who dislike it. It was normal to receive critics, being laughed at or even being consider of a lower intellectual or social level just by appreciating the genre.
We recorded some reactions of the Latin international students at Howest University of Applied Sciences, in order to understand the situation of the appearance of reggaeton in their respective countries.
The singers who were highly criticized because of their lyrics, the way they dressed, the fact that they didn’t fit into the idealized cannon of voice a professional singer should have, among others. The songs and their lyrics allow people to understand a bit of the background and people behind the songs, clearing that they were not criminals but just people with dreams, hopes and ideas.
The song we just heard is called Bandoleros, it was released in the year 2005 by two of the most famous singers of the genre at the time. These singers were Don Omar and Tego Calderon. This song has a special meaning to the reggaeton culture, not only because of how famous it was in the Spanish speaking countries, but because it was a song with a huge message from the genre to the world:
Bandolero is a word for an armed person who is dedicated to the practice of robbery and assault. A low class thief. The artists sang about how they feel the society visualizes them as bandits (Bandoleros) just because of of their music, the way they dressed and the slang they used. They express how commitmented they are; having always paid their taxes and respected the law. Their message: a person is not good or bad because of where he or she comes from or how they dress, there’s also crime and corruption in the higher classes.
The song is very explicitly referring to the corruption in Puerto Rico, which wasn’t liked by the government, and this wasn’t the only song doing it. Many governments from all around Latin America were trying to prevent reggaeton from expanding.
This song is titled Palabras Con Sentido, which translates as ‘Meaningful Words’ it was released by Daddy Yankee in 2013, and had huge repercussion because by that time Yankee was an already consolidated artist around the whole world. He is considered by the reggaeton community as the king of reggaeton, because he has been producing music from the 1997 and keeps on doing it until today, being responsible for a considerable amount of hits through the years. Often songs that are now consider classics and songs that have surpass the Latin community and have peaked in the billboard worldwide list repeatedly, a few examples are: ‘’La Gasolina’’, ‘’Limbo’’, ‘’Noche de Entierro’’, ‘’Llamada de Emergencia’’ and the most recent ‘’Con Calma.’’
In the song we just heard, Yankee attacks in a very direct and rough way the social concept that reggaeton has been given, and the fact that they made him feel a criminal just because the type of music he makes.
This song includes quotes like “Remember eyesterday, when they arrested you because of the music you listened to, they look at me with the eyes of disguise, they want to give me death penalty without even committing a crime”… “If my music is wrong, censure all music, what do the authors of 911 used to hear, the killer of ‘the Beatle’ was fan of him, what type of music did Stalin and Hitler hear, what I sing doesn’t make people magically act wrong’’ among other quotes.
This song is titled ‘Delicuente’, deliquent. It was released by Farruko in 2019. The song is about how he still feels tormented about the police and authorities to act against him because of the music he produces. In this song he offers an explanation and tells the story behind his arrest last year. He was arrested, in his jet, for possessing more than the allowed amount of money you could take with you. He sings of his arrest, how he was treated as a criminal, he explained that it was money for the performance he just did, but since they didn’t know him his story was not credible. The arrest caused problems for upcoming shows, because of his prohibition to leave the country.
Currently, reggaeton is a musical genre that triumphs in all the Latin American countries and has a huge appreciation in Spain. The genre surpassed the language barrier and obtained loads of fans in non-spanish speaking countries, becoming a trend in Europe and Asia. Obtaining 3 reggaeton songs in the spotify Top 50 chart for Belgium, in November 2019.
Reggaeton is usually associated with a very sensual way of dancing, a lot of close bodies and a very provocative attitude, called ‘perreo’. This type of dance has raised and raises a great controversy among many conservatives, but is, however, adored by young people.
Perreo takes its name, from the attitude of those who dance this rhythm, as if they were trying to seduce the couple in the middle of the dance floor with lascivious and sensual movements, thus imitating the position of a dog and it’s sexual behaviour.
It’s often considered bad taste to imitate sexual positions; but, on the other hand, many think that reggaeton is, in a way, a cheeky and attractive musical style, considered, to the point, by some, how to make love with clothes on a dance floor.
This dance is seen as marginal but, nevertheless, it is very well received and has a lot of success among young people, since they see it as something forbidden, (so it can be considered for its high sensual content) and, of course, forbidden always like and attract, especially in the younger ones who begin to discover the world. Reggeaton and perreo came to symbolize sexual rebellion. Perreo, danced mainly by young people, represents one of the strong forms of energy explosion and symbolic expression of the body. This dance acts without limits, opposing the shy body, controlled and measured in the form of dance practiced, in the majority, by young people.
In Perreo dance, the bodies of the dancers appropriate the space, eroticizing it, simulating sexual acts explicitly through movements and gestures. Rivalry and dispute is the central act of this dance, and this could not work individually, but together. In Perreo, the body exceeds the limits of the skin, and constantly seeks contact with the other person, thus establishing "a ritual of proximity." With rubbing, young people transmit strength and energy. The body cannot be contained or controlled and wishes to be, above all, feel free. Therefore, two men, one behind and the other in front of the girl, dance with her, but only the one who does it best, that is, who makes her sweat better, is able to stay with her.
The Perreo dance has had a lot of controversy since its inception, being nicknamed by many as "The damn dance". It has been and is criticized by the Church.
Even in Peru, a congressman threatens to present in Parliament a law that prohibits dancing, because, in his words, "it encourages promiscuity." That is why, even the Peruvian cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, appealed to parents, police and politicians, as he believes that youngsters are prostituting themselves, to pay more to their kids and their social behaviors and to the nightclubs to be more careful and not allow by any mistake the admission of minors.
Another great example of the opposition to the genre is the rule in form of a decree established in Cuba this year. This decree (identify as the decree number 349 of the Cuban judicial system) establishes the prohibition to create, distribute or even play in public spaces music that includes any type of the following: patriotic signs, vulgar and/or sexist language, violent topics, anything else that violates the legal provisions that regulate the normal development of our society in cultural matters.
This decree has been of special controversy in Cuba. The most important is that artists are outraged because the government limits the creative process. One of the most renown cases of what’s going on in Cuba is the situation of the famous reggaeton duo, ‘Gente de Zona’, that due to the music they were creating were forced to migrate. While living in the United States they still are constantly in conflict with the Cuban authorities.
Let’s hear the students on the political or social reactions on reggeaton, from the countries where they live.
Despite of the of the attempts of prohibition, perreo is highly popular in all latin American countries and it’s a really common activity in all latin clubs and partys
Reggaeton can be split up in two different phases, the first one was as the urban genre whose artists where primarily from Puerto Rico, a genre that appears in order to provide to all of the young adults in marginal or endangered conditions the opportunity to find a way out through music while simultaneously earning some money. This phase lasts from 1990 ‘till 2010. Where the topics were quite social, and the listeners to the genre were a discriminated minority, and the content of the lyrics where pretty explicit, sexist and violent.
In 2010 reggaeton had a ‘break’, for a couple of months the popularity of the genre decreased, and this continued until 2011. From when we identify a second wave of reggaeton. At the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 reggaeton suffer a big change, a wave of new young singers and topics appear to bring reggaeton the sparks that were missing. This new generation of artist who were mostly based in Colombia, introduced in reggaeton a new whole concept, the songs were happier, romance took a big place in the topics of the lyrics, the violent content slowly disappeared and the positivity of the messages gained importance. This bring with it a higher acceptance by society. Of course the stigmas and hate towards the genre was still pretty present, but the alterations of the genre had help to decrease them.
In this second wave of reggaeton, we can identify artists as J Balvin, Maluma, Reykon and the rebirth of the career of Nicky Jam, who find his way to the top after dealing with personal conflicts in his past in Puerto Rico. When the new trend of a more danceable, romantic and partying vibes enter the game, the Puerto Rican singers adapt perfectly increasing this new reggaeton to more and more Latin countries.
Since 2014, reggaeton grew exponentially in the Latin American culture, being played at every possible Latin party, every radio station, every bar and club in the different cities and most importantly; reaching high spots in the different Latin music charts and awards.
In 2017 it became a worldwide movement, achieving things that were totally unexpected and unthinkable, thanks to songs like ‘’Mi gente’’, ‘’Despacito’’, ‘’Calma Remix’’ Among others.
Reggaeton had it’s first international success in 2004, when Daddy Yankee released a single called ‘La Gasolina’ which expanded in Latin America as a bomb, and became really famous in non-Spanish speaking countries, still being played all around the world.
It’s second major outbreak, was in 2010 when the singer Don Omar released his hit called ‘Danza Kuduro’. Which was played all over the world for months. This provided the world with a glance at what the genre had to offer.
But the massive success of reggaeton came to life in 2017, by the hand of the so-called greatest artist of the second wave of reggaeton J. Balvin. The Colombian singer who had already been in the top list all over Latin America for almost 4 years and won loads of prices and score multiple hits, decided to join with the French singer Willy William in a collab and released the song called ‘Mi Gente’. This song was the first major hit of Latin music, because of the catchy lyrics and extremely danceable rhythm. It became even bigger when Beyoncé asked to be a part of a remix of the song.
A couple of months after the release of ‘Mi Gente’, the originally ballad singer Luis Fonsi did a collab with Daddy Yankee which led to the creation of ‘Despacito’, a song that took reggaeton to its highest point internationally. Hitting first place for weeks in the spotify global charts and reaching for the higher places in the billboard charts.
After this, the success of reggaeton was something worldwide, it was everywhere, a lot of Latin American artists, who weren’t part of the genre and even criticized it in the past, began to collaborate with reggaeton singers. One example of this is the collaboration of Pedro Capó who originally sang ballads, in 2018 he collaborated with the well known Farruko, in order to create ‘Calma Remix’, which was a song that once again took the Latin representation to a whole new level.
Ever since 2016 reggaeton has been present in the different awards of the Latin music community. The most recent Latin Grammies, hosted in Las Vegas in November 2019, reggaeton was the most present genre and the event hosted a considerable amount of reggaeton performances. And it has 4 nominees for the United States Grammies that will take place in January of 2020.
Lets have a final statement of our beloved students, about how they feel coming to European countries which usually don’t speak Spanish but still being able to listen to reggaeton in bars and radio due to its high success.
If you are interested in knowing more about reggaeton or the story behind the artists that take part of the genre. You can watch this Netflix Original production behind the story of Nicky Jam, which features little aspects of the life of Daddy Yankee. Looking for the perfect playlist? We created ‘Reggaeton Hits of all Time’ on spotify.