As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve gleaned lots of what I know ’bout the narratives swirling ’round reggaeton via the web, especially via the messageboard debates that flare up into all sorts of contested, conflicting accounts and claims. In that sense, I’ve maybe learned less about reggaeton’s history this way, per se, than about how people frame and claim reggaeton to (re)draw the lines of community. (Not that any such thing as “reggaeton history” can be abstracted from any and all of this narrativizing.)
Perhaps it simply speaks to the genre’s popularity that reggaeton can serve as a bridge or a wedge, but it may say something also about its multivalence and, especially, its address (where you at?), especially of late — not to mention the memory of what things once were/seemed/meant in another time and place.
One illustrative example of what I’ve found to be an invaluable source for reading reggaeton is a relatively innocent post by abstractdynamic and nowadays sporadic blogger, Abe Burmeister. Back in August 04, upon hearing reggaeton all around NYC and finding relatively little about it on the net, Abe went searching for information about the genre, to little avail. This prompted him to write
You’d never know it the occupied zones of Manhattan, but Reggaeton just might be the biggest music in New York right now. Its certainly the fastest growing. Like hip hop before it (and salsa too I suspect) its evolving isolated from the outoftowners and media forces that think they define New York. One wonders if they’ll pimp it world wide when they finally wake up, or are they perhaps too scared to wake to the spanish?
Tellingly, the Google search link he provides in his post now returns almost 10 million hits for ‘reggaeton.’ [Update: as of 1/09, it was up to 14 million.]
But more important, Abe’s post served unwittingly to launch a fierce, if disjointed, debate about the genre’s national identity and about the increasing presence of Latinos in the US. Strongly worded statements, history lessons, and derogatory language alternate with promotional spam, love letters to reggaetoneros, and requests such as this one —
can some1 sent mei a good azz pic of don omar. he iz so fine
Posted by: brenda | August 30, 2004 06:35 PM
A selection of certain comments — from among the HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS posted — provides an illuminating if painful look at the contours of these rather fraught debates, including Puerto Rican, Mexican, Panamanian, pan-Latino, and Jamaican claims to the genre, calls for black, brown, Latino, and Caribbean unity, as well as some intense stereotype slurring among Latinos and between Latinos and (African-)Americans. The back&forth gets pretty down&dirty at a certain point, so be warned. But it offers a revealing portrait of reggaeton under construction and in contest —
Damn people realize that reggaeton doenst just belong to the panas or the boricuas shit its pa todos mis latinos, mexicanos and shit dont fucken be ignorant just beacuse its coming out strong from one area doesnt me its ur music . shit i know how this shit got started but just because it started there doenst mean it stays there. I live in Californoia, Orange County and i list en to this shit and i support al the reggaeton artist i even throw reggaeton clubs and parties in La and Oc to help get the music out there I do it because i love the music and i aint from panama or puerto rico im from MEXICO shit and damn proud . theirs even mexican reggaeton artist too. so for the record shit its nit boricua music its not panama music its latino music!!! . . .
Posted by: Evilone_714_Aftermath_ent.. Krew | October 30, 2004 08:33 PM
SURE DEM BORICUA GUYS R FINE AZZ HELL, BUT DON’T THINK U ALL THAT!!!!!!!! MEXICANOS MAYBE INDIOS AND CRAP, BUT GUESS WHAT NOT ALL OF US MEXICANOS LIKE THEM RANCHERAS AND PASITO DURANGUENSE, SOME OF US LIKE REGGAETON, BACHATE, MERENGUE, AND KUMBIA. OH YEAH, MOST IMPORTANTLY, WE ARE PROUD 2 BE MEXICANS, NOT LIKE Y’ALL BORICUAS, Y’ALL WNNABE MAYATES!!!!!!! SO WATCH WHO U BE TRYIN 2 PULL SHIT ON, CUZ WE MEXICANS CAN BEAT Y’ALL BORICUAS AT THAT BULLCRAP!!1111
Posted by: ?????? | November 3, 2004 08:01 PM
Yoo “El Boricua” mira nene.. yo soy cubana y a mi me encanta el reggaeton..so wus the big fukkin deal?.. everybody is allowed to like reggaeton papa!! me oyes.. tu no eres el jefe de nadie.. y no importa quien lo esta escuchando mientras se este bendiendo..
Posted by: DaDdYsLiLMaMa | November 11, 2004 10:43 AM
para los que aun les gusta discriminar con sus propias raices……..hater!!!!
bueno primero que nada los BORICUAS no queremos ser mayatez…we are mayates.somo mezcla INDIA !!!!! ESPANOL!!! Y AFRICANA !!!
de donde creen que vino tanta poderosa percusion……de AFRICA….”no vino de mongolia”
la genmte que no sabe de las raizes de los demas,estudien o cayen que por eso nosotros los latinos estamos abajo,por eso es que ARNOLD SWATCHENAGER o como se llame es governador y no un latino. “tenemos que unirnos no separanos con racismo” racismo entre latinos que poca verguenza es esa y falta de respeto a vuestros antecedente!!!!!!
es como si les dijieran “esos mexicans just wanna be latinos” thats called an oximoron.
no tiene sentido decir tan absurda verbla ingnoracia.
Posted by: black!!!! not an option | November 11, 2004 05:26 PM
Latinos SHUT UP. Get back on the boat that brought your ass over here. COUNTRY NIGGA WHUT.
Posted by: Genocyde | November 22, 2004 05:02 PM
this is to COUNTRY NIGGA , u need to go back to Africa. U also need to stop talking shit about latinos. U are just jelous u can’t get no latin girls. You Monkey!!!! Ha Ha
YO SOY BORICUA PA QUE TU LO SEPAS
Posted by: lili | November 22, 2004 08:29 PM
reggaeton is alright honestly jamican reggae is much much better, im not hating or anything like that because my mother is of jamaican-latin descent and i listen to reggaeton as well as hip hop r&b and REAL reggae. it pisses me off when noreaga and nina sky makes a oye mi canto song and not show the jamaican flag because the whole world knows us jamaicans started it all. its kind of like a fraud but at the same time adorable.
Posted by: kinyatta | December 1, 2004 03:36 PM
And another goddamn thing i gotta say. Puerto Ricans?? We aint fucking latinos, we are fucking Caribbeans. Yo no soy latino papa yo soy caribeÃ±o, fumando un leÃ±o, y desta mierda soy el dueÃ±o.
Stoopid ass mexicans thinking they in this shit. FUCK ‘EM!
Posted by: McPaja | January 7, 2005 02:37 PM
and whats good wit all this talk against mexicanos and bein called latino.
what now, not only are ya hatin on me for my opinion but you gonna hate on others that are goin through the same stuff as us.
why wouldnt u want to be called a latino? all that really stands for is for people who speak spanish. the spanish language came from latin. so people now a days that speak spanish are latino. why wouldnt u want to rep that and be proud of that. its beautiful.
and why would you say fuck the mexicans and other spanish nations?
yeah mexicans are different than us they got there own cultura, same with cubans, domonicans, y todos.
but why would u hate on others for bein different
u know that aint right.
cuz it wasnt too long ago when “negros” and “spics” (talkin bout puerto ricans) werent liked by white american. and they hated on us. and some still do today. and it didnt get them anywhere.
its not gonna get u anywhere either.
u need to recongize before u get yaself in to somethin u aint gonna be able to handle.
u cant win a war against hate with hate.
it never did work , and it aint gonna work now.
u need to grow up and recognize where respect is due to our fellow latinos.
yeah, i said latinos.
squash all that prejustice stuff
it aint sexy playa
Posted by: sheena | January 9, 2005 07:00 PM
. . . mcpaja although i agree with you with the mexican issue, i would also like to add that in that same list we should add these fake ass “nuyoricans”. . . .
Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2005 08:28 PM
First of all gotta give props to sheena because she is the only one who seems coherent enough to know what she is talking about. Thank you for shedding the light about where spanish reggae really originated from, (Panama). This isn’t a hate on reggae from puerto rico because i grew up listening to it but to be honest, it (reggaeton from puerto rico) wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the influences that came from panama. Reggae en nuestro pais es una cultura y forma de vida. Desde que llegaron jamaiquinos a panama nos han influenciado con su cultura y una consequencia de eso fue la de musica reggae. Y asi se han criado muchos de la juventud en panama, escuchando reggae no solo de panama pero de su pais de crianza, jamaica, y ellos incorporan ese tipo de cultura todos los dias en panama. Like i said this is not a hate on (reggaeton) as it has become now known because i lived in florida in the early 90’s and all I listened to was Playero, The Noise, Baby Rasta y Gringo, Tempo, Mexicano and other good artists but I think credit has to be given where it is deserved. To know where your going you gotta know where you come from. I think that the spanish reggae scene will soon be hearing some very good artists from El Patio(Panama)and also see what talents we’ve got. Let’s support each other in this and other music genres and keep growing as a latin community no matter where we’re from. What’s up to all my panas from Panama and PR. Que dios los bendiga a todos.
Posted by: Panama1 | January 14, 2005 04:39 PM
This boricua shall now take his hat off and recognize the mistakes hes made. I may have seemed a little harsh with some earlier comments about being latino, and i hope that all ive offended can look past my ridicolous comments. I’ve always considered Panama to be one of the closest looking cultures to Puerto Rico, and the comments Panama1 made has made me feel ashamed of what I’ve said.
I now realize that, not only reaggaeton, but also many different types of latin music are being left in the dark because of absence of public light.
We as latinos, should be walking around with our heads held high, being grateful that we have been given this sweet flavor and rythm that the world seems to enjoy. (except that TEX-MEX crap. I find that to be some straight up weak ass SHIT!)
Im not being ironic in any way, and again, all of those who ive offended im very sorry.
Dont hate, Educate.
McPaja . . .
Posted by: McPaja | January 14, 2005 05:50 PM
Clearly, despite being able to represent many things to many people and, increasingly, explicitly positioning itself — and seemingly (statistically?) heard/felt/interpreted — as a mainstream, pan-Latino genre, reggaeton still serves to draw all kinds of lines between social groups, reflecting significant underlying conflicts and incompatible ideologies of self and other. Given what can seem a tumultuous redefinition of social relationships in the wake of new migrations amidst competing projects of national and transnational (not to mention local) unity, it is of little surprise that there is so much heated debate about what reggaeton is and to whom it belongs.
Part of what motivates me to gather both facts and arguments about these big questions is that I suspect, and hope, that a more balanced telling of reggaeton’s story — one that includes the various claims people make on/for it, and why — might have something to offer the ongoing, and growing, conversation. Regardless, I’m gonna keep on reading.
As I’ve arguedbefore — and will be arguing next week in Mexico City — one can hear reggaeton’s embrace of tecno synths and “Latin” loops as an audible shift from (explicitly, sonically marking itself as) “música negra” to “reggaeton latino.” Such a change, I contend, corresponds to an attendant shift in the cultural politics reflected and informed by the music, responding to major changes in context (from under to commersh, PR to US) and drawing the lines of community in a significantly different way (boricua, morena…). New vistas, new pistas, no?
Perhaps no recent track demonstrates this better than “Noche de Entierro,” produced by Luny Tunes and Tainy and featuring Daddy Yankee, Hector El Father, Tony Tun-Tun, Zion, and the ubiquitous (just wait) Wisin y Yandel. As my co-editor (and co-presenter next week), Deborah Pacini-Hernandez notes w/r/t the song (in response to a question from our other co-editor, Raquel Z. Rivera),
the song is invoking cumbia and vallenato — 2 genres whose connections are historically close, tho they don’t sound so much alike anymore esp as cumbia has been reinvented in Mexico. The flute-like sounds are definitely invoking classic cumbia; the accordion invokes the accordion-based vallenato as well as cumbias played with accordions. The sound of this piece sounds inspired by Carlos Vives’ pop rock interpretations of vallenatos and cumbias.
Hear for yerself —
At the same time that we note such a strong (surfacy?) shift, it’s important to note that plenty of listeners will still register in the genre’s slickest contemporary commercial confections a great number of sonic signifiers tied to the sticky stuff of melaza. I’m not just talking about those enduring kicks&snares from the Dem Bow and Bam Bam riddims; several recent hits have contained other, nicely submerged allusions to the dancehall reggae sources that animated so many underground/melaza/dembo mixtapes back in the mid-90s.
Sometimes this is fairly subtle, though still audible, as in Wisin y Yandel’s “Pam Pam,” a song which had been gaining serious airplay on La Kalle back when I was still commuting around Chicago (no La Kalle in Boston, tho; que pasa with that?). Not only does the bassline trace out a classic 3+3+2 pattern (beneath the boom-ch-boom-chick), those of you familiar with the Bam Bam / Murder She Wrote lineage may notice that the underlying synthesizer melody plays a phrase that recalls a certain unforgettable line from Red Fox & Screechy Dan’s “Pose Off,” a song that would have been well-known in the PR “reggae” scene, which took to the Drum Song riddim as much as to the Bam Bam and Dem Bow —
Another good, recent example of how contempo reggaeton references its sample-heavy, reggae-infused roots is “My Space” (inevitable, wasn’t it) by Wisin y Yandel w/ Don Omar. We hear a number of signposts of the new reggaeton — state-of-the-art synths, emotive harmonic progression, dembow loops — but we also hear a nostalgia for “old school” stylee in a few retro interludes (e.g., around 1:10, 2:10), complete with throw-back, flip-tongue rapping by Don Omar over a crunchy, skanking, digi-reggae loop (though I can’t quite place it) —
You’ll have to decide for yourself, por supuesto, whether these examples draw the lines differently, or still connect dots in a way that permits for all sorts of social articulations. It’s clear that people make all kinds of meanings from (and claims on) reggaeton, as I’ll be exploring in the next post. What interests me is how the music itself — which is to say, the choices that producers and vocalists makes — serves to structure, reshape, reaffirm, or undercut such meanings and claims.
No doubt tracing out (and spacing out) another crunk genealogy (or three), w&w will join the Masalacists for one of their genre-spanning, globe-spinning Baile MTL nights @ Zoobizarre (6388 St.Hubert) !!
It’s only $5. Come on out and join the (world) party —
Everything was going according to plan. We slogged through Chicago (natch), cruised through Gary and the rest of Indiana, and were hoping to roll along I-90 all the way back to the Bean. But shortly after crossing the Ohio border, our ol’ trusty Honda — so clutch over the years — no longer would shift gears.
And so, about a quarter-mile from the first eastbound tollbooth in the Buckeye State, we waited. And waited. Nick chucked rocks at a small sign, bullseye on third try. I read aloud, fast as possible, from Harper’s Weekly Review (as e’d to my phone), shouting over the din of 18+wheelers. Becca shivered. A towtruck arrived just before sundown and dragged our car’s silver shell to a garage in nearby Holiday City. We decided to cut our losses, packed everything into our rent-a-truck, and sold the car for cheap to a dude named Dennis, sealed with a handshake in front of a state trooper as Roman Candles popped off in the Holiday Inn parking lot adjacent, all whoop and holler, snap and crackle.
We drove on a few more hours. Slept outside Toledo in a Days Inn. Nodding off to lukewarm beer and Dave Chappelle. Woke early the next morning and drove 12 more hours to Boston, six of them through interminable New York. Worst of all, though: iPod transmitter wouldn’t fit in the cigarette-charger, leaving us with FM and AM only. And as much as I tried to be a good sport about it — Ah, Americana — I can only listen to so much Eagles. In the midwest I was still catching mucha banda, though, oddly enough, the orgullo switched from mexicano to de la raza as we moved from Illinois to Ohio. & while AM is something of a refuge, it’s finicky in its own ways.
I’ll leave it at this little highlight: I had my second epiphanic experience while driving delirious to the strains of “Dream Weaver.” (The first was in Texas at dawn some ten years ago.) The opening of the song is so damn hip-hop (Premo sample that yet?), I was instantly transfixed, enough to float along on the rest of the song’s srsly over-the-top schmatlzathon —
& one more radio note: it was awful nice, if occurring a little too early in loooong New York, to hear “Welcome Back” as we slouched toward Bawstin —
They were playing that one for me, even if they didn’t know it.
So, yeah, here I am. Back in Boston, feeling at home.
But another funny thing happened on the way back to town: I landed in Belmont, just west of my native West Cambridge. Having grown up on the Cambridge-Belmont-Watertown border, I’ve known Belmont fairly well for a long time. My new neighborhood in particular, Cushing Square, I know quite well. It was a rainy day destination for us as kids, what with its enchanting five-and-dime store and ice-cream shoppes. Living here now is funny, tugs of nostalgia even though there’s a Starbucks where Friendly’s used to be and a few more restaurants tending to the up-scale rather than down-home (though Teddy’s diner remains refreshingly good and simple and Ben Franklin is still here and gloriously full of odd and useful things). Belmont has always had its “tony suburb” qualities — low crime and green lawns, and it’s a “dry town” to boot — but it retains some working- and middle-class character even into the Mitt Romney era.
We’ve settled here for the time being because Becca‘s based in Cambridge for at least another year or two, and I’m gonna be teaching in Waltham. Especially for a carless commuter couple, Belmont makes a perfect midpoint: it’s bikable and busable/trainable from both places. It has other charms, too, which I will no doubt be sharing as we go. But most of all, it feels good to be back in the midst of so many friends and family and familiar places, faces, sights, and sounds. As much as I like getting outside of the familiar, those lovely differences only make sense — or at least take on greater resonance — in relation to a home set of experiences, I think. (At least, for me.) Of course, it helps that I like the place I call home so much. No place like it.
One additional reason I’m vvvv excited to be back is that I’ll be helping out DJ Flack with his weekly Beat Research sessions at the Enormous Room. & I’ll be doing my best to fill the huge shoes of DJ C, who has essentially switched places with me, trying his hand in the Windy City for a lil while. (Keep yer ears peeled, Chicago.) I’m looking forward to being a regular research assistant, and to getting back into a real music-playing/making regimen.