Last week a daily newspaper from Abu Dhabi, The National, published a piece I wrote about “nu world” music under the title “Sounds of the wide, wired world” (29 Oct 2010). As usual, while I think my editor — here, the mighty Dave Stelfox — did an utterly admirable job of making my prolix prose ring pretty damn clear, it still feels weird for stuff to fall under my byline that didn’t come directly from this horse’s mouth. And there are lots of words and phrases and names and things that I’d rather like to cram back in. So as with other things I’ve written for newspapers and magazines, I’m providing here at W&W a “director’s cut” (which nonetheless preserves many of Dave’s careful cuts and amendments). Thx again, Dave!
Sounds of the wide, wired world
In the autumn of 2009, Dave Nada, a Washington DC-based DJ, was playing a midday party in a basement for his cousin and a couple dozen of his high-school-skipping friends. The DJs preceding Nada warmed up the room with bachata and reggaeton: mid-tempo dance music from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico that offered deep, familiar grooves to the Latino crowd.
At 32, Nada was the oldest person at the party, and more of a techno/electro guy. In a flash of inspiration, he decided to drop something out of the ordinary on his young audience. Afrojack’s remix of Silvio Ecomo & Chuckie’s “Moombah” – a typical example of Dutch “dirty house” – already had all the elements of a reggaeton club banger: thumping kick drums, piercing synth-lines, cut-and-paste party chants, and a distinctly Caribbean cross-rhythm in the snares. The only problem was that it was too fast. To make the track fit the vibe of the gathering, Nada reduced its speed by 20 beats per minute. This simple adaptation sent the kids into a frenzy.
Unexpectedly, it also birthed a new genre that embodies a much broader phenomenon: a reclamation and redefinition of global street music for the internet age that we might call world music 2.0. Spurred by the success of his experiment, Nada recorded an MP3 edit of his Afrojack remix and constructed several more slowed-down interpretations of house tracks. These were circulated on the internet, representing a sound that its creator, perhaps not entirely seriously, dubbed “moombahton.” Ever hungry for the new, the global dance music blogosphere seized upon this strange, hybrid sound. By March of this year, Nada had been featured on the website of The Fader magazine; by summer he was running a popular weekly club night, Moombahton Mondays, in DC.
Back in the Netherlands, meanwhile, an aspiring producer stumbled upon Nada’s work during a routine trawl of the web. Like the kids at the party, he was floored. A 20-year-old Dominican, born and raised in Rotterdam, Rayiv “Munchi” MĂŒnch was a long-time fan of bachata and merengue, especially a recent streetwise version of the latter, known as mambo; Dutch bubbling – a mid-1990s collision of hyperspeed gabba techno and Jamaican dancehall; and hip-hop of all kinds. In moombahton, however, he heard a new future for reggaeton, a genre he loved but believed had become creatively stagnant.
He worked all night long, emerging the next morning with a digital “promo” package of five new songs. Rather than editing pre-existent tracks, Munchi built his productions from the ground up. Using samples from his ecumenical music collection, he injected influences from Brazilian funk carioca, Angolan kuduro, Latin American cumbia and more. In April, he wrote to a number of bloggers, myself included, to share his music. Over the next few months he maintained a prolific work rate, producing 50 tracks in all and releasing concept-driven online promo packs every four weeks. These circulated rapidly via blogs, tweets, and the SoundCloud account where he streams them and provides links for free downloads, either there or at free (but ad-riddled), temporary âdigital lockersâ such as MediaFire.
The feedback loop doesn’t stop there. In just the last month DJ Orion, a producer from Austin, Texas, uploaded 30 tracks to his BandCamp site (where customers are asked to pay as much or as little as they like to download the music), in a style he is calling “boombahchero.” Many of the songs are second-generation interpretations of Nada’s and Munchi’s remixes. However, Orion has gone a step further, infusing his edits with the strains of Mexican tribal guarachero, an emergent form of electronic dance music mixing cumbia, techno, and a distinctive triple-time swing – often produced by teenagers, the genre has been making the rounds recently as the latest local fusion of global elements to resound more widely than, say, the clubs and communities in Monterrey and Mexico City where it sounds right at home.
These interconnected stories form but one knotty vignette in the wider narrative of world music 2.0. Largely brought together online, this tangle of diverse street-level sounds is bound by common tools and shared reference points. Its accelerated interactive pace is driven by the proliferation of accessible music and video-production software, and the connective possibilities of the social web or, in marketing parlance, web 2.0 – the key feature of which is the explosion of networked platforms that enable anyone with access to publish their music and dance moves to a limitless audience. Needless to say, this is precisely what thousands of young people are doing.
The commonplace use of cracked or demo software in many of world music 2.0’s more rough-hewn productions produces a patina of piracy, an unintentional but marked aesthetic effect that privileges participation, immersion and immediacy. On YouTube, Colombian teens dodge “Free Trial Version” watermarks as they do a modified Melbourne shuffle at the local mall. Robotic voices interrupt homespun raps from Los Angeles to remind us that weâre listening to music made with unlicensed programs. Pop-up ads piggyback on the networked DailyMotion of young people across the Francophone world trying on and showing off the latest steps from the tecktonik and logobi scenes. Chains of compression lend a sizzle to MP3s of reggaeton and Baltimore club music, filled with uncleared samples and made everywhere from the Dominican Republic to Romania.
Because most of this activity happens on corporate “platforms,” the unruly openness of online enterprise is constantly vulnerable to the caprice of bottom-line logic and rearguard legal attacks from twentieth-century copyright giants. Videos disappear regularly, sniffed out by audio-detection algorithms. Entire sites vanish overnight. In the last year alone, imeem and Jamglue, two popular audio-streaming sites which played host to such burgeoning scenes as Chicagoâs juke and LAâs jerk, suddenly shuttered, falling prey to licensing nightmares and hostile takeovers. Down the ether hole with them went thousands of conversations, personal playlists, home-produced gems, and peer-to-peer connections.
But who cares about quality control or posterity? Clearly not the kids who keep uploading. They’re hacking their way through contemporary media ecologies, motivated more by making and doing than by legal strictures or commercial profit. The result is a vivid picture of a truly global youth culture. Kids doing what kids always have done: dancing, performing, goofing around. The difference is that they now broadcast it to the world – if often as an afterthought, the result of default settings that encourage openness.
Public culture is being remade by all this so-called “user-generated content,” including the ever curious category of âworld music.â In some contrast to its creation by a consortium of British music-industry players in the 1980s to market recordings that represented musical traditions of the non-western world, a multinational network of grassroots producers, DJs, and bloggers are now renegotiating and redefining this freighted yet inclusive term.
Their work embraces a fluid but thoroughly urbanized idea of worldliness. The stylistic signposts of world music 2.0 are utterly contemporary, grounded not in traditional instrumentation but the ubiquitous structures of hip-hop, reggae and house. The music’s themes are more often than not as unvarnished as its sound: sex, social domination and the travails of life in the big city – be it London, Johannesburg or Rio. Nonetheless, and more than likely as a direct result of this fact, it resonates widely.
A wealth of websites have sprung up, bringing these far flung sounds together. On Ghetto Bassquake (London), Generation Bass (Tilberg, Holland), Dutty Artz (New York) and many others, New Orleans bounce, Colombian champeta, Jamaican dancehall, desi bhangra and South African house all find common ground. Many of these sites have also become record labels, releasing music from and inspired by urban dance scenes from around the world – and around the corner.
A prime example is Dave Quam’s It’s After the End of the World, an open-eared blog from Chicago focused on the city’s juke scene but often extending its remit to Dutch bubbling and Memphis rap. Quam launched a digital label called Free Bass last month by giving away a three-song EP by Cedaa. A teenager from the small city of Bellingham, Washington, Cedaa’s music takes flight from juke’s stuttering drum machinery and adds a certain, synthesised Pacific Northwest pastoral. It’s glorious stuff that could only have happened now.
As the vibrancy and resiliency of youth culture from the inner-cities of the world inspires urbane curators and globe-trotting DJs, it animates another new strain of world music: Trinidadian soca filtered through Montreal’s Ghislain Poirier, funk carioca via MIA and Diplo, the cumbia of Buenos Aires’ slums recontextualised by the uptown crew ZZK. In a sense, this slicker, commercially released music by savvy interpreters of the Global North recalls the earlier, successful mediations of Paul Simon and David Byrne – albeit rather more modestly, at least in terms of sales.
Informed by the diasporic settings that so many cities have become, the “bottom-up” revision of world music is a valuable development, offering new ways of engaging with the world, often undergirded by intimate, everyday experiences of cosmopolitan conviviality. However, certain queasy connections with its earlier incarnation also persist. Despite the necessary translation and filtering provided by metropolitan mediators, the xenophily animating their work can cloak familiar fetishes of otherness in slum chic.
Another name for world music 2.0, in this regard, might be “global ghettotech” – a term I floated on my blog a few years ago, hoping its implicit critique would be clear. Surprisingly, it has since been unironically embraced by a number of artists and entrepreneurs across Europe and the Americas. The ghetto remains a major signpost in this new world, but its romanticization or exploitation as a signifier of edginess, especially by those not of it, will always create tensions. Teamed with a recent embarrassment of tropical tropes and neo-tiki motifs, it’s almost enough to return us full circle to hearing the world as kitschy exotica rather than the noise next door.
Fortunately, critiques are not the sole preserve of critics. They can come in musical form, too. In June a New York/Vancouver collective called Old Money, with Jamaican, Guyanese and Polish membership, posted a track to SoundCloud called African Kids! A sardonic send-up of the use of generic African imagery, it fits seemingly random lyrical fragments – “shapes, colours, African kids!” – to a bass-wobbling beat that nods to several recent UK dance genres all at once. The only tag added to the track reads “TribalTribalAfricanKidzzz,” a lyric in the song. It was amusing, but also discomfiting. Old Money sent it around to the usual network of websites and blogs, some of whom had helped hype their previous recordings. No one wanted to touch it. Perhaps it hit a bit too close to home. Or maybe it’s not such a brave new world after all.
Next week I begin teaching my second course at MIT. It’s a new syllabus, though it draws on certain materials I’ve used before. In contrast to previous offerings, however, this will be the first time I teach a class with a primary focus on reggae outside of Jamaica — on what I’m calling here “global reggae” or “reggae as transnational culture.”
No doubt we’ll encounter a good number of themes resonant with the inextricably related subject of global hip-hop. But I’m also keen to identify particular dimensions of reggae’s transmission and transformation abroad that might, for significant reasons, diverge from the reception and refiguring of hip-hop around the world. We’ll let you know ;)
Meantime, if you happen to know any MIT students to whom this sort of course would appeal, by all means point them this-a-way. And if you spot any conspicuous absences in the syllabus below — a work-in-progress, as always — please do point them out, make recommendations, & feel free to offer critiques, supplements, and blessings.
21F.035 / 21M.539 Topics in Culture and Globalization
Global Reggae: Reggae as Transnational Culture
Mellon Fellow in the Humanities
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Music and Theater Arts
Tuesday/Thursday 12:30-2:00 pm
Reggae is incontestably one of the most popular musics in the world. Despite its origins in the working-class urban culture of the relatively small country of Jamaica, reggae artists have powerfully projected their voices outward (in part via the imperial networks of the UK and USA) and one can hear reggae today in almost any corner of the globeânot just Jamaican reggae, but local versions and fusions with nearly every other conceivable genre. Reggae precedes the global reach of its progeny, hip-hop, but, in its dancehall guise, it has also in turn piggybacked on hip-hopâs own impressive international spread. As remix approaches and massive sound systems have become increasingly common worldwide, reggae stands as a remarkably influential template for world music, electronic dance music, and popular music more generally. Itself constituted by international flows of music and musicians but increasingly produced outside of Jamaica, reggae thus offers a rich resource for the examination of todayâs global circulations of music and media.
This course considers reggae, or Jamaican popular music more generallyâin its various forms (ska, rocksteady, roots, dancehall)âas constituted by international movements and exchanges and as a product that circulates globally in complex ways, cast variously as Jamaican, Caribbean, Afrodiasporic, and/or black, and recast through the cultural logics of the new spaces it enters, the new soundscapes it permeates. By reading across the reggae literature, as well as considering reggae texts themselves (songs, films, videos, and images), we will scrutinize the different interpretations of reggaeâs significance and the implications of different interpretations of the story of Jamaica and its music. We will attend in particular to how reggae informs notions of selfhood and nationhood, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, religion and politicsâin particular places and at particular times.
Although Bob Marley still serves as the most ubiquitous symbol of reggae (and, indeed, of Jamaica), the reggae tradition and repertory go far deeper and represent a great deal to listeners and practitioners. In its shifting shapes and forms the genre has served for four decades as a potent symbol of independence and social critique, communitarian commitment as well as rugged individualism. While certain core values appear regularly in reggae, the genre also offers a rather flexible palette for a wide range of ideological positions, from Pan-Africanism and other forms of transnationalism to utterly provincial nationalism, from peaceful and respectful postures to aggressive machismo and militancy, from tolerance to its own forms of oppression. Perhaps most notably, reggae has made such scripts of personhood and nationhood available not only to Jamaicans but to people around the world who have adopted the genreâs gestures as their own.
Beginning with a consideration of how Jamaicaâs popular music industry emerged out of transnational exchanges, the course will proceed to focus on reggaeâs circulation outside of Jamaica via diasporic networks and commercial mediascapes. Attending to how the genreâs pliable but distinct forms have been, in turn, transformed in particular localities, the course will help to illuminate ongoing dynamics between the global and local. Among other sites, we will consider reggaeâs resonance and impact elsewhere in the Anglo Caribbean (e.g., Trinidad, Barbados), the United Kingdom (including British reggae styles but also such progeny as jungle, grime, and dubstep), the United States (both as reggae per se and in hip-hop), France and Germany, Panama and Puerto Rico and other Latin American locales (e.g., Brazil), Japan and Australia, as well as West, South, and East Africa (CĂŽte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Uganda).
Bilby, Kenneth. âJamaica.â In Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, ed. Peter Manuel, 143-182. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.
Veal, Michael. Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007. [Intro & ch. 1, p. 1-44]
Thomas, Deborah. âModern Blackness; or, Theoretical âTrippingâ on Black Vernacular Culture.â In Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica, 230-62. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004.
Jones, Simon. Black Culture, White Youth: The Reggae Tradition from JA to UK. London: Macmillan, 1988. [ch. 2, 4, Conclusion, p. 33-56, 87-118, 231-40.]
Gilroy, Paul. âBetween the Blues and the Blues Dance: Some Soundscapes of the Black Atlantic.â In The Auditory Culture Reader, ed. Michael Bull and Les Back, 381-95. Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 2003.
Hebdige, Dick. CutânâMix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music. London: Routledge, 1987. [ch. 11-12, p. 90-117]
Sharma, Sanjay. âNoisy Asians or âAsianâ Noise?â [p. 32-60] & Shirin Housee & Mukhtar Dar, âRe-Mixing Identities: âOffâ the Turn-Tableâ [p. 81-104]. In Dis-Orienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music. London: Zed Books, 1996.
Quinn, Steven. âRumble In The Jungle: The Invisible History of DrumânâBass.â Transformations, No. 3 (May 2002): 1-12.
Watch: excerpts from Reggae In a Babylon, Babylon, Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music
Listen: âAn England Storyâ
Chang, Jeff. âMaking a Name: How DJ Kool Herc Lost His Accent and Started Hip-Hop.â In Canât Stop Wonât Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martins Press, 2005. [ch. 4, p. 67-88]
Kenner, Rob. âDancehall,â In The Vibe History of Hip-hop, ed. Alan Light, 350-7. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Stephens, Michelle A. âBabylonâs âNatural Mysticâ: The North American Music Industry, the Legend of Bob Marley, and the Incorporation of Transnationalism.â Cultural Studies Vol. 12, No. 2 (1998): 139â167.
Watch: excerpts from Sound Class, Marked for Death, Belly, Predator 2
Putnam, Lara. âThe Weekly Reggee: The Greater Caribbean Jazz Age and Youth Dances in Limon, Costa Rica, 1930-1932.â Unpublished/forthcoming.
Giovannetti, Jorge L. âPopular Music and Culture in Puerto Rico: Jamaican and Rap Music as Cross-Cultural Symbols.â In Musical Migrations: Transnationalism and Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, ed. Frances R. Aparicio and CĂĄndida F. JĂĄquez, 81-98. New York: Palgrave, 2003.
Hansing, Katrin. âRasta, Race and Revolution: Transnational Connections in Socialist Cuba.â Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4 (2001): 733 â 747.
Baker, Geoffrey. 2009. “The Politics of Dancing.” In Reggaeton, eds. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 165-99. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Fairley, Jan. 2008. “How To Make Love With Your Clothes On: Dancing Regeton, Gender and Sexuality in Cuba.” In Reggaeton, eds. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 280-96. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Behague, Gerard. “Rap, Reggae, Rock, or Samba: The Local and the Global in Brazilian Popular Music (1985-95).” Latin American Music Review 27, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2006): 79-90.
de AraĂșjo Pinho, Osmundo. ââFogo na BabilĂŽniaâ: Reggae, Black Counterculture, and Globalization in Brazil.â In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, ed. Charles A. Perrone and Christopher Dunn (New York: Routledge, 2001), 192-206.
dos Santos Godi, Antonio J. V. “Reggae and Samba-Reggae in Bahia: A Case of Long-Distance Belonging.” In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, ed. Charles A. Perrone and Christopher Dunn (New York: Routledge, 2001), 207-219.
Neate, Patrick and Damian Platt. Culture Is Our Weapon: Afroreggae in the Favelas of Rio [ch 3, 4, 7, 8].
Goodman, Steve. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. [ch. 31, p. 171-5]
Watch: excerpts from Favela Rising, Favela on Blast
WEST, EAST, AND SOUTHERN AFRICA
Akindes, Simon. âPlaying It âLoud and Straightâ: Reggae, Zouglou, Mapouka and Youth Insubordination in CĂŽte d’Ivoire.â In Playing with Identities in Contemporary Music in Africa, ed. Mai Palmberg & Annemette Kirkegaard, 86-103. Nordic Africa Institute, 2002.
McNee, Lisa. âBack From Babylon: Popular Musical Cultures of the Diaspora, Youth Culture and Identity in Francophone West Africa.â In Music, Popular Culture, Identities, ed. Richard Young, 213-228. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.
Savishinsky, Neil J. âRastafari in the Promised Land: The Spread of a Jamaican Socioreligious Movement among the Youth of West Africa.â African Studies Review Vol. 37, No. 3 (Dec 1994): 19-50.
Remes, Pieter. âGlobal Popular Musics and Changing Awareness of Urban Tanzanian Youth.â Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 31 (1999): 1-26.
Gilman, Lisa and John Fenn. âDance, Gender, and Popular Music in Malawi: The Case of Rap and Ragga.â Popular Music Vol. 25, No. 3 (2006): 369-81.
Maxwell, Ian. “Sydney Stylee: Hip-Hop Down Under Comin’ Up.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell, 259-79. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
White, Cameron. âRapper on a Rampage: Theorising the Political Significance of Aboriginal Australian Hip Hop and Reggae.â Transforming Cultures eJournal, Vol. 4 No 1 (April 2009): 108-130.
Baulch, Emma. Making Scenes: Reggae, Punk, and Death Metal in 1990s Bali. Durham: Duke University Press, 200 [ch. 3, p. 73-90]
That’s it, for now. There are plenty of holes that I’m aware of (anything on roots reggae in Cuba, say [update: after one day of comments, that’s been ameliorated; new readings now above!]), and surely plenty more that I’m not. Then again, I’m finding the extant literature on local reggae scenes outside of Jamaica fairly impoverished at the moment. (Nothing on Italian sound systems? Really?) The course can’t exactly be comprehensive — we only have so much time — but I would love for this post to serve as a spot for collecting some good materials. So, as they say inna di dancehall, send on!
i totally forgot to send you some tracks i worked on in late 2009 that were bubbling but influenced by dominican music. like perico ripiao, bachata or dominican dembow. i had these finished but i was working on a whole concept thing there.
Munchi – Dominican Bubbling Battle 2009
Didnt have a name for it so i called it like that. Sampled and cutted up a perico ripiao song, vocals from dominican dembow and with the oldskool bubbling taste. this kind of oldskool bubbling was my favorite, all over the place and so much going on going from slow to fast. made this right after i saw a bubbling battle video from 1995.
And here’s the video in question. Inspiring indeed!
Seriously, what a style! Dude gets LOOOSE. He’s totally syncing with bubbling’s distinctive double-time/half-time herky-jerk, and, like the genre, seemingly drawing on two kinds of raving at once: of the dancehall reggae sort, and of the hardcore techno sort. I like the nods to robot-style popping-and-locking, the plasticman wobbling, and all the transmuted bits of bubbling — and that’s bubbling in the original Caribbean sense. Butterfly, butterfly, mek we do the…
Munchi also shares a couple of tracks that seem to spring uniquely from his Dominican-Dutch circumstances:
Munchi – Mambo Con Sazon
which he describes as
Bachata guitar with also the bachata percussion and the familiar bubbling slowing down and speeding up. I was plannin to put a female reggeton artist on this track she would fit the track perfectly with the energy she brings.
And here’s one more to round things out. Munchi sez:
I made this in 2007 and its mostly bubbling but it flows into baile funk and reggeton
and it got me a bit of exposure back then lol.
Munchi – Nex Aan Te Doen Prt. 1
If it wasn’t clear in my previous post, I love the way that Munchi’s productions are so situated in the particular musical-cultural networks (actual and virtual) in which he finds himself situated (and actively situates himself, as with such keywords as “baile funk” and with, y’know, enthusiastic emails to bloggers like me and Dave Quam).
In light of these latest, I’ve been thinking about Munchiton — a genre all Munchi’s own (even though he’s personally embracing the moombahton tag) — with regard to a resonant quotation from DJ Earworm in that “borrowing culture” documentary I shared last week:
…in the future, when people listen to music, everyone’s gonna have their own custom remix … You heard that new song, yeah, check out my version. Oh yeah, check out my version. That’s not gonna be DJ culture that’s just gonna be culture.
In an age of FruityLoopy GarageBands, I think we’re just about already there. Sometimes this is called “remix culture,” sometimes “participatory culture,” sometimes “read-write culture,” sometimes “free culture.” Before too long, though, Earworm’s right: we’re going to stop thinking of remix practice as the exception, instead realizing that the 20th century’s “read-only” broadcast culture was an anomaly in human history and embracing the imperative to mix-and-mash all the stuff around us as what culture’s really about.
Along these lines, I’m enamored of the idea that not only will everyone be enmeshed in collectively, co-creating culture, right down to versioning the latest global (or local) hits, but that these efforts, in any particular instantiation (e.g., Munchi’s work), might yet coalesce into something even more unruly and awesome: genres of our own. New whirled music. Munch, crunch, mulch. Repeat.
Since I’m in a syllabus sharing mood, I figured I should finally get around to posting the one I put together in Spring 2008 for a course on “Global Hip-hop.” A series of case studies examining how hip-hop travels outside the US, what it carries with it, and how people adapt its forms to their own ends, it was a hugely fun class to teach, and I was thrilled by the response at Brandeis. (At 150 students — which is where we finally capped enrollment — it was easily the biggest class I’ve taught, as well as the largest that Music or AAAS had hosted in years.) I’m sorry that I can’t include here all the audio and video that we reviewed (never mind pdfs), but poke around the webz and you’ll find lots of the examples referenced in the readings, as well as many of the articles themselves.
Florence Levy Kay Fellow
Music / African and Afro-American Studies
Over the past several years, hip-hop has been heralded as a global phenomenon and an American export par excellence. Although a flurry of books, articles, and college classes have begun to examine the cultural, social, and political significance of hip-hop’s worldwide resonance, studies of the genre rarely focus on the specific ways that hip-hop travels, how it is engaged, represented, reproduced, and changed in various locales around the world, and how it animates local cultural politics despite carrying such strong, and sometimes contradictory, connotations of what it means to be American and African-American. This course considers hip-hop as itself constituted by international movements and exchanges and as a product that circulates globally in complex ways, cast variously as American, African-American, and/or black, and recast through the cultural logics of the new spaces it enters, the new soundscapes it permeates.
A host of questions arise in considering the scope and significance of global hip-hop: What does the genre, in its various forms (audio, video, sartorial, etc.), carry with it outside the US? What do people bring to it in new local contexts? How are American ideologies of race and nation mediated by hip-hop’s global reach? Why do some global (which is to say, local) hip-hop scenes fasten onto the genre’s politics of place and community, of struggle and opposition to the status quo, while others appear more enamored with hip-hop’s portrayal of personal gain, hustler archetypes, and conspicuous consumption? How do hip-hop scenes differ from North to South America, North to South Africa, Europe to Asia? What threads unite them?
In pursuit of such questions, we will read across the emerging literature on global hip-hop as we also explore the growing resources available via the internet, where websites and blogs, MySpace and YouTube and the like, appear to be facilitating a further florescence of international (and peer-to-peer) exchanges around hip-hop. We will consider a number of case studies of hip-hop scenes around the world as well as closely related (and sometimes antagonistic) musical/stylistic offshoots and hybrids, including: Puerto Rico (reggaeton), Brazil (funk carioca), England (grime), South Africa (kwaito), Tanzania (bongo flava), Jamaica (dancehall), Germany, Japan, Kenya, Cuba, Morocco/France, and Australia. We will also examine the international roots of hip-hop in multicultural New York and how American hip-hop figures the foreign (as in “orientalist” gestures and other sonic representations of otherness). Larger themes to be explored include postcolonialism and globalization, mass media and migration, race and nation.
Basu, Dipannita and Sidney J. Lemelle, eds. The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Chang, Jeff. Canât Stop Wonât Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martinâs Press, 2005.
Condry, Ian. Hip-hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
Forman, Murray and Mark Anthony Neal, eds. That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Mitchell, Tony, ed. Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
20% – Class Attendance and Participation: all students are expected to attend all class meetings and to participate in discussions, especially in Thursday sections
40% – Weekly Wikipedia Edits: each week students will make a small but substantive edit or addition to a Wikipedia article related to course materials. Students will also post a brief note to an open thread on LATTE explaining what they have done and why.
40% – Final Paper: a 10-15 page essay investigating a hip-hop scene outside the US: what representations exist and/or frame the scene’s narrative, how does the global/local dynamic play out, how does it compare to other places, etc.
Week 1: Introduction & a Brief History of Hip-hop’s Roots in Multicultural New York
Kelley, Robin D.G. âForeward.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, xi-xvii. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Mitchell, Tony. “Introduction: Another RootâHip-hop Outside the USA.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 1- 38. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Chang, Jeff. âInventos Hip-Hop: An Interview with Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi.â In Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, ed. Jeff Chang, 255-261. New York: BasicCivitas / Perseus Books, 2006.
_______. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martins Press, 2005. (Chapters 1-4.)
Flores, Juan. “Puerto Rocks: Rap, Roots, and Amnesia.” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader, 69-86. New York; London: Routledge, 2004.
Hebdige, Dick. “Rap and Hip-hop: The New York Connection.” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader, 223-232. New York; London: Routledge, 2004.
Patterson, Orlando. “Ecumenical America: Global Culture and the American Cosmos.” World Policy Journal 11(2): 103-17 (1994).
Thomas, Deborah. “Modern Blackness; or, Theoretical ‘Tripping’ on Black Vernacular Culture.” In Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica, 230-62. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004.
Kenner, Rob. “Dancehall,” In The Vibe History of Hip-hop, ed. Alan Light, 350-7. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Marshall, Wayne. “Bling-bling for Rastafari: How Jamaicans Deal with Hip-hop.” Social and Economic Studies 55: 1 & 2 (2006): 49- 74.
_______. “Follow Me Now: The Zigzagging Zunguzung Meme” .
Week 3: Hip-hop, Reggae, and Reggaeton in Puerto Rico
NegrĂłn-Muntaner, Frances and Raquel Z. Rivera, “Reggaeton Nation.” NACLA News. 17 December 2007.
Giovannetti, Jorge L. “Popular Music and Culture in Puerto Rico: Jamaican and Rap Music as Cross-Cultural Symbols.” In Musical Migrations: Transnationalism and Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, ed. Frances R. Aparicio and CĂĄndida F. JĂĄquez, 81-98. New York: Palgrave, 2003.
Marshall, Wayne. “From MĂșsica Negra to Reggaeton Latino.” In Reading Reggaeton (forthcoming, Duke University Press).
Week 4: Hip-hop vs. Reggaeton in Cuba
Pacini-HernĂĄndez, Deborah and Reebee Garofalo. “Hip Hop in Havana: Rap, Race and National Identity in Contemporary Cuba.” Journal for Popular Music Studies, 2000: 1-41.
_______. 2006. “La Habana que no conoces: Cuban rap and the social construction of urban space.” Ethnomusicology Forum 15, no. 2: 215-46.
_______. 2008. “The Politics of Dancing.” In Reading Reggaeton (forthcoming, Duke University Press).
Fairley, Jan. 2008. “How To Make Love With Your Clothes On: Dancing Regeton, Gender and Sexuality in Cuba.” In Reading Reggaeton (forthcoming, Duke University Press).
Wunderlich, Annelise. âCuban Hip-hop: Making Space for New Voices of Dissent.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 167-79. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi, Eli. Inventos: Hip Hop Cubano. DVD. (2003)
Week 5: Hip-hop vs. Funk in Brazil
Behague, Gerard. “Rap, Reggae, Rock, or Samba: The Local and the Global in Brazilian Popular Music (1985-95).” Latin American Music Review 27, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2006): 79-90.
Sansone, Livio. “The Localization of Global Funk in Bahia and Rio.” In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, 135-60. London: Routledge, 2002.
YĂșdice, George. “The Funkification of Rio.” In Microphone Fiends, 193-220. London: Routledge, 1994.
Stanley-Niaah, Sonjah. “Mapping of Black Atlantic Performance Geographies: From Slave Ship to Ghetto.” In Black Geographies and the Politics of Place, ed. by Katherine McKittrick and Clyde Woods, 193-217. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007.
Magubane, Zine. âGlobalization and Gangster Rap: Hip Hop in the Post-Apartheid City.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 208-29. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Ariefdien, Shaheen and Nazli Abrahams. âCape Flats Academy: Hip-Hop Arts in South Africa.â In Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, ed. Jeff Chang, 262-70. New York: BasicCivitas / Perseus Books, 2006.
Lemelle, Sidney J. ââNi wapi Tunakwendaâ: Hip Hop Culture and the Children of Arusha.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 230-54. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Wanguhu, Michael. Hip Hop Colony: The Hip Hop Explosion in Africa. DVD. (2005)
Week 8: Postcolonial UK Soundclash: Hip-hop, Reggae, Grime, and Bhangra
Gilroy, Paul. “It’s a Family Affair.” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip- hop Studies Reader, 87-94. New York; London: Routledge, 2004.
Hesmondhalgh, David and Caspar Melville. “Urban Breakbeat Culture: Repercussions of Hip-Hop in the United Kingdom.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 86-110. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Sharma, Sanjay. “Noisy Asians or ‘Asian Noise’?” In Disorienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music, ed. Sanjay Sharma, John Hutnyk, and Ashwani Sharma, 32-57. London: Zed Books, 1996.
Week 9: Hip-hop and RaĂŻ in France / North Africa
Gross, Joan, David McMurray, and Ted Swedenburg. “Arab Noise and Ramadan Nights: Rai, Rap, and Franco-Maghrebi Identities.” Diaspora 3:1 (1994): 3- 39. [Reprinted in The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader, ed. by Jonathan Xavier and Renato Rosaldo, 198-230. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.]
Swedenburg, Ted. “Islamic Hip-hop vs. Islamophobia.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 57-85. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Prevos, Andre J. M. “Postcolonial Popular Music in France: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the 1980s and 1990s.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 39-56. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Helenon, Veronique. âAfrica on Their Mind: Rap, Blackness, and Citizenship in France.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 151-66. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Meghelli, Samir. âInterview with Youcef (Intik).â In Tha Global Cipha: Hip Hop Culture and Consciousness, ed. by James G. Spady, H. Samy Alim, and Samir Meghelli. 656-67. Philadelphia: Black History Museum Publishers, 2006.
Week 10: Hip-hop in Germany
Bennett, Andy. “Hip-Hop am Main, Rappin’ on the Tyne: Hip-hop Culture as a Local Construct in Two European Cities.” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader, 177-200. New York; London: Routledge, 2004.
Pennay, Mark. “Rap in Germany: The Birth of a Genre.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 111-134. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Brown, Timothy S. ââKeeping it Realâ in a Different âHood: (African-) Americanization and Hip-hop in Germany.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 137-50. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Week 11: Hip-hop in Japan
Condry, Ian. Hip-hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
Wood, Joe. “The Yellow Negro.” Transition 73 (“The White Issue”): 40-67.
Week 12: Hip-hop in Australia and the Pacific
Maxwell, Ian. “Sydney Stylee: Hip-Hop Down Under Comin’ Up.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell, 259-79. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Mitchell, Tony. “Kia Kaha! (Be Strong!): Maori and Pacific Islander Hip-hop in Aotearoa-New Zealand.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell, 280-305. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Henderson, April K. âDancing Between Islands: Hip Hop and the Samoan Diaspora.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 180-199. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Afropop Worldwide has a new program, airing currently on terrestrial radio in the US (and soon to appear online as streamable audio), which focuses on a subject near&dear to the heart of this blog: world music 2.0, aka nu-whirled music, aka global ghettotech. Or as they put it —
Afropop Worldwide takes us into the world of the globalistas, a far-flung grouping of polyglot hipsters, bass freaks, and digital beatsmiths who rally around the sounds of the 21st century dancefloor – rhythms such as Angolan kuduro, Brazilian funk carioca, reggaeton and dancehall, Indian bhangra and Argentine electro-cumbia. Ethnomusicologist/DJ/Blogger/Writer Wayne Marshall calls this music World Music 2.0, highlighting how digital production technology and the internet has created new, younger, international audiences for music from other places. Marshall will guide us through the sonic circuitry of global bass music and show us why old assumptions about “world” music might no longer apply. We’ll also speak with DJ Rupture, Dutty Artz founder and visionary world mashup artist, and, of course, listen to some ground shaking tracks from across the beat-o-sphere.
I’ll be sure to post a link here when the whole program comes online; meantime, if you don’t live in one of the radio markets where Afropop is carried, you can hear an 8 minute teaser here —
This week on Afropop Worldwide, we took a look at how technology is shaping music production and listening practices around the world with Afropop Soundsystem 3: Nu-Whirled Music. Over the course of the program, we explore the question â is there such as thing as World Music 2.0? And if so, what are the consequences? Here, you can read our full interview with our guest Wayne Marshall, who has some pretty interesting things to say about the topic.
Wayne is an ethnomusicologist, blogger, and DJ, currently doing a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT. He is the co-editor of Reggaeton, an excellent anthology of essays on the Puerto Rican reggae-rap. He works, more broadly, digging into the âsonic circuitryâ of contemporary global music.
You can read Wayneâs thoughtful rambles on technology, culture, and electronic dance pop from the globe at his blog Wayne & Wax. In fact, the colorful analysis on Wayneâs blog was the prime inspiration for this weekâs program!
Thoughtful rambles! I can live with that ;) “Nu-whirl” on the other hand…
But ambivalent as I am about pretty much all of the terms being used to discuss this stuff (I disavow coining “World Music 2.0″ in the interview, though I do take responsibility for the monster that is global g-tech), I’m excited to see the conversation continue, and I’m especially thrilled to see Afropop bring some of these new sounds and styles (dare I say new worlds?) to the attn of their listenership.
Finally, I want to give special thanks to producer (and interviewer) Marlon Bishop for initiating this project and for making, as Rachel put it, “afropop sound like radiolab”!
When Daddy Yankee released his hit single “Gasolina” in 2005, nobody suspected what was about to happen. Reggaeton, that rollicking Caribbean dance-rap, traveled like an uncontained blaze around the world – crossing over from the Latin charts to pop and hip-hop from the U.S to Australia, thrilling and/or shocking those that came in its path. Reggaeton was the sound and swagger of a new generation of urban Latin Americans, and a whirl around Latin America in 2009 will show you that the genre is here to stay. We travel to Puerto Rico, the birthplace of reggaeton, and talk to players from the music’s history and take the pulse of today’s scene. We’ll follow that omnipresent bass-heavy beat that wove its way from coastal Panama in the 1980s to freestyle sessions in San Juan in the 90s, and talk to Puerto Ricans who are taking the music to new places today. Interviews with Omar Garcia, Calle 13, and more, plus side trips to Brazil and Chicago to get a taste of Baile Funk and Latin House.
I spoke with Marlon Bishop, the producer of the program, prior to his trip to PR, where he picked up some great quotes and infos (including, that Playeros #1-36, about which I’ve long been wondering, were apparently mixtapes of contemporary hip-hop and reggae; wasn’t until the infamous #37 that Playero featured local PR artists). Be sure to hit up the site’s extended reggaeton feature for additional background. I’m happy to report that, at least from my perspective, Marlon enriches as he affirms the (meta)narrative set forth in our book (and my capĂtulo in partic).
One note of detraction: I think the attempt to rope in wider sounds (freestyle, funk carioca, latin house) is a bit unnecessary, and leads to the program not only losing some coherence but also some perspective / authority. The dig at latin freestyle, as if it were unlistenable, smacks of elitism; and the idea that Miami bass found its only future home in Rio seems to overlook some crucial crunk continuities. But other than those questionable decisions, I think the program is really quite solid and enjoyable. Probably the best extant aural accompaniment to my chapter, sin duda. (Though this page will def get better over time.)
A couple weeks ago, a bunch of Boston’s “baile funk” enthusiasts were assembled by the um-and-only Gregzinho — who, incidentally, is our guest tonight at Beat Research! — to watch a couple DVDs showing different sides of the carioca scene: DJ Cabide’s self-produced “national” and “international” DVDs (which were both great & grainy), and the highly anticipated Favela on Blast (produced by Leandro HBL and, of course, Wesley Pentz, aka Diplo, who — it should be noted — does not appear in the film).
I went into our likkle local screening with much of the excitement, as well as many of the same reservations, I bring to “global ghettotech” more generally. For as we all know, “baile funk” is the old kuduro, or the old neo-cumbia, or whateverrrr. As such — that is, as a “nu-world” genre (and arguably the first) that traveled through the strange filters of the musiconnoisseurosphere to arrive in metropolitan earbuds — the way the genre was framed, often in racy and sensationalist terms, seemed to set a template of sorts for how later forms of international (and usually non-English) dance music would be received and circulated among journalists, bloggers, DJs, and other enthusiasts.
Readers of this blog are no doubt familiar with the sort of thing I’m describing here. They need look no further than Gregzinho’s blog (or senior thesis) for a withering critique of the ways funk carioca — or “baile funk,” a misnomer that registers some of what gets lost in translation — has been represented by some of these cultural agents.
Having seen the film, I’m glad to say that most if not all of my reservations proved unfounded in this case, for the producers of FoB have done an excellent job of presenting the lively scene in all its glory without imposing much of a narrative frame on it at all, never mind one that might be critiqued as sensationalistic. Of course, the director has chosen what to include and what to leave out, what to emphasize, etc., and in that sense, there is undoubtedly a framework that we could discuss (and I need to praise Leandro’s editing as virtuosic and captivating). But I was struck by the lack of a voiceover or an obvious storyline, leaving the performers and dancers and favelistas plenty of room to tell their own stories in their own words. One sees and hears what one might expect: scenes of bailes in action, in particular, and of producers at work, as well as a textured sense of the social and cultural milieu of the favelas and funk’s presence there. Are there guns, drugs, and scantily clad girls in the film? Sure. They’d have to be. But they’re not the focus, or at least they didn’t seem that way to me.
What I found most striking about the film, rather, was its portrayal of funk as folk music. There were several scenes — none of which have (yet) made it to YouTube, I don’t think — in which funkeiros (funk artists, that is) joined people on the street — sometimes kids, most memorably an older man — for some sweet singalongs. In those scenes what was remarkable to me was not that kids or elders had committed funk rhymes to memory (or had invented some of their own), but how powerfully and naturally the beatbox / hand-clap accompaniment stood in for funk’s distinctively electronic rhythms. The performances were arresting; they sounded as full and present as the soundsystems do. Such scenes not only underscored the degree to which US electrofunk (/Miami bass) has been progressively localized, turned into the hand-drum sampling tamborzao and whatever they call the beatbox loop of recent years, they showed how something as electronically mediated as funk carioca exists simultaneously in oral/aural culture, on the street, no electricity necessary.
Now, I’m not trying to resuscitate some romantic notion of the “folk.” I’ve read enoughresearch debunking the term as signifying the preindustrial, the rural, or some other kind of Otherness. That’s not my aim here. Indeed, it is a kind of post-industrial folkness — and importantly, a sort of (global) sameness — that I’m interested in, an approach to recorded media as living, embodied practice that bears witness yet again to how modern commercial music culture is always about far more than passive consumption.
Let me try to give a different viewpoint in this very insightful discussion.
Iâm musician/producer/songwriter from Rio de Janeiro. IÂŽve been following what you call âbailefunkâ since itâs very beginning I was in âbailesâ in the early eighties when all they played was american funk, I was around the studio when Cidinho, Marlboro and Ademir, recorded their first album (Funk Brasil 1) , that was a huge hit and sparked the movement of creating original eletronic music for the bailes ,sung in portuguese.
From this vantage point, I feel that a fundamental piece is missing in this puzzle. What all this genres weÂŽre talking about have in common , more than the fact that they were originated in third-world slums, is the fact that theiy are living breathing forms of folk music.
Folk music is more than a genre , it is a process of music-making, one where originality is not the goal. The objective of folk music is to produce the soundtrack for a certain social scene.
Thatâs why folk music moves slowly. ThatÂŽs why also folk genres seldom create big artists.
In the case of bailefunk , that I have followed every step of the way , I see that every couple of years, someone comes up with something new, followed immediately by a avalanche of imitatorsâŠ âtamborzĂŁo âwas just the latest fad (one that is already being discarded in most of the bailes down here) , it will surely be followed in a couple of years by another breaktrough, but while this does not happen, what we have is a enormous production of music with very little real originality,,,
I guess reggae is a good example of this as well. When during the seventies it produced a number of real artists like The Wailers, Toots & The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff etcâŠ , it transcended momentarily the folk music approach, but as soon as reggae , was substituted on the jamaican social scene by dancehall , the folk method came back, and originality became far and apart.
It is very hard to keep the public interested in a musical genre that develop so slowly
But don’t take my word for it — or Beni’s even. Go see the film for yourself. It’s currently touring the festival circuit, and hopefully it’ll be coming to a theater or DVD player (or bittorrent?) near you.
However, since it’s become a customary way of evaluating movies, I’ll end this “review” by closing with a thumby gesture. Not quite two thumbs up, let’s call it a Cabide thumb-to-the-side + a Gregzinho thumb-at-an-upward-angle–
ps — props to Pace for hosting! we’ve got a reggae film night planned for the end of the month, before Gregzinho’s departs once again; be in touch if you’d like to attend.
I promised to post about “raveyton” a long time ago, and twice. A recent ghettobassquake post serves as a fine reminder. Noting that reggaeton synths have been “sliding into more Trancedelic wave forms,” SĂ±r Vamanos acknowledges that “[d]ramatic synths have been there for a while.”
Allow me to offer an excerpt from my chapter in the forthcoming reggaeton book (pre-orders available!) which describes the turn toward synths — even if often samples of synths — among late 90s underground/dembow/reggae/ton producers:
Around the same time the genre was becoming known by a new name, the music had begun to accrue several of the stylistic features that propel todayâs radio-friendly, club-ready confections. The advent of new music production technologies, in particular synthesizer and sequencer software, has a great deal to do with this shift in sound. Programs such as Fruity Loops, with telltale âpre-setâ sounds and effects, served to expand and change the sonic palettes of reggaeton producers. In part because such programs were often initially developed as tools for techno producers, the genre started to move away from reggae and hip-hop samples and toward futuristic synths, cinematic strings, bombastic effects, and (especially just before a âbigâ downbeat) crescendoing kick drums, snare rolls, and cymbal splashes. The latter formal devices sound more derived from trance-style techno anthems than anything else, if also, notably, sometimes syncopated in a manner more reminiscent of breaks in salsa or merengue. Established producers such as DJ Playero, DJ Nelson, and DJ Joe, as well as relative newcomers such as DJ Blass, helped move the genreâs primary sound sources from samples to synthesizers, introducing the use of heavier kick drums, ravey synth âstabs,â and trancey arpeggios as well as cartoonish digital sound effects (wind blowing, explosions). Their productions were not uniform or mutually indistinguishable, however, and each offers an interesting look at the development of the genre during a crucial transition.
Productions by The Noise and DJ Joe during this period demonstrate similar trends. On The Noise 9 (2000), for instance, one hears the telltale sounds of Fruity Loops pre-sets and effects alongside other synthesized sounds, especially the pounding bass drums for which techno is known. One also hears, however, the same big bass synths, chopped-and-stabbed hip-hop references (e.g., squealing Cypress Hill samples), repeatedly triggered vocal lines, allusions to dancehall melodies (Ruben San crams several into a single song), and Dem Bow samples (especially the snares, but also the riddimâs resonant bass drum) for which melaza had been known. The Bam Bam, Fever Pitch, and Poco Man Jam riddims also rear their heads in the mix. Although the pistas still shift in shape and feel at regular intervals, sometimes fairly radically, the music is less pastiche-like than on earlier recordings, however, and the song forms more closely resemble standard pop fare. DJ Joeâs millennial mixtapes also seem to confirm these directions. Whereas the producerâs late 90s mixes retain a great deal of melaza style, shortly after 2000 the influence of Fruity Loops and nods to techno become far more pronounced. With the exception of Dem Bow drum samples, by the release of Fatal Fantassy 1 (2001), big, cheesy club synths, digital explosions, and melodramatic percussion crescendos dominate the tracksâ textures, overshadowing any sample-based connections to earlier styles. Vocalists still employ dancehall related melodies as well as various pop allusions (including the 50s hit âMr. Sandmanâ), though one also hears a refinement of such a melodic approach: a distinctively Puerto Rican approach to melodic contour and vocal timbreâoften evoking the nasal singing styles of many sonerosâseems to emerge after a decade of recycling a handful of tunes. A connection between the sounds of techno and the sexual already appears rather reified by this point, underscored in DJ Joeâs case by the suggestively (mis)spelled reference to a popular video game (Final Fantasy) on his Fatal Fantassy series.
Despite these parallel movements across the reggaeton scene, during the first few years of the new millennium DJ Blass might rightly be credited as most audibly promoting the tecno sound, conflating it with sexual license, and ushering in a good number of the elements which remain staples of the genre today and mark most of its mainstream hits. Blassâs Reggaeton Sex series employs the futuristic, tactile synths and bombast of rave-era techno and contemporary trance to great effect, creating physically and psychologically compelling music over which (male) vocalists and (female) âphone-sexâ samples repeatedly invoke the body and the bawdy. Over saw-tooth synths and ping-pong arpeggios, crescendoing kicks and snares and cymbal crashes, vocalists exhort (and/or order) women to âmove it,â perreo, and do a fair number of other, more explicitly sexual acts. Rather than the pliant, reggae-derived basslines of the mid-90s, synthesized bass tones serve instead to accentuate the kick drums on each beat, often with a I-V (âoompahâ-style) movement and sometimes tracing out simple chord progressionsâa rudimentary rhythmic and harmonic role for the bass which has remained a feature in a great many commercial reggaeton productions. Against these steady bass tones and heavy kicks on each beat, the snaresâsampled from Dem Bow, Bam Bam, and other favorite reggae riddimsâfrequently come to the fore, pulling against the foursquare feel with their 3+3+2 accents and making quite prominent what is, at times, the only audible, timbral connection to the genreâs underground roots. Gesturing to the regularly shifting forms of the mid-90s, Blass often switches between different snare samples at 4, 8, or 16 measure intervals, creating a subtle sense of form against the otherwise somewhat static synth vamps.
That Daddy Yankee track described above, “Todas las Yales,” has to be heard to be believed. You’re very welcome —
Funny story — I sent that track to techno sage Philip Sherburne (almost three years ago!) and he responded, somewhat stunned:
… those vaguely detuned chords are a pretty standard trance trope – a popular present on synths like the access virus, which are highly valued in trance circles.
thanks for sharing, i had no idea that reggaeton was going in this direction. is this an anomaly?
to which i replied:
i think reggaeton already went in this direction, actually, with producers preferring techno-y synths (often b/c of the adoption of digital sequencers, e.g., FL — pace your lil jon observations) to hip-hop and dancehall samples since the late 90s, if not a little before. i’m still trying to get a date on this track, but i think it’s from around ’98, which is almost ten years ago! pretty wild. …
if indeed this is from ’98, does that change your reading?
in turn, sez phil —
this is eight fucking years old? whoa. it doesn’t change my reading, necessarily, but it blows my friggin mind….
in that case, it does make me feel like reggaeton’s regressing (unless there is similarly bananas shit out there, but i haven’t heard it, not in 2006 anyway).
I couldn’t resist pointing out to Philip, neologist extraordinaire, that there was an artist on a DJ Joe album named “Microhouse.” (Good luck hunting that one down!)
Speaking of neologists, Simon Reynolds, to whom I also sent the track, said something pretty Simon-esque in reply —
all those riffs sound like anagrams of each other!
Speaking of anagrams — or perhaps analogs — it’s worth noting that reggaeton is not a lone vanguard in this regard. So let me to make another promise and offer, at some (not so?) future date, a similar look at funk carioca’s own millennial flirtation with ravey synthstabs & techno kicks, experiments which well predate the pĂłs-baile-funk efforts of guys like DJ Sany Pitbull.
i <3 SFJ for sentences like this — "The song is rooted in the jiggling rhythms of James Brown, the motherlode for sampling producers from the eighties, and now entirely irrelevant to any rap being made in New York, Atlanta, Rio, or Miami." — point taken, but isn't contemporary crunk pretty much based on kraftwerk's automatonization of JB's funk? if so, "entirely irrelevant" perhaps overstates things, tho i appreciate another fine sentence/assertion which follows — "This song must sound like jazz to Soulja Boy Tellem."
an excellent, engrossing, flashy site about brazilian soul, aka the roots of baile funk, back when the sounds of james brown (& philly, motown, and memphis) were moving the masses, prior to the kraftwerk/miami-bass invasion of the 1980s
"HIGH TECH SOUL is the first documentary to tackle the deep roots of techno music alongside the cultural history of Detroit, its birthplace. From the race riots of 1967 to the underground party scene of the late 1980s, Detroit's economic downturn didn't stop the invention of a new kind of music that brought international attention to its producers and their hometown."
"We are taking this cyberground railroad to new celebrity, much like our cousins worldwide. Youtube has become a place to 'get a rep,' for some to use as a stepping-stone to other things. But for some, and maybe most of us, it is a place to be who we are, in our own skin." — Vetalle Fusilier :: "we kiss the ass of youtube." — fatman scoop