which cannot be posted with out this kneejerk embed-again also:
which cannot be posted with out this kneejerk embed-again also:
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.
Chude-Sokei, Louis. âPost-Nationalist Geographies: Rasta, Ragga, and Reinventing Africa.â African Arts, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Autumn 1994): 80-84, 96.
Patterson, Orlando. âEcumenical America: Global Culture and the American Cosmos.â World Policy Journal Vol. 11, No. 2 (1994): 103-17.
Watch: excerpts from Roots, Rock, Reggae, Harder They Come, Dancehall Queen, Third World Cop, Shottas
Bennett, Louise. “Colonization in Reverse.” (1966)
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.
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.
Marshall, Wayne. “Follow Me Now: The Zigzagging Zunguzung Meme”
Marshall, Wayne. “Hearing Hip-hop’s Jamaican Accent.” Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter 34, no. 2 (2005): 8-9, 14-15.
Koppel, Niko. âNew Roots in the Bronx for a Lion of Reggae.â New York Times, April 12, 2009.
Faraone, Chris. âReggae Revival.â [on reggae in Boston] Boston Phoenix, May 21, 2009.
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.
Bishop, Marlon. âSpanish Oil.â Wax Poetics 43 (September 2010).
Worfalk, Clayton. The Roots. Big Up Magazine, 2008.
Twickel, Christoph. âReggae in Panama: Bien Tough.â & âMuĂ©velo (Move It!): From Panama to New York and Back Again, the Story of El General.â In Reggaeton, ed. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 81-88 & 99-108. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Nwankwo, Ifeoma C. K. âThe Panamanian Origins of Reggae en EspaĂ±ol: Seeing History through âLos Ojos CafĂ©â of Renato.â In Reggaeton, ed. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 89-98. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
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.
Flores, Juan. 2004. “CreolitĂ© in the ‘Hood: Diaspora as Source and Challenge.” Centro 16, no. 2 (Fall): 283-289.
Marshall, Wayne. âFrom MĂșsica Negra to Reggaeton Latino.â In Reggaeton, ed. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 19-76. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Davis, Samuel FurĂ©. âReggae in Cuba and the Hispanic Caribbean: fluctuations and representations of identities.â Black Music Research Journal Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring 2009): 25-50.
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.
Watch: excerpts from Living the Hiplife, Buchaman
Sterling, Marvin D. Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae and Rastafari in Japan. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010. [Intro, ch. 1, 3, 5, 6]
Dresinger, Baz. âTokyo After Dark.â Vibe, 2002.
Wood, Joe. âThe Yellow Negro.â Transition 73 (1997): 40-67.
AUSTRALIA & BALI
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!
a moomba, apparently — no relation to afrojack, i don’t think
Reggaeton doesn’t die, it just continues to fragment and reconstitute in a thousand different ways. (Sorry about the passive language there — I don’t think reggaeton has viral/memetic agency, but I still find myself using that sort of shorthand/emphasis even when what I want to think about primarily is how particular people in particular places× do something with the “genre”.) In this case, I’m not just talking about Dominican dembow or jerkbow, but other, equally odd revivalist fusions. I mean, it’s practically a personalized genre at this point!
First case in point: a couple weeks ago I got an email from a guy named Munchi, connecting dots and introducing prototypes —
There is this new thing going on that just has started but has huge potential. You see, I love Reggeton. But the things that came out these years (Regge-Pop) weren’t even Reggeton. I still have those great tracks on my mp3 in the time when Reggeton still was Reggeton. Althought there is a movement going on in my home country (Dominican Republic) where they use the Dembow with chopped up vocals or just make a party track, but that itself seems to be destroying the Dominican Hiphop market. Since everyone sees that the money is in the Dembow party tracks. But that is a whole other story. This type of Reggeton is just like those oldskool Playero songs.
This is a good thing but i dont see Reggeton getting out of the hole it is right now with this movement.
However, like i said there is a new thing.
You see i live in Holland and here we have Bubbling.
Holland always had its own thing i guess and with the Dutch House going strong at the moment, you certainly cant miss the Bubbling influence in it. Then of course when a couple of years ago Baltimore Club came out of nothing destroying every club in Holland ”Samir’s Theme” that influence got in it also. It evolved, just like the raggamuffin to bubbling and then dutch house (with the other genres of course). Puerto Rico and Panama had their own evolved version with Reggeton.
Now we come to the States, where the Dutch House thing is pretty big right now. Like the rest of the world. I don’t know about Reggeton but I guess it still gets played over there.
Those 2 genres met eachother there.
Dave Nada played Afrojack’s ”Moombah” (Huge Dutch House Track) & Sidney Samson’s ”Riverside” at 108 BPM. Almost Reggeton speed (96 BPM). He saw that the crowd loved it and he made the Moombahton EP.
This was just a month ago.
And I came across it and when I heard it, I couldn’t believe what i was hearing. The idea was so simple, yet THE chance for Reggeton to get out of its hole.
Eventhough that i love Reggeton, there are so many genres that are new and interesting to me. It’s all so inspiring and i want to make them all. So i haven’t been making Reggeton besides Dembow.
Yet when i heard this I immediatly made a Promo CD.
I worked the whole night and got 5 tracks.
You see Dave Nada had this fantastic idea, and with the Dutch House hype there is at the moment, its perfect. The genre is in its beginning, i dont know which way taht its going to go. I hear the Uncle Jesse rmx of whatyoudoin and i hear alot of percussion work. I hear people making the same as the original Dave Nada idea with just editing and slowing down dutch house. I also heard a juke moombahton rmx of Moombah which was fantastic. And what i did was make a house at a 108 speed with Reggeton samples. Also mixing it with cumbia/baltimore club/baile funk/merengue/miami bass/dominican dembow.
It felt so good that i could make ”Reggeton” again, with the inspiration i used to have while making it. I can see this becoming big. It has alot of odds for it, but im not even talking about that.
You see, like i mentioned before it all started with Raggamuffin. 2 different genres that evolved out of that in two different worlds are meeting eachother again after a long journey. And i think they will be stronger than ever.
Here are some links for you to check out:
This all happened today/yesterday, and im stoked.
I can’t wait to see this evolve and grow to something.
Let me know what you think and I hope to hear from you.
He included the five song EP, and I’ve been bumping it. (He also followed up with a buttload of bubbling videos, which I’ve not yet had the time to peruse. But, as Dave & I get grindin on that dreampipe of a book, I’ll be digging in.)
Up where they are, tempo-wise, Munchi’s tracks work well alongside Dave Nada’s bangers and Chief Boima’s techno rumbas, and they flow well from slightly slower dancehall and reggaeton tracks. Like dembow or bubbling at their core, we hear a mix of styles indexed and flexed, suffused with some of the most cherished sounds and patterns casting about. And yet, for all their nods to the back and the side, they sound as here and now as anything. Which is to say, they sound inspired –
I also kinda love that someone can be sent on a beatmaking binge like this. I suppose the same thing that Dave Nada put his finger on when he slowed down some Dutch house and sent a bunch of Latino highschoolers into frenzy is also vibrating over in the Netherlands (for Dominican kids especially?).
Or in California for college-going Colombian kids who grew up in Chelsea, Mass?
That’s what I have to surmise, reminded of some related sounds this past week when two Twitter frens tweeked out over the “Candy Flip Riddim”. The maker of that track, a guy named Johnny, first came to my attn last October via email from the moderator of dancehall.mobi, who pointed me to another track of his on YouTube, “Dembow Dynamics,” knowing that I’m a big fan of all things dembow. The email simply read:
I’m not sure if you guys do promo stuff but let me know if you like the sound. DIGITAL REGGAE for the world!
When I wrote to Johnny to ask about the track, he mentioned that a friend had played the track at a couple parties in Lawrence, MA, and “people were seriously diggin it.” Having done some beatmaking workshops up in Lawrence and neighboring Lowell, where I think I learned more about reggaeton than the kids learned about anything from me, I was intrigued to hear more about reggae/ton parties in Lawrence. Per Johnny:
Lawrence is the dancehall capital!!! (Strangely, I noticed that in Boston, reggaeton was bigger at spanish parties, yet in Lowell/Lawrence it was dancehall). I’m sure you probably heard of him, but if you haven’t, definitely check out Dj Styles on myspace. I remember in high school people would literally play the music straight from his page at parties, it was like the radio for Spanish people around Boston haha.
Although Johnny’s tracks could use a little help in the mastering realm (which I learned pretty quickly when trying to play them in a club setting — and which, yeah, kinda goes without saying in this brave new world of DIY/p2p music industry), I dig the mix of references in them and the way he mines the reggaeton oeuvre in the same way that reggaeton mines dancehall and hip-hop (and trancey techno too) for its own suggestive palette. Like Munchi’s experiments, Johnny’s music seems to express a return to roots (of a sort — DJ Blass is a root, right? rhizomatically speaking?) while offering an audible sense of reinvention.
I also found his description for “Dembow Dynamics” pretty interesting/provocative, especially the level of disclosure:
I want to sex dembow. This song is my representation of the night when dembow becomes a living female. My second credible riddim.
It’s funny how people say reggaeton is “dead” when in fact its creativity that’s dieing. Dembow is in my fucking SOULLLLLLLL!!!@!@!!!@!!!
I got shit from 7 different tracks:
Notch – Hay Que Bueno
Ranking Stone – Quiero Hacertelo
Don Chezina – Tra
Yaviah – Wiki Wiki
Unda Wata Riddim
Wisin & Yandel – Por Mi Reggae Muero
Those are directly in the track. other influences would include:
Dancehall, Diplo of course, Dj Blass, Electronica, SALSAAAAAAA, and whatever else I forgot.
Taking all these together, it’s striking how this sort of sound, shared among a few producers, can seem to voice a zeitgeist, to stand in for a multitude, when the evidence is emanating from 2-3 “bedrooms.” Funny how we can imagine a wider community of practice abstracted from but a few examples. (Or is that my tendency alone?) It makes me wonder how limited one’s claims about the meaning of this sort of “phenomenon” must be. But the fact alone of resonance — of, say, Moomahton especially, based on the rapid bloggy uptake and effusive, inspired acts like Munchi’s — seems to speak volumes about a broader (dare I say?) structure of feelings modulating with the music.
I hesitate to subsume this under the banner of global ghettotech or, as seen this week, “global ghetto house.” While there are global-ghettoey cross-currents here, as borne witness by Munchi’s and Johnny’s references to Bmore and Diplo, we might better attend to the far more specific genealogies that Munchi and Johnny draw, not to mention awesome myths of origins like Dave Nada’s. That the palette of what we’re calling here reggaeton (sometimes anachronistically) can go from largely based on hip-hop and dancehall to including a panoply of styles not limited to techno, (Dutch) house, electro, bachata, cumbia, and funk carioca, does seem to suggest that the old signposts have shifted.
The goalposts too?
[Update: Toy Selecta rightfully objects to me leaving raverton out of the constellation. He's been mining the same turf for two years now, and raverton certainly fits into the picture here. Beyond simply rounding out the picture, Toy's toying with reggaeton arguably made space for the likes of moombahton, finding favor at the Fader long ago. As it happens, just this week Toy unleashed his latest raverton opus, which I highly recommend.]
[Update II: Talk about timing, I see via Catchdubs that Munchi has posted a whole heap of other productions in this vein to his SoundCloud page. The Flashing Lights blog also includes a bunch of descriptions of several tracks, which go further into the sources & influences in the mix.]
[Ok, here's another oldie-but-goodie from the Riddim Meth0d vaults. Plenty of readers are no doubt familiar with this post/mashup, especially since I've revisited the issue. In the time since I wrote it (almost 5 years ago!), I've also had the strange fortune of submitting a brief report -- about the significance of "Big Pimpin" to Jay's and Timbo's respective oeuvres -- to the lawyers working for the heirs to Baligh Hamdi's copyrights. (For the record, while I don't want to contribute to bad legal precedent, I'm generally ok with taking some of the money that explodes outward as rich people sue rich people, as long as I get to tell the truth as I see/hear it. Also, this likely won't go to trial.) This example also finds its way into a chapter I'm contributing to a forthcoming book on Pop-Culture Tools for the Music Classroom. Finally, I want to thank the lovely humanitarians at archive.org for preserving the post and -- more importantly -- the comments on it. I'm happy & relieved to recover the comment thread from the initial RM post, which I will paste in at the bottom of this re-post. It's hard to lose conversations to the e-ther, even little ones. For the record, this was initially published on 19 September 2005.]
riffing off pace’s east-meets-west blend and continuing my experiments with mashes of musically-related songs, i offer up an orientalist oddity: jay z’s “big pimpin’,” as produced by timbaland, mixed with abdel-halim hafez’s “khosara,” the song that provided timbo with the inspiration for the slinky, flute-propelled loop that undergirds j-hova’s jam.
although there was some controversy about the similarity between “pimpin’” and “khosara” (including talk of a lawsuit), timbaland apparently escaped penalty, at least at present, because in this case he replayed – i.e., re-recorded – the two-bar section (rather than digitally sampling it), and the sense appears to be that the underlying composition was not original and/or substantial enough to be infringed in this case. you will hear in the four-bars that begin my mashup that timbaland’s beat bears a very strong resemblance to the original. [note from 2010: i have since changed my opinion on the question of whether this features a sample or not, based on irrefutable evidence.]
this is not an unambiguous case. because the music in question is a short loop and it is re-recorded rather than sampled, it seems reasonable for timbo to get off the hook. of course, not only is the musical reference a clearly recognizable one, the two-bar phrase in question is an important part of the original, serving as an intro and as a recurring riff (notably, returning after the vocal section). at the same time, the fact that, according to this article, label owner magdi el-amroussi would have denied timbo the ability to use this fragment – “Because he’s changed the composition” – also seems to argue for timbaland’s right to do it. despite that timbo and jay used the flute loop to craft a somewhat crass (if catchy) song about pimpin’, the world would be worse off with such arbitrary, authoritarian restrictions on derivative works, whether the so-called owner of the copyright is disney or a seemingly stodgy label owner.
what i like about this mash, as with the “code of the beats” experiment, is that one gets to hear more of the original, which is great in its own right, and thus one understands the sonic inspiration at work here. at the same time, hearing the source alongside the “derivative” track offers new ways of hearing the originals. in this case, one gets to hear how timbo’s interpretation changes the original: rather than a recurring motif, the flute loop now undergirds the entire composition, moving its emphasis toward rhythmic repetition and bass frequencies. similarly, rather than supporting some southern-fried, slap-a-bitch rap, timbaland’s breezy beat, enhanced by additional winds and strings, instead accompanies the mournful, melismatic singing of abdel-halim hafez, the “king of arabic music.”
although timbo’s beat has always had me open, i gotta admit that jay’s lyrics (and those of his cohorts) tend to put me off. frankly, they make me cringe. as much as i can see the attraction of expanding the pimp-metaphor (as with the hustler, badman, etc.) and of playing the role – at bottom, it is a position of power, par excellence perhaps – i just can’t get with the misogyny when it comes down to it. similar to oliver, i have a hard time recuperating exploitation. so, rather than playing any of the verses, or even the chorus, what i have done here is to “dub in” a few of the phrases in jay’s verse that seemed more “positive” or at least could be interpreted that way. “love ‘em” (without the “leave ‘em”) seems about as good as it gets, though i found some others, too.
after putting the phrases together, i was struck that the line “take ‘em out the hood, keep ‘em lookin’ good” suggests quite another set of meanings when heard in the context of egyptian music: one can either hear jay-z critiquing conservative islam’s call for women to wear veils – recalling vybz kartel’s “you nuh haffi hide your face like bin laden gal” – or one can hear him assailing the american-style
torture interrogation techniques so symbolized by hooded abu ghraib prisoners.
and despite its appearance before 9/11, “big pimpin’” does tap into our historical moment nonetheless, sitting alongside a host of other orientalist beats in hip-hop, dancehall, and various electronic genres. the resonance of middle eastern music in the world’s (urban, popular) musics has been building for some time, reflecting centuries of history of interaction, not to mention a contemporary and increasingly visible and audible cultural presence in the US.
even so, representations of middle-easterners and islam in the US (and, say, UK) remain as stereotyped and distorted as the “eastern” musical figures in contemporary popular music. the article in al-ahram notes that the hip-hop press completely conflated various asian/orientalist signifiers when trying to describe the egyptian sound of “big pimpin’”:
The identity of the composer of the song, though, has been lost within the crazy machinations of the hip-hop world. A review of the song on MTV describes it as “Bollywood-wigged NOLA bounce stutter-stepping,” ignoring its Egyptian roots. Another review describes the beat as featuring “Z droppin big willie rhymes over a swaying, South-Seas flavoured groove that’s a happy musical marriage of Brooklyn and Bali.”
so it is also my hope that a mashup of this sort can serve to bring a little more awareness to the actual music whose ghosts and caricatures today haunt mainstream radio and the global underground alike. the hafez original could serve as a window into a wonderful world of truly amazing music, which, really, should only further justify the existence of timbaland’s homage. (let’s face it: they’re not exactly competing in the same market; one’s existence does not diminish the other – on the contrary, they enrich each other’s resonance.)
i recommend tracking down the original recording of “khosara” – never mind various live versions – and giving the song a listen. it certainly holds up on its own. (i’m sayin’, how do you think it came into timbaland’s hands?) in fact, given that the infringement suit seems like a non-issue, and considering that so many of us really dig the same sounds that inspired timbo and jay-z, it would be dandy if hafez found new listeners by virtue of timbo “putting him on.” you can find one version of “khosara” on CD here (and listen to a real-audio file of the whole thing), and you can hear much, much more from him here. enchanting stuff, no doubt. listen to this alongside some um kulthum, and you’ll get a good sense of mid-20th century egyptian popular music.
a word on technique: i have pitched the hafez recording up slightly in order to match the timbo version (since the latter had the more compelling, bumping center, which i would rather not distort). when the hafez makes harmonic changes, however, i shift the timbaland up in pitch to match it (which, yeah, sometimes sounds a little weird – but this is all kind of weird to begin with, no?). i have simply replayed the first vocal section of the hafez after the jay-z-quoting dubby section in order to give the track’s form a kind of roundness. because the hafez original is substantially longer than i imagine most people’s attention spans are, i decided to excise the rest of it. (when i tried out an earlier mix of these at a boston-based college-bar, it was clear that heads were not ready. it nearly caused a riot on dance floor, and not in a good way. but i insisted on making it through at least one round of hafez’s singing before bringing back the jay-z. the manager thought i had lost it. i quit that gig shortly thereafter. when i played the same sequence at beat research, where there also happened to be some egyptians in the house, people went bananas for it.)
one final note: i’ve added some additional, locally-inflected percussion here. having added this mash into my set at the boston bounce party a couple weeks ago, i already had the two tracks arranged with some bounce-y beats underneath (i.e., all the percussion that enters after the first eight bars). i decided to leave the beats in because they give the track some nice extra drive (if obscuring some of the halftime feel of the jay-z) and because i’ve been enjoying this odd beantown groove lately. “big pimpin’” and “khosara,” both with tempos in the mid-130s, were well suited to a boston bounce refix. it’s kind of a funny tempo, i think – unsettling with its constant question, “too fast or too slow?” – but between grime, garage, b-more, techno, soca, electro, and the occasional uptempo hip-hop or dancehall oddity, among others, beats in the 130-140 bpm range seem all the rage of late. at any rate, what’s another node in the network? shit’s messy enough to begin with. i think that’s why it sounds so good.
in case you missed it at the top:
wayne&wax, “big gyptian” (j-hova v. abdel-halim hafez)
Sometimes it really does feel like I’m in Oz, some Wizard behind a curtain producing lifelike YouTubes of my swirling musical obsessions — or like that cartoon kid Simon for whom the things he drew came true
Mil gracias a Marisol LeBron, who not only first brought to my attn the wonderful nueva-media phenom of “Watagatapitusberry,” but who has offered some interesting thoughts on its homosocial joi de vivre (check her initial round-up of home videos) and has kept up on the latest developments around the song. Most recently, the launch of a slick new video/remix featuring Pitbull and Lil Jon –
What i find most fascinating about the Watagatapitusberry phenomenon — though I still need to tease a lot of this out, and I wish YouTube would make it easier to do so — is that the most popular instantiation is neither the “original” video by Del Patio & Blackpoint (a static image w/ audio, uploaded in early summer 09 — plz correct me if I’m wrong), which has, nonetheless, had over 1M views, nor (at least not yet) the new remix w/ Pitbull & Lil Jon, but the loopy, casual, creative theatrics of a handful of young DominicanYorks which has racked up over 3.5M views since it was posted in early August. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out; get cultured–
I love that the dudes who made the video above had the cojones to label it the “Official Video.” It may as well be, for it has arguably done more to popularize the song — to make it what it is — than anything else.
I confess, though, that I have been able to glean relatively little about how all these productions are related. Does anyone know if there’s any (formal) connection between these Wash Heights kids and Sensato del Patio & Blackpoint? Whether or not, it sure offers a fine example of how legions of YouTubers can add value to something by making it their own.
Let’s hope that the new, Big Music-funded version doesn’t produce the kind of collateral damage on the YouTubosphere that, say, the signing of the New Boyz seemingly caused to many of the videos that helped make “You’re a Jerk” the career-breaking single that it became — the majority of which either suddenly disappeared once the song’s audio became Major Label property, became unfortunately muted, or even more oddly, took the option of “swapping” the song for something “legal.” Of the latter camp, this is my favorite, surreal example (click thru for some sad/hilarious comments about the “African” music now soundtracking the Action Figures’ moves):
Sounds more like Avatar than Africa to me, but whatevs…
The latest Woofah — a UK-based magazine covering the latest and greatest in bass culture — is finally out, and it’s a big, glossy whopper of an issue. What’s more, yours truly has a thinky-piece in it exploring the fraught relationship between Afrofuturist reggae musicians and the Rastas-in-Space projected by Hollywood films and sci-fi authors (big thanks to everyone who helped me catalog the myriad instances of this trope).
The article/magazine is not available digitally, just as good ol’ print-on-paper. And all the back issues of Woofah have sold out, so if you want to snatch up a copy head over to the Woofah site. Meantime, here’s a juicy quote to whet the appetite:
“It’s amazing how we never die.” â Sizzla
The impossible survivalism expressed in a line like Sizzlaâs refers of course to the contemporary, to the postmillennial perseverance of the perennially persecuted, a dubiously âchosenâ people. â4000 years,â he intones, âyet no one cares,â projecting a legacy of slavery well into the past by yoking the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the plight of the ancient Israelites.
But he could as easily be projecting into the future, joining a contrapuntal chorus of writers, producers, and artists who have imagined âtechgnosticâ Rastafarians in any number of possible futures and alternate universes. Reggae musicians and Rastafarians themselves have, of course, contributed the lionâs share of such visions, bending to their own earthy, deconstructionist purposes the devilish tricknologies they view with a healthy skepticism, turning recordings inside-out and Bibles âupside-down,â as British-Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall once put it. Putting on âiron shirtsâ to chase Satan from earth. Meeting Space Invaders on their own turf. Dubbing culture into a parallel universe.
Taking their cue from this prophetic-dystopic tradition, right around the time that reggae and Rastafari were colonizing metropolitan spaces and media (âin reverse,â as Miss Louise Bennett once put it), white cyberpunk authors such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling performed their own dubbing of possible worlds, bringing remarkably colorful and unkempt futures to life through the ironic shock of dreads at the controls. If we read them generously, we might hear how, by amplifying the additive rhythms of resilient Rasta technicians, these authors remixed sci-fiâs supposedly âracelessâ futures which, by default, nearly always looked white, clean, covered in chrome. In cyberpunkâs dread futures, rather, archipelagos of black self-sufficiency â colonies called Zion, islands in the net â take root on the margins of unevenly developed worlds. Todayâs planet of slums prefigure tomorrowâs improvised cybershantytowns. Rastafari stands alone.
Alien and alienated, these Rastas in space â as imagined both by reggae visionaries and sci-fi writers â appear as key avatars in what some have dubbed Afrofuturism, a field of cultural production inspired by Afrodiasporic musicians, writers of black (science) fiction, and cyberpunk authors, among others. On both sides of the Black Atlantic, cultural theorists such as Mark Dery and Kodwo Eshun have outlined and elaborated what sci-fi scholar Lisa Yaszek describes, in an essay on Ralph Ellison, as âan intellectual aesthetic movement concerned with the relations of science, technology, and race [which] appropriates the narrative techniques of science fiction to put a black face on the future. In doing so, it combats those whitewashed visions of tomorrow generated by a global âfutures industryâ that equates blackness with the failure of progress and technological catastrophe.â
And yet, the other side of the coin to this critical challenge offers a funhouse-mirror distortion of dread. Just as 1950s science fiction films gave us now quaint images of their own anxieties projected into future worlds and onto alien races, Hollywoodâs increasingly dreadlocked aliens of the last two decades, a timeline tracing seismic shifts in Caribbean-US demographics, gives us the postcolonial American version of sci-fiâs classically temporal/present vision of the future. Dreadful images, no doubt. But in a very different way than one finds in reggae or even cyberpunk (which nevertheless shares some strategies with Hollywood), filmic representations mobilize Rastafarian symbols â especially âlocks â primarily to conjure fear, danger, and militant difference.
This is a story, then, of an other-worldy Jamaican music industry exchanging images and ideas with Babylonian regimes of representation. Dealing with the devil. Trading in futures.
Pacey Foster has a great post over at his blog detailing a recent discovery of — and creative engagement with — a 1914 book published by Vernon and Irene Castle, perhaps the premiere dancing couple in the pre-jazz age and crucial players in the formation of the “society” dance scene in NYC during the 1910s.
Go read the whole thing and feast your eyes in particular on the animated gifs Pace has constructed from the book’s plates, e.g.
I also like how Pace uses this (re)discovery and (re)animation to reflect on contemporary conversations about global flows of music and dance and (our?) cosmopolitan attachments to them:
From the Cortez, to the beautiful Tango to the Brazilian Maxixe, the Castles certainly seemed hip to the latest global dance trends. They even provide some historical guideposts. âThe Tango is not, as commonly believed, of South American origin. It is an old gipsy dance which came to Argentina by way of Spain, where in all probability it became invested with certain features of the old Moorish dancesâ. Whatâs more, the first recording made by Europeâs Society Orchestra was the tune Maxixe (though itâs rarely included on Europe comps). I donât know the story behind the selection of this Brazilian themed tune for the first song recorded by an African American band on a major label, but Iâd love to hear it. In any event, with my pals tracking more recent/rapid diffusions of global dance/music trends, I love finding antique examples that seem so similar (if kind of slow mo) in their features.
Next Tuesday (Feb 2) will be the initial meeting of the first class I’m teaching at MIT. I’m excited about the course, a new one, which invites students to read along with me and collectively investigate what I’ve been calling music industry — that is, a broader understanding of musically-propelled cultural practice than something like “THE music industry,” with its focus on commerce, tends to demarcate — in particular as it relates to the more well-worn (if no less confusing) term, digital youth culture.
Wording aside, the subject matter should be familiar for readers of this blog. The discussions about music I try to host here are often, and perhaps also increasingly (see, all the youthful youtubery posted here in recent years), centered on the fraught and fertile intersections between musical/cultural practice, technological tools, industry and commerce, public debates, and the stories we tell about all these things.
If the subject matter is familiar to regular readers, I suspect some of the specific readings I’ve selected might be new to some — in part because some are fairly new. In sketching out the course’s — and my larger project’s — purview, I reach across various disciplinary literatures and genres (from the dry to the webby) to focus our foray on a few primary areas of inquiry: music/culture industry history; digital/media theory; and youth ethnography.
Finally — & this probably goes without saying — I welcome any comments, other suggested readings, etc. I will likely offer this course again in 2011 and intend to keep tweaking it. Plus, as already noted, this course emerges out of my current research project, and any help on that would be, as the digital youth used to put it, teh awesome.
21F.060 / 21M.539: Topics in Media and Cultural Studies
âMusic Industry and Digital Youth Cultureâ
Mellon Fellow in the Humanities
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Music and Theater Arts
Tuesday/Thursday 2:30-4:00 pm
Giving emphasis to the specific tools used to produce and disseminate media today, this course examines how digital technologies — especially peer-to-peer networks and so-called social media sites — are shaping and being shaped by the practices and values of the people using them. Taking into account a variety of forms and platforms, our study will focus on music as a crucial connective thread in contemporary media and culture.
The convergence of global pop, social networks, and international digital youth culture constitutes a profound shift in how we imagine and access the world around us, but one which has yet to undergo a sustained and appropriately interdisciplinary examination — in particular, an approach which attends to specific tools (e.g., YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, imeem, blogs, torrents, production software, etc.) while situating them in the broader contexts of media studies, social science approaches, and digital humanities. Reading across these perspectives, we will ask: What is music industry today? And what can it tell us about the possibilities and constraints of cultural production in our digital, increasingly networked, and perhaps âpost-scarcityâ age.
Class meetings will involve discussions of readings and various musical and video texts as well as regular demonstrations/investigations of particular technologies of production, circulation, and representation. Assignments will include documentation of collective and individual research topics, developing a hands-on familiarity with particular digital tools, conducting online ethnographic experiments, composing critical appraisals of readings and media texts, as well as a final research project which â in terms of topic, scope, and expression â will be primarily developed by individual students depending on their areas of interest.
Course Requirements and Grading Distribution:
Discussion, Attendance – 20 % – Throughout term
Response Papers / Wiki work – 30 % – Throughout term
Individual Presentations – 20 % – Week 14
Final Paper (8-10 pages) – 30 % – Due last day of class (5/13)
Part I: 20th Century Pop Culture and Music Industry 1.0
Week 1: Mass/Pop/Web Culture & Its Discontents
Middleton, Richard. 1990. ââRoll Over Beethovenâ: Sites and Soundings on the Music-Historical Mapâ (short excerpt: p. 13-16) and ââItâs All Over Nowâ: Popular Music and Mass Culture â Adornoâs Theoryâ (34-63). In Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Shirky, Clay. âThe Shock of Inclusion.â Edge: World Question Center. Jan 2010.
Keen, Andrew. 2006. âWeb 2.0: The second generation of the Internet has arrived. Itâs worse than you think.â The Weekly Standard (Feb 15).
Week 2: Music Industrialization, Commodification, & Consolidation
Suisman, David. 2009. Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (prologue, ch. 1, 8)
Taylor, Timothy D. 2007. âThe Commodification of Music at the Dawn of the Era of âMechanical Music.ââ Ethnomusicology 51(2): 281-305.
Kot, Greg. 2009. Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. New York: Scribner. (ch. 1, 2)
Week 3: Enclosure and Read-Only Culture
Boyle, James. 2008. The Public Doman: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press. (ch. 3, 4, 6)
Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press. (ch. 1, 3)
Part II: Digital Turns in Music, Culture & Society
Week 4: The Politics of Digitization (Napster, Mashups, & Hip-hop)
Abelson, Hal, Ken Ledeen & Harry Lewis. 2008. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion. New York: Addison-Wesley. (ch. 1, 6)
Gillespie, Tarleton. âThe Politics of âPlatforms.ââ New Media & Society, 2010.
Katz, Mark. 2004. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Berkeley: University of California Press. (ch. 7)
Week 5: The MP3 Era
Sterne, Jonathan. 2006. âThe MP3 as Cultural Artifact.â New Media & Society 8(5): 825â842.
Katz, Mark. 2004. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Berkeley: University of California Press. (ch. 8)
Rodman, Gilbert and Cheyanne Vanderdockt. 2006. âMusic for Nothing or, I want my MP3.â Cultural Studies 20(2): 245-261.
Kot, Greg. 2009. Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. New York: Scribner. (ch. 3, 20)
Week 6: Peer Production
Benkler, Yochai. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press. http://www.congo-education.net/wealth-of-networks/ (ch. 1, 3, 8)
Week 7: Dot Organizing
Shirky, Clay. 2009. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin. (ch. 2, 3)
Weinberger, David. 2008. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Holt. (ch. 1, 7)
Week 8: Spreadability, Virality, and Value
Jenkins, Henry. 2009. âIf It Doesnât Spread, Itâs Dead (parts 1-8).â
Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press. (ch. 5, 6)
Part III: Digital Youth Culture and Music Industry 2.0
Week 9: Digital Youth Practices & Problems
Palfrey. John and Urs Gasser. 2008. Born Digital. New York: Basic Books. (Introduction, ch. 5, 6)
Watkins, Craig. 2009. The Young and the Digital. Boston: Beacon Press. (ch. 1, 4)
Week 10: New Media Literacies & Cultural Production
Lange, Patricia G. and Mizuko Ito. âFinal Report: Creative Production.â In Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.
Horst, Heather A., Becky Herr-Stephenson, and Laura Robinson. âFinal Report: Media Ecologies.â In Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.
Week 11: YouTube & Participatory Culture
Burgess, Jean and Joshua Green. 2009. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Week 12: Blogs & âNuâ World Music
Zuckerman, Ethan. 2009. âFrom protest to collaboration: Paul Simonâs âGracelandâ and lessons for xenophiles.â http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2009/04/02/from-protest-to-collaboration-paul-simons-graceland-and-lessons-for-xenophiles/
Marshall, Wayne. 2007. âNu Whirl Music, Blogged in Translation?â
Dacks, David. 2009. âState of the World: How Globalistas Are Tearing Down Cultural Barriers.â
Clayton, Jace. âWorld Music 2.0.â The National, 31 December 2009.
Week 13: Social Networks, Network Culture, and 21st Century Music Industry
boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. 2007. âSocial network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13(1): article 11.
Andrejevic, Mark. âExploiting YouTube: Contradictions of User-Generated Labor.â In The YouTube Reader, eds. Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, 406-23. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009.
Varnelis, Kazys. âThe meaning of network culture.â Eurozine, 14 January 2010.
Williamson, John and Martin Cloonan. 2007. âRethinking the Music Industry.â Popular Music 26(2): 305-322.
Week 14: Project/paper Presentations
Ok, back to reggaeton. So, once again, back to questions of vitality and vocality. Or, how it’s doing and for whom & from whence it speaks.
I was tickled to see Birdseed name reggaeton genre of the year for 2009, fully contra Gavin’s provocative post about the genre’s crash. If one is not persuaded by Birdseed’s praise of reggaeton’s post-dembow turn to synthy club beats (right alongside, let’s note, its longtime main sources: hip-hop and dancehall), the real proof in the pudding is Dominican dembow, but more on that below…
First, a couple other items relating to reggaeton’s urbanity, if you will. This is gonna get a little meta, but my post about Gavin’s post resulted in a post by Marisol which got cross-posted to Racialicious, where it generated an intense and interesting conversation about Calle 13, reggaeton, and transnational racial politics, among other things. Marisol’s central argument riffs off something I wrote in my response to Gavin:
Wayne makes a good point that âmĂșsica urbanaâ basically functions as a (seemingly sexier and less scary euphemism) for reggaetonâs old moniker of âmĂșsica negra.â So itâs interesting to me that reggaetonâs resident blanquito has appointed himself the gatekeeper of said race music. … Iâm curious about the work that placing a blanquito at the center of âmĂșsica urbanaâ does. For sure it makes the music palatable to the a wider audience, as so many blanquitos have crossed-over ârace musicsâ in the past. But I think the work that Calle 13 very clearly does is âfuel fantasies about reggaetons inherent latinidad,â as Wayne points out in his chapter âFrom MĂșsica Negra to Reggaeton Latinoâ in Reggaeton (Duke UP). There is something appealing to the many music critics who have profiled the group in their brand of Latin World music, something in stark contrast with the repetitive samples and versioning of Black music that is central to many other reggaeton acts.
I recommend that anyone interested in reggaeton and race read the entire exchange.
As it happens, I was asked recently to write another dictionary blurb, an entry for Calle 13. Trying to sum up an act like Calle 13 is difficult even with the 9000 or so words tossed around on that Racialicious post, but I only had 200. In light of the conversation at Racialicious, I found Calle 13’s polarization of the reggaeton audience (never mind of their peers in so-called mĂșsica urbana) difficult to leave out. Here’s what I came up with (exceeding word limit a little) –
Calle 13 is a Puerto Rican hip-hop group comprising two step-brothers, RenĂ© PĂ©rez Joglar (b. 23 February 1978), better known as Residente, the groupâs acid tongued vocalist, and Eduardo JosĂ© Cabra MartĂnez (b. 10 September 1978), aka Visitante, a producer who brings together a diverse sonic palette using synthesizers, samples, and live instrumentation while drawing from reggaeton, cumbia, electro and a variety of other genres. The group hails from San Juan, named after street on which Residente grew up. Prior to their debut album, they garnered attention with âQuerido F.B.I.,â a blistering critique of the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda RĂos, longtime leader of the pro-independence movement. Distributed freely over the Internet, the song made Calle 13 a household name in Puerto Rico. Brimming with sarcasm and satire, Calle 13 initially posed as an alternative reggaeton group working within as they subverted the genreâs conventions; in recent years they have distanced themselves from reggaeton, preferring the broader label, mĂșsica urbana. Thanks especially to Residenteâs irreverent, sexually explicit and âvulgarâ lyrics and pointed political statements, Calle 13 courts controversy, especially among Puerto Rican elites, as they enjoy a remarkable degree of commercial and critical success, including almost a dozen Latin Grammys. Their popularity notwithstanding, Calle 13âs reception as the poster boys of mĂșsica urbana has been colored by resentment over their whiteness, class privilege, and disproportionate acclaim.
I still have time to edit this, incidentally, so if you feel strongly about the word choice or what gets put in vs. left out, I’m all ears.
Curiously, a few years before “mĂșsica urbana” became the new industry term, the media had already announced the dawn and dusk of the “hurban” era — a term given to the new formats adopted (and, before too long, dropped) by such radio franchises as La Kalle, centered on reggaeton but also including Spanish-language rap, r&b, NYC-based bachata and other styles that could be confidently classed as hispanic-urban. I corresponded recently with a student working on a paper about the rise and fall of “hurban,” or as they described the project:
I am currently interested in the mass proliferation of “hurban” media outlets during 2004-2006, and their eventual demise from mainstream radio. Basically, I hope to analysis why “mainstream” Reggaeton, a la N.O.R.E.’s Oye Mi Canto and Daddy yankee’s Gasolina, has “fallen off,” so to speak, of the mainstream U.S. media circuit.
So if you can answer some of these questions, that would be so helpful:
Why do you think Reggaeton and the “hurban” radio station phenomena failed to hold a spot in the mainstream media? Was it a backlash from Anglo-audiences, who were quick to jump on the catchy Reggaeton bandwagon but soon decided they did not really understand the music? Or was it a feeling from the young Latino demographic that the music “sold out” to corporate interests?
Or, was it simply the repetitive nature of the music (use of dem-bow, “copycat” artists, similar lyrics) no longer attracted the same attention?
Do you think there will be a resurgence of Reggaeton in the mainstream pop music circuit?
These are interesting questions, if familiar. I was happy to hazard some answers, though once again, I’d be eager to hear from people who have other evidence or narratives to offer. Here’s what I replied:
I think one thing that needs to be put into context is how much the “hurban” marketing angle was a relatively contained (if well hyped) experiment on the part of major media conglomerates like Clear Channel and Univision. If we understand it as an exercise in top-down, corporate branding — as opposed to grassroots demand, regardless of the extent to which it sought to tap into that — then it becomes easier to explain the sudden abandonment of the format when it failed to meet high expectations.
Another thing to note is that the question of the rise and fall of “hurban” is separate from the question of reggaeton’s fleeting heyday in the Anglo mainstream; hurban format stations were not pitched at Anglo listeners. On the other hand, reggaeton’s receding from mainstream urban radio and MTV (where it maintains a marginal presence, but a presence all the same) and the failure of the “hurban” format might have the same root cause(s), as you imply. My sense is that a certain lack of interest in reggaeton/hurban was less about an Anglo lack of comprehension or a Latino disenchantment with the corporatization of the genre, and more with a sense of saturation and sameness: at the height of reggaeton’s (mainstream/media) popularity, radio DJs and major record labels were pulling from a relatively small pool of hits and artists, and the Luny Tunes sound was so dominant — and momentarily successful — that it crowded out other approaches. I think a lot of people just got bored.
That said, it’s worth noting that reggaeton — or whatever one wants to call it (and it’s telling that “mĂșsica urbana,” not so different from “hurban” as labels go, has become the latest umbrella term for the music) — continues to offer a fair amount of variety to listeners willing to seek it out. I’m not sure what it will be called the next time there is a resurgence of Spanish-language dance-pop in the mainstream pop circuit, but I’m quite confident that we’ll hear that sort of thing again. The underlying reasons for reggaeton’s mid-decade explosion — burgeoning Latino demographics in the US, savvy music entrepreneurs, a timely stylistic overlap with contemporary club music — are factors that remain very much in play.
In the other corner of reggaeton’s big tent, across from the slick commercial stuff that fills-out Birdseed’s YouTube queue and aspires to radio spins and TV airings (and, yes, YouTube views) — the stuff that Jace more or less dubs music for airports — is Dominican dembow, an exceedingly local (if also diasporic / virtual) reanimation of reggaeton’s former (and formative) sound. In a somewhat surprising and awesome move, the DR’s hip-hop scene has embraced PR’s mid-90s underground aesthetic — the stuff of Playero and The Noise mixtapes — fullup of samples from classic (that is, early-mid 90s) dancehall riddims like Bam Bam and Drum Song, rubikscube beats shuffling the same snares, hats, and hits into an endless array of colorful configurations.
The poster child track for Dominican dembow is the bizarre and unforgettable “PĂ©pe.” But I highly recommend the mixes by DJ Scuff (the first of which includes samples from “PĂ©pe”) –
I’m particularly struck by how these productions resonate with Marisol’s questions about sampling & reggaeton’s racial politics — questions raised, notably, not just by DR dembow but by PR’s ‘regreso’ acts as well):
Is it time to think of sampling practices within reggaeton as an overtly political act? Is sampling consciously hailing an audience and interpolating the performer and audience in a specific genre?
I often wonder how much these theories about sample-riffic music and memory/signification require particularly active, engaged, and perhaps cognocentric (?) modes of listening, though we might posit — especially with the sorts of samples recycled in (proto/regreso) reggaeton / Dominican dembow (i.e., largely, short percussive sounds with distinctive timbres) — that there are modes of embodied (and perhaps even what Adorno would call regressive) listening that also, in their own ways, involve forms of musical memory. At any rate, that this practice is happening at the producerly level is remarkable in its own right.
Along those lines, I want to note that the 2nd DJ Scuff video embedded above contains a sample of the infamous DR-diasporic YouTube hit, “Watagatapitusberry” (about which, start with Marisol’s post from last October). One reason this is interesting is that it folds a track with no overt sonic references to reggaeton directly into the dembow diaspora. It makes me think that, in some ways, we may as well think of “Watagatapitusberry” and “PĂ©pe” and even DR kids posting jerkin videos as all of-a-piece. We needn’t call that piece reggaeton (which marks another moment, another layer of activity, perhaps), and I don’t think mĂșsica urbana says it any better.
More important than giving all this seemingly related activity a name is to note that the efflorescence of shared referents and practices, all this artful work of technological reproduction (to refix Benjamin for our labor/leisure effacing age), continues unabated outside the corporate mediasphere (that is, if things like YouTube can exist outside of that; I’m not sure they can). This vibrant shared and co-produced culture thrives on overlapping publics networked by language, diaspora, dance, Facebook, and filesharing. This is the point that I try to underscore whenever I get asked about the so-called reggaeton crash — if we only look to corporate radio, to the formal commercial sphere, for measures of music’s vitality, we may well overlook the lion’s share of what’s happening. Que fue indeed.
I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from. I represent like that.
wayne at wayneandwax dot com