Archive of posts tagged with "puertorico"

January 18th, 2010

dem bow legacies (riddim meth0d repost)

[Since we’re talking about reggaeton again, and about the absence/return of dembow, it seems like a good moment to repatriate the following riddimmeth0d post from early 2006. The post, a complement to an article on reggaeton I wrote for the Boston Phoenix, features a mix which uses the dembow drumloop to string the songs together, most of which represent the sound of the genre during its mid-decade heyday. For more mixxage along these lines, see also: Dem Bow Dem, a mix of “Dem Bow” cover versions (as opposed to songs which only gesture to the dembow rhythmically or timbrally). This was initially posted on 19 January 2006, almost 4 years ago to the day!]

to accompany my piece on reggaeton (with sidebar!) in this week’s phoenix, i’ve put together a mix intended to demonstrate just how deep the dem bow runs through contemporary reggaeton (as well as to establish some sonic links to jamaican dancehall and to other styles).

the sonic-social-symbolic connections here are multiple, myriad. though one can try and try to convey them in prose, sometimes hearing them is really the best way. and that’s what the riddim method‘s all about (for me anyhow): letting the music do the talking.

so let’s get to the sounds in question, but permit me just a couple of notes to orient your attention to what you’ll be hearing.

wayne&wax, “dem bow mix” [mp3] (40 min / 48 mb)

it almost makes no sense to make a “dem bow mix” of reggaeton songs since the vast majority of reggaeton songs appear to feature some element of the inspiring, originary riddim. (and i’m not exagerrating when i say the vast majority.) thus, to make a reggaeton mix is to make a dem bow mix, and vice versa. that’s how inextricable the two are. the dem bow is reggaeton’s rhythmic DNA, a constant feature of the genre’s rhythmtexturtimbre, performing a function somewhere between ‘amen’ and clave. rather than boiling the blood of copyrighters, such use should prove a demonstration of the degree to which a vast world of derivative works can emerge from the creative sampling of recorded music, but which would not be possible – or conceivable even – without an utter disregard for, disrespect for, and disagreement with (american “international”) copyright law.

in the mix i’ve posted here, you’ll hear many appearances of dem bow, including more subtle, textural uses of the percussive loop as well as riddims that really foreground it. moreover, just for good measure, i often add an additional layer of the dem bow (in various versions) to thread pieces together, though a close examination will reveal the riddim already lurking in most of the tracks i’ve selected here. finally, as might be expected, i’ve also cooked up a couple specials and some little segments that i hope prove interesting.

i begin with the dem bow riddim itself (an “original” instrumental version, technically, as one would find on any one of a number of reggaeton “beats” CDs), overlayed with some clips from the BBC/”the world” radio program which aired last summer and featured some interview clips and beatboxing boom-chicking from yours truly. i like the way the mainstream media “hype” comes across here, complete with mis-pronunciations (“reggae-tawn”) and slight exaggeration. from there, we move into shabba ranks’s “dem bow,” the hit which propelled the dem bow riddim to NY, PR, and beyond. i don’t really want to get into the implications here of an entire genre essentially emerging from something that draws such stark lines in the sand, but suffice it to say that shabba’s thematic focus on “dem bow” is consistent with a lot of reggae (and some reggaeton): it’s anti-gay, anti-oral-sex, anti-imperialist.

the latter point – shabba’s pro-black stance against colonial(ist) oppression – points us to an interesting, and often overlooked, irony: that the dem bow is closely related to another dancehall riddim, the poco man jam, created by steelie&clevie in 1990, essentially “re-licked” (and tweaked) by bobby digital for shabba’s “dem bow,” and associated with and juggled alongside each other ever since. of course, “poco” in this case refers to the afro-jamaican religion, pocomania (alt. pukkumina), but i can’t help hearing a strong resonance with another meaning of poco. reggaeton’s relationship to race is something that has gone pretty unexamined in all of this coverage, so that’s another dimension – linked as it is to circumstances in the post-colonial americas – which i attempted to address, if only briefly, in my article for the phoenix.

after the dem bow/poco man section (including tunes by gregory peck, cutty ranks, and super cat), we hear panamanian founding-figure el general performing “son bow,” his traduccion of shabba’s “dem bow,” and from there, we get into the real deal: some PR-reppin’ from tony touch to kick it off, followed by some early, ruff-n-ready sounds from ivy queen. once we get into the reggaeton songs, we essentially thread our way through various “big chunes” that employ the dem bow, making a couple detours as we go: we hear how reggaeton producers nod to contemporary hip-hop as we segue from “el tiburon” to the busta rhymes song that seemingly inspired its chord-progression (as well as a dubplate-version by kingston-based DJ scrum dilly); there’s a section devoted to “juggling” over what we might think of as the gasolina riddim (for luny tunes appear to approach their riddims much like, say, lenky approached the diwali and steelie&clevie approached the poco man); and finally we close with two mini-mixes, the first devoted to bachataton or reggaetonchata or whatever they’re calling the increasingly common mixture of reggaeton and bachata (actually, i think they’re calling it reggaeton, and genres like bachata may be in serious danger of being eaten by reggaeton), the second devoted to some salsa-drenched remixes, including one of my own, connecting el gran combo’s “ojos chinos” to the tego song that alludes to it.

that – and the tracklist below – should be enough to give you a handle on all of this (si no ya lo tienes). ojala que hope you dig. if you do, go out and get yerself some reggaeton today. (i recommend these.)

wayne&wax, “dem bow mix” [mp3] (40 min / 48 mb)


Dem Bow intro: BBC “The World” excerpts
Shabba Ranks, “Dem Bow”
Gregory Peck, “Poco Man Jam”
Cutty Ranks, “Retreat”
Super Cat, “Nuff Man a Dead”
Shabba Ranks, “Dem Bow”
El General, “Son Bow”
Tony Touch, “Pa’ Que Tu Lo Sepa”
Ivy Queen, “Yo Soy La Queen”
Tony Touch ft. Nina Sky, “Play That Song”
Wisin & Yandel, “Rakata”
Alexis, Fido, & Baby Ranks, “El Tiburon”
Busta Rhymes, “Break Ya Neck” (w&w dembow mix)
Scrum Dilly, “Nah Go Stray (dubplate)” (w&w dembow mix)
Hector “El Bambino,” “Dale Castigo”
Daddy Yankee, “Dale Caliente”
Daddy Yankee, “Cojela Que Va Sin Jockey”
Ivy Queen, “Marroneo”
Daddy Yankee, “King Daddy”
Tony Touch ft. Lisa M, “Toca Me La”
Daddy Yankee, “Gasolina”
Don Omar ft. N.O.R.E., “Reggaeton Latino (remix)”
Don Omar, “Dile”
K Mill, “Metele Perro”
Ivy Queen, “La Mala”
Pitbull, Master Joe, & O.G. Black, “Mil Amores”
Ivy Queen, “Te He Querido, Te He Llorado”
Tego Calderon, “Metele Sazon”
Tego Calderon, “Dominicana”
El Gran Combo, “Ojos Chinos” (w&w dembow mix)
Daddy Yankee, “Sabor A Melao”
Dem Bow outro (Shabba Ranks vs. El General)

pocoman nuh bow. dem jam, seen tu sabes?

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January 12th, 2010

Hurban Renewal

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.

the reggaeton crash
one way of looking at the “reggaeton” “crash” (and recovery?)

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 “música urbana” basically functions as a (seemingly sexier and less scary euphemism) for reggaeton’s old moniker of “música negra.” So it’s interesting to me that reggaeton’s resident blanquito has appointed himself the gatekeeper of said race music. … I’m curious about the work that placing a blanquito at the center of “música urbana” does. For sure it makes the music palatable to the a wider audience, as so many blanquitos have crossed-over “race musics” in the past. But I think the work that Calle 13 very clearly does is “fuel fantasies about reggaetons inherent latinidad,” as Wayne points out in his chapter “From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino” 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 música 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, René Pérez Joglar (b. 23 February 1978), better known as Residente, the group’s acid tongued vocalist, and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez (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 “Querido F.B.I.,” a blistering critique of the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, 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 genre’s conventions; in recent years they have distanced themselves from reggaeton, preferring the broader label, música urbana. Thanks especially to Residente’s irreverent, sexually explicit and “vulgar” 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 13’s reception as the poster boys of música 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 “música 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 “música 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 “Pépe.” But I highly recommend the mixes by DJ Scuff (the first of which includes samples from “Pépe”) —

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 “Pépe” 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 música 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.

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May 16th, 2009

Wordle Up

Raquel, mi querida co-editor, was recently in Puerto Rico to talk Reggaeton. Among a variety of venues, she also ended up on video —

While watching I was surprised to see, suddenly in the mix, a wordle I made from my chapter in the book. A fitting backdrop, sin duda —

Have you read it yet? It may be my best piece to date. Just sayin.

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March 10th, 2009

Cajas Pequeñas

thx again, lmgm

Like I try to do with most fruits of my labors, I’m liberating some recent words of mine here (shhh!), composed last week for a relatively well-consulted (by music grad students?) music “dictionary.” It’s likely that none of you will read them otherwise, not that you’d necessarily want to. (I’ve received requests to share, however, having tweeted about the inherent challenges.)

Boiling down any subject into so few words seems an intrinsically painful, reductive enterprise. At the same time, it’s also a semi-enjoyable task in the way that any thing which challenges you can be.

I was asked to write a 500 word description of reggaeton and 200 word profiles of Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Ivy Queen, and Tego. I agreed for a few reasons. For one, the challenge. For two, the relative (and I mean RELATIVE) prestige of contributing to a widely recognized publication. For three, and this is the most important: because I care a lot about representations of reggaeton, esp how the genre animates rather heated debates about national/racial/ethnic identity.

That said, I don’t know to what extent these encyclopedia entries will have any impact at all on how people think about and tell the stories of reggaeton. Our (very!) forthcoming book is a lot more likely to be read. But these may have a greater chance of “getting out there” now that I’ve put them on the web. (Wha gwaan, Wikimaniacs?)

At any rate, here they are. Don’t hate me p/q I’m concise. I HAD TO BE. Why don’t you give it a shot? Edited and alternate versions invited in the comments ;) PLZ STICK TO WORD COUNT —


Although some dispute the national character of the genre, reggaeton is most frequently represented as a Puerto Rican and, increasingly, pan-Latino fusion of hip-hop and dancehall reggae. Featuring lyrics in Spanish and propelled by a modified reggae rhythm referred to as the “dembow,” the genre also travels in the form of a suggestive, sexualized dance called “perreo.” In 2004-05 reggaeton performers such as Daddy Yankee and Don Omar scored chart-climbing hits on US and international pop charts, bringing widespread attention to a genre that had been growing in popularity since the early 1990s, especially in Puerto Rico and New York City.

Origin narratives acknowledge the crucial role played by Panamanian vocalists, among the first to record reggae songs in Spanish. The music of Jamaica infused the Panamanian soundscape via descendants of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Anglo-Caribbean labor migrants to Central America who maintained cultural and family ties to the island. By the late 1970s, groups such as Franco y Las 4 Estrellas were performing Spanish-language versions of contemporary reggae songs. For all the continued engagement with reggae in Panama, however, such influential Panamanian avatars of dancehall reggae “en español” as Nando Boom and El General made many of their most popular recordings in New York City, working with Jamaican musicians and producers, typically translating the lyrics of contemporary reggae hits while employing the same (or re-recorded) rhythm tracks as the Jamaican originals.

While such recordings circulated widely among Spanish-speaking audiences in New York, the records resonated especially strongly with young Puerto Ricans, both in the city and on the island. Taking as a template the pioneering productions by Panamanian performers, Puerto Rican DJs and producers, including DJ Negro and DJ Playero, employed excerpts from the instrumental versions of these recordings to support performances by Puerto Rican vocalists. Initially a live practice, these sessions, in which a series of rappers declaimed over a shifting sonic accompaniment sampled from the hip-hop and reggae hits of the day, started to circulate as “mixtapes,” copied and passed hand-to-hand after an initial dubbing of a few dozen copies.

During the 1990s the Spanish-language mix of hip-hop and reggae produced in San Juan was alternately known as underground (or under), melaza (molasses), dembow (after the Shabba Ranks recording, “Dem Bow,” a frequent sample source for producers), and sometimes simply hip-hop or reggae. Occasionally it was called “música negra,” bearing witness to the racial cultural politics expressed by an embrace of hip-hop and reggae. The term reggaeton became dominant shortly after the turn of the millennium, around the same time that producers and performers sought to market the music to a broader audience, packaging recordings in the form of singles and albums rather than mixtapes and infusing the “dembow” beat with pan-Latino musical signifiers from salsa to bachata to cumbia. The great hope of the Latin music industry, reggaeton remains a grassroots phenomenon, embraced and localized across Latin America.

DON OMAR (William Omar Landrón), b. 10 Feb 1978

Puerto Rican vocalist Don Omar is one of the few reggaeton performers to enjoy success on US pop charts and airplay on MTV. Raised fatherless in an impoverished area of San Juan, a subdivision of Santurce called Villa Palmeras, Omar spent his late teens working as a youth pastor and singing in church choirs (including a group called the Christian Rappers). After leaving the ministry and turning to reggaeton, Omar built a following through live performances and appearances on mixtapes, distinguishing himself through his gruff voice and melodic rapping. Recruited by popular duo Héctor y Tito as a ghostwriter, Omar caught the attention of Juan Vidal, president of VI Music, who offered him an album deal. Omar’s first single, “Dale Don Dale” (2002), became a huge hit among reggaeton audiences. In 2005, his chart-topping song, “Reggaeton Latino,” symbolized the genre’s ascendancy to mainstream visibility and refigured reggaeton as a pan-Latino product. Omar often employs Christian symbols in his music and videos, and his themes reach beyond braggadocio to serious topics from suicide to AIDS. His 2006 album, King of Kings, debuted at #7 on the Billboard 200, the highest appearance by a reggaeton album to date.

DADDY YANKEE (Ramón Ayala), b. 3 Feb 1977

Best known for his massive, international hit, “Gasolina” (2004), Daddy Yankee is not only reggaeton’s most recognized performer, he is also one of the genre’s original and most consistent voices. Born into a musical family in Río Piedras, Yankee grew up in the Villa Kennedy housing project. After being shot in a case of mistaken identity, Yankee set aside aspirations to play baseball and dedicated himself to music, making a name for himself by performing rapid-fire raps at house parties. By the mid-90s, sometimes under the name Winchester Yankee, his distinctively nasally-tinged, tongue-twisting vocals featured prominently on DJ Playero’s popular mixtapes. Yankee released his first album, No Mercy, in 1995. Beginning in 2000, he started issuing albums at a steady clip of one per year, making inroads into the Latin Billboard charts while becoming a major star in Puerto Rico. He struck gold (or platinum) with his 2004 release, Barrio Fino, propelled by the runaway success of “Gasolina,” which effectively introduced reggaeton to the world. Having become his own brand, including merchandise endorsement deals with Pepsi and Reebok, Yankee remains restless, collaborating with hip-hop and R&B artists to reach new audiences.

IVY QUEEN (Martha Ivelisse Pesante), b. 4 March 1972

Ivy Queen has reigned as reggaeton’s practically sole female voice for well over a decade, remaining a central and respected figure while transforming herself from fierce battle rapper to sentimental sophisticate. Born in Añasco, Puerto Rico, she started singing to her father’s guitar accompaniment and identifies Celia Cruz and Selena as role models. She lived in New York city from childhood into her teenage years, moving to San Juan after high school. While writing for other acts and performing in talent shows, she grabbed the attention of DJ Negro, who added her to the roster of The Noise, an influential crew of DJs and performers. After making a splash on several mixtapes by The Noise, she embarked on a solo career, in part to distance herself from sexually-explicit and violent lyrics, addressing a range of topics from domestic violence to single mothers, fidelity to feminism. Her first album, En Mi Imperio (1996), sold briskly in Puerto Rico and was picked up by Sony. She has since released a steady stream of albums, broadening her audience, garnering industry awards, and settling into a style that finds her crooning bachata-infused ballads as often as rapping in her distinctively deep rasp.

TEGO CALDERÓN, b. 1 Feb 1972

Puerto Rican rapper Tego Calderón looms large in reggaeton, respected as a witty lyricist with a beguiling flow who anchors his sound and image in symbols of negritude. Born in Santurce but raised in Río Grande and Río Piedras, Tego expresses a strong connection to Loíza, where he was exposed to Afro-Puerto Rican traditions. Tego studied percussion at the Escuela Libre de Música of Puerto Rico before moving to Miami in the late-1980s where he was introduced to hip-hop and began composing lyrics in English. He credits Vico C with providing a model for rapping in Spanish. Returning to Puerto Rico, he established himself as a force in the local hip-hop scene before trying his hand at reggaeton, a savvy career move. His first album, El Abayarde (2002), was a local smash, and subsequent releases have been widely distributed and critically acclaimed. Tego’s music incorporates a variety of genres, including bomba, salsa, blues, and roots reggae. As a vocalist, he is known for his gravelly baritone, unique enunciation, love of slang and puns, and sense of swing. He has become a popular guest artist for hip-hop collaborators (including Terror Squad, Cypress Hill, and Wyclef Jean).

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March 7th, 2009

Covers, Blurbs, y Otras Traducciones

Amazing how an Amazon link makes our book finally feel real. (Pre-orders in teh house!)

And though they don’t have any imgs yet, I’m happy to report that I do, and — having lobbied HARD for this particular photo by Miguel Luciano to grace our cover — I’m thrilled to share it with y’all:

On the other hand side, I may be as excited about the back cover as the front, since we were able to land such luminary thinkers and wordsmiths re: music and race and nation as Jeff Chang, Mark Anthony Neal, Juan Flores, and Residente (!).

Since I’m in a sharing mood, here’s a pdf of an article by Flores that makes a wonderful argument about diaspora “as source and challenge” what with its many “cultural remittances” “from below.” (Incidentally, Centro is offering many more pdfs at their site; see, e.g., the 2004 issue on “Rican Structing Roots / Routes,” from which this piece comes.)

Flores’s narrative centers on salsa and rap, but I’ve found the thesis utterly illuminating wrt reggaeton (as readers of my chapter in the book will see) —

>> Flores, Juan. “Creolité in the ‘Hood: Diaspora as Source and Challenge.” Centro Journal 16, no. 2 (2004): 282-93.

& while I’m at it, here are two excerpts featured on a relatively recent Tego mixtape (almost a year old now, actually). I offer these up as each wonderful examples of how reggaeton “works,” if you will, consistent with the rich remix/reference culture that it is.

The first is a reworking of Fabolous’s unavoidable track from last year (and/or 2007), “Make Me Better” (incidentally, is it just me or does that central string motif sound awfully close to a recurring bit from the Lost score?). We hear here, among other things, how reggaeton artists — just as their “underground” bredren did in the 1990s — continue to version contemporary US/urban pop, translating and transforming the sounds that surround us:

>> Tego Calderón (feat. De La Ghetto), “Tú Me Haces Sentir”*

As you hear toward the end there, that track leads into a rowdy cumbia parody (sounding remarkably similar to a Manu Chao song in the chorus). I like how it shows reggaeton’s ability to incorporate / allude to other genres — and the “cultural work” inherent to such (re)figurations — not to mention how it shows off reggaeton’s (and Tego’s) sense of humor, with El Negro Calde putting on an extra coarse accent for “realism”:

>> Tego Calderón, “El Hijo’e Puta Sin Saludar”*

* for some reason, the tracks above sound distorted when listened to through the player; click on the song titles to hear more clearly.

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March 2nd, 2009

Dem Bow Dem

I’ve already discussed and DJ-demo’d the degree to which the Dem Bow riddim underpins the lion’s share of reggaeton tracks. But one remarkable part of the story I haven’t given much focus here is how “Dem Bow” the song — in particular, the chorus melody, but also the basic theme of the lyrics — has also seen its share of reincarnations (often in the form of creative, localized translations).

Last year I wrote an article that specifically traces the migrations, transformations, and connotations of Shabba’s “Dem Bow,” a song released in 1991 and, that same year, covered (twice!) en español. Shabba’s tune has inspired versions of varying fidelity to the original by Jamaicans, Panamanians, Puerto Ricans, and Frenchmen, no doubt among others I’ve yet to hear. Over the course of its already long life, it has gone from a relatively stable anti-gay anthem to a floating signifier for reggaeton’s sexy beat — or, in the case of Paris-based Daddy Yod, a Verlan inversion (“delbor” from “bordel”) for trouble or agitation (h/t Guillaume pour la traduction*). I try to make sense of the implications of such shifts, linking translation to transnation, or the audible articulation (pace Stuart Hall) of communities that transcend as they traverse state borders — something I hear deeply embedded in reggaeton’s sonic structures themselves.

But enough about the article, here’s the thing itself. It was an invited contribution by the editor of a special issue on popular song in Latin America, published in a German journal. Please note that the copy I’m making available here is a pre-print proof, though the final version is quite close to this. Here goes —

>> Wayne Marshall, “Dem Bow, Dembow, Dembo: Translation and Transnation in Reggaeton.” Lied und populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Volksliedarchivs 53 (2008): 131-51.

Having tracked down all these versions of “Dem Bow” (including no fewer than THREE songs by Wisin y Yandel, who seem quite content to rip themselves off), I couldn’t resist putting them alongside each other “in the mix,” as they say. It’s a little weird to put a bunch of anti-gay anthems “to tape,” but then again, one thing that’s interesting about the history of this song is that, despite the musical continuities, only the first third of the mix contains homophobic sentiments (many of them, as I describe in the article, quite colorful and imaginative). As you’ll hear, however, “Dem Bow” quickly comes to stand for other things (in other words, it becomes THE dembow, dembo, denbo). Notably, even in the suave hands of W&Y (or w&w for that matter), it remains a chant centering a heteronormative/macho subject. What’d you expect?

      >> w&w, “Dem Bow Dem” (11 min | 24 mb)


Unattributed, “Son Bow” (The Beats: Pistas De Reggaeton Famosas Vol.3)
Shabba Ranks, “Dem Bow” (Just Reality)
Nando Boom, “Ellos Benia” (Reggae Español)
El General, “Son Bow” (The Hits)
Grinds Man, “Dem Bow” (At The Super Stars Conference)
Unattributed, “Dembow ‘The Original'” (Pistas de Reggaeton Vol. 2)
Unattributed (Luny Tunes?), “Dembow ‘The 2004 Version'” (Pistas de Reggaeton Vol. 2)
Wisin & Yandel (Luny Tunes), “Dembow (Pista)” (Pistas De Reggaeton Famosas)
Wisin & Yandel, “Dem Bow” (Jamz Tv Hits, Vol. 2)
Wisin & Yandel, “Dembo (remix)” (A Otro Nivel)
Wisin & Yandel, “Llamé Pa’ Verte (Bailando Sexy)” (Pa’l Mundo)
Wisin & Yandel (ft. Tempo), “Deja Que Hable El Dembow”
King Daddy Yod (ft. Flya, Ragga Ranks, Jamadom, Tiwony), “Delbor 2006”

* sez Guillaume via email re: “Delbor” —

Yeah so no reference to sexuality, just straight up social problems and that the society is fucked up. You even have an eschatological reference at the end of the song. What’s interesting is that they use verlan only in the first verse, like an indication for the listener to make the chorus easier to understand at first. They don’t use verlan in the rest of the song as far as I could understand. Bottom line, it’s pretty safe to say that this song reference the 2005 riots and expand it to express a view of a fucked up society.

[Update 6/2010: A few months ago I found the original recording of Daddy Yod’s “Delbor” (which can be purchased here); also, although it’s not strictly a “Dem Bow” cover, Nando Boom’s “Pension” very clearly traces the melody/vowel-sounds rather closely, and indeed many of the lyrics are the same that he later uses in “Ellos Benia.” The riddim undergirding both Boom tracks, the Pounder, was clearly inspired by the Dem Bow riddim and may just be the missing link between Bobby Digital’s / Steely & Clevie’s production for Shabba and the dembow beat so widely used in reggaeton.]

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January 28th, 2009

Reggaeting o Reggaetang

Speaking of the difference between hip-hop and reggaeton, there’s been a heated discussion over at Raquel’s reggaetonica, redrawing yet again the lines in the sand between the two genres and rehashing lots of tropes about Puerto Rico, blackness, hip-hop, and so on.

The debate was initiated by a polemic published last fall by a god named Sunez, editor of Lavoe Revolt. I find Sunez’s tone a little too pedantic for my tastes (and “musicological” his analysis is NOT; don’t get me started on his description of how hip-hop emerges from reggae), but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t raise good questions, as evidenced by the lively argument that ensues.

As for his wider points, I can see some merit in them, especially the critique of postcolonial “mental slavery” via the embrace of conspicuous consumption and degrading images of self/women, etc. But, really, that kind of criticism is not so different from the sort of stuff Stanley Crouch or Juan Williams say about hip-hop all the time. Much as I’m sympathetic to some of that, I guess my own pleasures listening to reggaeton and commercial hip-hop derive from a couple things: 1) the way that dance music, music that engages the body, serves as a kind of apolitical “politics” (an embrace of the sensual self that militates against the repression of our bodies in wider society); 2) the framing of conspicuous consumption as a militant stance re: enjoying the “good life” (flaunting symbols of wealth that have been denied to people of color for so long). In a sense, then, esp re: the latter point, I guess my position is kind of pragmatic / strategic. And overall, I suppose I do believe that the way such popular genres create communities holds some promise toward actual political mobilization, even if we haven’t seen much like that yet (tho the support for Obama among prominent rappers perhaps gestures that way).

I don’t feel the need to go through and debunk Sunez’s slandering of reggaeton point for point, especially since an anonymous commenter does a fine and thorough job of that. (Marisol is right to point out that the exchange becomes too much of a masculinist pissing contest and too “mired in issues of racial/cultural authenticity,” though I think Anonymous was simply seeking, in some sense, to playfully meet his interlocutor on some shared discursive ground.)

I have to chime in, though, along with Raquel & Anonymous, in defense of Tego. I guess I can understand how a dyed-in-the-wool New York rap fan might level such charges as —

Clearly put, [Tego Calderon] is an average MC (If he grew up in Brooklyn, he’d have no chance) who deliberately makes some sellout tracks to hustle his catalogue.

But that just doesn’t compute for me. And I can’t even claim to follow all the nuances of Tego’s deployment of Spanish, English, and old and new slanguage; I’m mostly reacting to flow when I listen to Tego. He’s an MC’s MC far as I’m concerned. I’ve weighed in on El Negro Calde here before, so I’ll save you my own treatises. I found the following pro-Tego jab by Anonymous to be both funny and spot-on —

I mean, if you can’t respect Tego’s technique maybe your Boricua Spanish needs a Windows Update, god.

For a little evidence, here’s some recent fuego from Tego, clowning on some clowns, no dembow needed. Love the line in the first verse which inspires the title of this post. Reggaeting o reggaetang? Dude can flip it flippant, seen? A little levity goes a long way.

Payaso (Part 2).mp3 – Tego Calderon ft. Chyno Nyno

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October 2nd, 2008

Pimp My Piragua

El Ganso Gris has a nice lil piece today (w/ video!) about Miguel Luciano‘s “Pimp My Piragua” project.

I’ve talked about Miguel’s work here before. It’s stunning stuff, and I’m thrilled to report that a shot from his “Pure Plantainum” series is gonna grace the cover of our reggaeton book (due out this spring!)!

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September 21st, 2008

omg cholesterol

  • rachel makes an interesting point about parallel discussions happening in other places on the network — "It's really fun when I find discussions in the comments on various African music sites engaging similar questions as the folks at and dutty artz." :: this needn't be an elitist convo, no? should i learn french then? (but of course!)
  • new yorkers! — don't miss miguel luciano's latest, "pimp my piragua," at corono plaza :: "Pimp my Piragua is a multi-media, mobile public art work that combines tropical nostalgia and urban fantasies in a hyper-modified street vendor’s pushcart. Piraguas are cups of shaved ice dowsed in tropical flavors that you can buy from push carts on hot summer days. They are nostalgic symbols of the tropics, recreated by transplanted Latino communities throughout New York. In Pimp my Piragua, a humble pushcart gets remade into a lowrider fantasy-mobile that commemorates the innovations of Latino street vendors while questioning materialist fantasies of attainment."
  • "The Commonwealth is based on the delegation of power, and not of rights. It acquires a monopoly on killing and provides in exchange a conditional guarantee against being killed. Security is provided by the law, which is a direct emanation from the power monopoly of the state (and is not established by man according to human standards of right and wrong). And as this law flows directly from absolute power, it represents absolute necessity in the eyes of the individual who lives under it. In regard to the law of the state – that is, the accumulated power of society as monopolized by the state – there is no question of right or wrong, but only absolute obedience, the blind conformism of bourgeois society."
  • the newyorktimes finally gets up-to-the-times and offers a profile of "di genius" stephen mcgregor :: the article does little to illuminate what makes his sound distinctive, and misuses the term "juggling," but good to see the grey goose with an ear to the ground

videyoga :: (h/t ripley :: spot-on bulgarian ragga riff :: rapidfire cliches, anti-gay 4 authenticitay)

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August 26th, 2008

Inadequate Blackmail

  • 'Daddy Yankee called Mr. McCain “a fighter for the Hispanic community” and “a fighter for the immigration issue.’’ Mr. McCain, who noted that his wife, Cindy, had gone to Central High School, said, “I just want to say thank you, Daddy Yankee.’’ ' :: (thx, bracken)
  • "The Boston Police Department is proud and pleased to announce that this year’s Caribbean Festival was conducted in a successful manner as thousands attended and enjoyed this year’s festival and parade. The Boston Police Department did make 23 arrests. Of the 23 arrests, four were made in connection to gun-related offenses. In addition to the arrests, the department is pleased to announce the safe and successful return of several children lost during the festivities. … Moreover, Operation PAWS, a citywide warrant program conducted to combat and prevent gang violence, was employed the week leading up to this year’s festival. As a result of Operation PAWS, Boston Police arrested 56 individuals. In addition to the above, numerous intelligence gathering efforts, information analysis and video surveillance provided essential aid and support to all officers assigned to the festival." :: report includes blotter of incidents from the festival
  • "Boston police are crediting the success of this year's Caribbean Festival to the arrests made before the event. … 'The crowd was not as big as it usually is but it was very peaceful, and I didn't see any rowdy behavior,' said parade marcher Diana Peterkin. 'I felt comfortable. I felt safe.' Festival organizers supported the sweep, saying they didn't want the festival to be ruined by a few criminals. In addition to the 56 captured, police also arrested 23 other people. Four of those arrested face gun-related charges."
  • "Nearly 100 Boston police officers fanned out across the city yesterday and arrested dozens of suspected gang members and alleged criminals as part of an aggressive preemptive strike against violence at today's Caribbean Festival, a cultural event that has often been marred by shootings and stabbings. … Shirley Shillingford , president of the carnival, said the efforts are necessary. 'When you think about the amount of money that people put into paying for their costumes and the amount of work that goes into putting together this event, it would be really pathetic to see even one person come out and do anything that will give a bad image to the carnival that we work so hard to put on,' she said. 'It takes a drop of poison to contaminate a whole bucket of water.' "
  • "Have you ever thought that you're also raw meat?" :: félix jiménez y miguel rodríguez casellas offer some theoretic-poetics on "corned beef chic, or the audacity of contempt"
  • ' "Ambient advertising"—the business of putting adverts in public spaces—is a booming industry. It has outgrown all other advertsing sectors in the last three years. In 1995, it hauled in profits of £10 million. In 1998, these have grown to about £58m. It has taken the metaphorical advertising phrase of "selling space" literally, snatching up the places where your eye falls, and—in that pervasive new corporate ethos—making them work harder. ' (via shaviro/

videyoga ::

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July 1st, 2008

Doblando pa la Izquierda

I’ve been trying to get around to posting about Miti Miti, and since Geko Jones (notably, while making reference to the duo) and others have been wondering aloud again about the practice of global gobbledicrunk, while Kevin’s translating salsa songs & whatnot, today seems as good a day as any.

Primero, I need to thank Raquel for urging me to give them a second listen, since I guess I must have encountered Miti Miti earlier this spring via Carolina. No gran sorpresa that these two querida colleagues would have gotten wind of the project: the “avant duo” has been blowing up the NYC cosmopolatino scene, headlining recently at a Nacotheque event. It’s a little telling that the act didn’t make an impression on me back when Caro wrote about them, but quizas that’s because all I saw/heard was a rather avant vid and, more to the point, b/c I didnt hear “miti miti in a house” or “nariz de coco” (both streaming here).

Those two songs definitely get me with their weird, suggestive, fun mix of electro, dancehall, merengue, new-wave postpunkish & whoknows whatelse. Raquel says she gets a kick out of their “weaving in of merengue and gagá and their hillarious/cryptic lyrics.” Me too! But while I definitely hear the merengue, I’m not too familiar with gagá, so I can’t pick that out as much (despite having done a little YouTubing for clues), though I do think I hear it in the galloping clave of “Darte” (which combines Fannypack-ish booty-kitsch w/ the apparently explicit sexuality of gagá pretty well). & I have to confess that mi español is, regrettably, not quite sharp enough to appreciate the lyrical nuance in realtime. (Ya no he vivido en un lugar donde se habla, tusabes?) So I’m exxxxxtra grateful to Raq for sending some transcription my way —

Yo quiero que este disco
De vuelta hacia la izquierda
No para oir al diablo
Ni tampoco a Juan Luis Guerra
Yo quiero que este disco
Te saque to’a la caspa
Con más pelo en la boca
Que el bigote de Zapata

Ni tampoco a Juan Luis Guerra! That kills me.

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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


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