Youngsters dancing in a reguetón concert

Youngsters dancing in a reguetón concert

Reggaeton is a musical genre that evolved in Puerto Rico during the 1980s and mixed reggae with the rap and hip hop music of black artists in the United States, also adding elements of Latino music. Although reggae had already been sung in Spanish in Puerto Rico and Panama by the 1980s, it was in Puerto Rico especially that the reggae influence mixed with Spanish rap to produce the particular kind of music called reggaeton.

This form of music puts the spotlight on the lead singer more than the band. The singer is usually male and most recite their songs in rap style, instead of singing them melodically. The lyrics are usually about social criticism and reinforce the values of youths from the poorest and most marginalized sectors of Puerto Rican society, particularly celebrating masculine virility and a life of delinquency.

It is important to remember that reggaeton’s roots, both on the reggae side and the rap side, are musical forms that are associated with ideological struggles and antiestablishment lifestyles. Ska, the precursor to reggae, was associated with the anti-colonial and pro-independence movements in Jamaica during the 1950s and it was the music that the gangs known as the “rude boys” listened to. After Jamaica achieved independence in 1962, many of the “rudies” (as the rude boy youths were known) emigrated to Britain and took ska with them. In that setting ska mixed with punk rock and British youth trends such as the “mobs” and “skinheads” emerged from the mixture. These new groups shared the rudies’ non-conformist and antiestablishment attitudes. In Jamaica, meanwhile, ska was influenced by the new soul music trends in the United States, a smoother and slower form of music, and evolved into what became known as rocksteady, which later evolved into reggae. Reggae later became the music of a religious movement, Rastafarianism, which also has a strong non-conformist and antiestablishment element and is also tied, like ska, to the Black Power and Back to Africa movements that developed in the United States. The same antiestablishment and critical element is carried on in reggaeton.

Although Puerto Rican rapper and reggaeton performer Vico C is commonly recognized as one of the first rappers performers to make reggaeton recordings, there already was an informal or underground market for these recordings, which could not be bought in the regular market, but were made through home recordings and passed hand to hand. The lyrics of these first underground reggaeton recordings often had strong content that was expressed in violent, rude and explicit language. Sex was a common topic.

Reggaeton later spread to Latino populations in the urban areas of the United States, as well as to Spain and the rest of the world. Reggaeton went from being a clandestine genre to one of the most popular in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: May 31, 2012.

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