News / Music, Remezcla

To Reggaetón or not to Reggaetón

Mosaico estaff tackle the reggaeton craze. Andrew dice "Esa música es la perdición de nuestra raza!" while Nuria says: "Tranquilos muchachos. It’s ok, you can dance to reggaetón and still be cool".

We’ll start with the CON: Andrew Herrera, Mr. Anti-Reggaeton:

I was shocked when I heard that my favorite Spanish radio station in Chicago, Viva 103.1 had switched from a fun Latin rock and pop format to an all-reggaeton station called “La Kalle.” But this change didn’t just happen in Chicago. Univision, which owns several stations in major Hispanic markets in the U.S., launched “La Kalle” in Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, New York, and several other cities. And Spanish Broadcasting Systems switched its only Latin pop and rock station, 96.3 FM in Los Angeles, to an all reggaeton/hip-hop, aka “Hurban,” format as well. Clear Channel also switched its all-Latin rock station in Houston to the Hurban format. This dramatic change in the landscape of Latin radio bothers me because it was stations like Viva 103.1 in Chicago that back in 1999 introduced me to whole new world in music. A world that I felt I had totally missed out on. And now it seems like La Kalle and reggaeton are going to make sure no one else discovers the broad range of Latin music ever again.

Growing up in Queens, I never really identified with Spanish-speaking radio because my only choices were radio stations that primarily played salsa and merengue to cater to the large Puerto Rican and Dominican population in New York. It was only through Latin rock/pop radio stations and family reunions in Ecuador that I discovered bands such as Soda Stereo, La Union, and Hombres G. I could not believe that I had totally missed out on years and years of great music because of my limited radio options in New York. The decision by many radio broadcasting companies to switch their Spanish station to an all-reggaeton format offers no variety or choice to listeners and simply one option. Another generation will miss out on so many different bands and types of music because market research statistics conclude that the urban latino market is the hot growth area. In my opinion, the lack of variety and content is what has held back Latin media. TV and radio stations have historically catered to a specific Hispanic demographic, but growing up, I failed to identify with Latin media options. Now, seven years after discovering Viva 103.1, I feel like I’m back where I started: listening to all salsa and merengue 24 hours a day. Except it’s worse. It’s reggaeton. Rompe Rompe Rompe!!

Honestly, my beef isn’t with reggaeton artists; it’s with the big corporations who don’t care to understand the diverse Hispanic-American market, but rather distribute Hispanic entertainment as a one-size-fits-all package. For them, reggaeton is the easy answer. Sadly, this limits cultural awareness for Hispanic-Americans searching for pieces of Latin culture that they can relate to and embrace individually.

Other things I can’t figure out: does reggaeton even have the library of music to support 24 hours of radio play? Is it really the voice of the urban Hispanic-American community? Is it the next hip-hop? Despite the genre’s current dominance over the airwaves and the Latin music scene, I truly feel this high speed train well slow down soon. The millions of dollars currently spent on reggaeton will have to be spent somewhere else. Hopefully on more than just one genre of Latin music.

…and in the other corner, defending the PROs of reggaeton is Ms. Nuria Net:

Latinos love to diss reggaeton. “Ugh it’s so tacky.” “Eso no va a durar mucho, it’s just a fad.” “This is an embarrassment to Latinos”. Me cansé de escuchar eso. So lately, I have found myself in the unlikely position of defending reggaetón for what it’s worth to me: a good dose of nostalgia from growing up in Puerto Rico and appreciating a music genre that strikes a chord with millions of people. And yes, I can still consider myself a Café Tacvba freak and say I have no problems with reggaetón.

Growing up in the happily sheltered urbanizaciones of San Juan, my earliest memory of reggaetón was at the “disco parties” that we started having in 5th grade. Then, in our 6th grade talent show in Mater Salvatoris elementary school, seven other girls from Missis Lizette’s class and I knotted up our shirts in the front and got down to Vico C’s “La Inglesa” in front of the rest of the students. I don’t remember the Spanish nuns protesting. The song was about a girl from England who at first says she can’t dance to this exotic, almost tribalistic “nonsense,” but later succumbs to the Spanish rap’s irresistible beats, belting out “U-u a-a- tu ritmo me fascina, u-u-a-a tu ritmo me enloqueceee.” Vico gave MC Hammer a run for his money back then. __PAGEBREAK__A few years later, high school came into our lives, and Vico C’s mild-mannered rap en español gave way to “underground” (pronounce after me: “ondelgraund”). At the schools’ Welcome parties (dances each school had at the beginning of the school year) we kids from Catholic school would do the butterfly and culeos to DJ Nelson and Alberto Stylee, Ivy Queen, and Wiso G. I had no idea who these people were or what they were saying (dembow? yales?), we just knew it had become prohibido (moms chaperoning at parties would usually run up to the DJ and make him change songs) and that it was a blast to dance to.

As we and our hormones got older, the more we liked to culear, and you could even find a few girls down the hall with cassettes of the Playero 47 compilation. In college, my friends and I would reminisce about our high school years singing out loud to Vico C and the rest. Then one summer when I went back home, everyone was wearing these red shirts with the picture of a guy with an afro and glasses that read “Tego”. El Abayarde had arrived.

Tego Calderón remixed El Gran Combo’s “Ojitos Chinos” which made it palatable to our parents and El Nuevo Dia newspaper. His wore his ‘fro with pride and limited his bling to a few gold teeth. He had released several hip hop albums, but this time, circa 2002, Tego had recorded a few reggaeton tracks, which made him an instant hit. Now it was cool to listen to “underground”. The streets of New York rumbled with “Dominicana,” and suddenly Daddy Yankee was spilling his Gasolina everywhere and going down Fifth Avenue on the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

In the past few years the term “Latino” has started to take root among Hispanic youth in this country, and with mass media outlets such as TV, radio and print platforms that are vying to cater to this emergent market, there’s a newfound consciousness that we are all part of a bigger identity beyond being Puerto Rican, Chicano, Mexican or Salvadoreño. Reggaetón came into mainstream consciousness just in time to become the anthem of Latinos from Eastlos to Bruglin but also from Cartagena, to Guayaquil and Buenos Aires.

Reggaeton ain’t pretty. The genre’s nene lindo and biggest seller, Daddy Yankee, might have been in the game foreva, but his lyrics sure don’t speak for themselves(and word in the -where else- street say he doesn’t even write his only lyrics). Get ready for “Rompe”’s poetry (FYI “Rompe” is his latest hit, #1 on the Billboard charts for the past few months):
Nanananana… (Hey!)
Nananana… (Hey!)
Nananana… (Hey!)
Nanananana… (Hey!)
[…] ¿Que pasa, socio?
¿Que es la que hay?
Vist
e, buey…
Pensaste que esto es un mamey
No vo’a dar break
Que el se guille de "Scarface"
Get out my way
Usted no vende ni en eBay
No das pa’ na’ Conmigo ’ta Frito-Lay
Chequea el swing
Que se le pega a to’a las nenas mas que un g-string
Yo soy la pesadilla de todos los dream team
Ya se te acabo el magazine
Conmigo no te la guilles, pa’, de listerín
Daddy te…
Rompe, rompe, rompe! (Bien guilla’o!)
Rompe, rompe, rompe! (Ese cuerpo ella lo!) […]

Wow, that was powerful, especially when he rhymes “g-string” and “listerín”. But is anyone paying attention the lyrics? As with Hector y Tito back in the day, most of us can’t make sense of what the guy is saying and we don’t care.

Just like others love to quote Juan Gabriel, Pimpinela and Flans in their hipster, retro kinda way, so even the fresitísimos comemierdas San Juaneros have a special place in their heart for Ivy Queen’s early 90’s hit song “Muchos quieren tumbarme y les dijo mira no no no que no van a poder, porque saben que yo soy la queen la nena del reggé.” And so will all of us born and raised in the US or recently displaced will cherish our Gasolina and our Pobre Diablas in the future. And it will unite us in sing-along joy at parties and as we walk down the streets, whether in Portland or Kansas City. In the meantime we’ll just shake our nalgas to its beats.

Reggaeton is loud, repetitive, corta venas and obnoxious like any good telenovela or taco de cecina. It puts our brown faces and manicured eyebrows and decrepit Spanish on MTV and that makes us proud, that makes us smile. We can make fun of it, claim we are above it, but you can’t resist it.

This brings me to the next best thing to come out of the island: the guys from Calle 13. These are artists and musicians who don’t come from the town of Carolina or grew up in the drug infested projects of San Juan. René Perez, El Residente, has a masters in visual arts and knack for tattooing bits from paintings by Basquiat and Matisse in his arms. The other group member, Eduardo Cabra, El Visitante, studied accounting and was part of a rock band, Bayanga, before teaming up with his half brother in this “proyect”. Cosmopolatinos: what’s not to love, right?

They are clearly not of reggaeton pedigree, but they’re not fresitas either. They are using the popular medium, mixing it with hip hop, a bit of rock and in your face lyrics to sing about middle class Puerto Rican reality, which no one really sings about. Their obsession with sex makes their cannon au par with the rest of reggaetón, but with a good injection of self-awareness that Hector El Father and the rest are clearly missing. Making fun of blanquitas who claim they hate that dirty music but who move their booties when the lights go out at Kudetá in El Viejo San Juan, who know every single word of Voltio’s “Chulin Culin cunfly”, Calle 13 diss left and right, also making fun of rappers, rockeritos, and the purists cantautores who are still trying to copy Silvio Rodriguez at Café Seda en la Calle San Sebastián. Without claiming to be above the gold chain obsessed plebeyos who take reggaetón seriously, they have even managed to become more commercial and massified that pure reggaetoneros, appealing to a wider cross section of puertorros: the rockeros, the reggaetoneros, los surfers, los cacos, even the Governor. Even though they compare girls’ assess with avocado butter, it’s a far cry from the “fuleteame-el-tanque” aesthetics of reggaetón. They are the Molotov of reggaeton, if you will, and their witty humor will is already translating beyond the island to other parts of the continent. Hopefully it’s only the beginning of a trend of witty pop music, like Miranda!’s success in Argentina.

Reggaetón has been around for more than fifteen years, so it’s not going anywhere. It might fade here, but these people have hustled foreva, recording at home studios and not relying on radio or mass media to make it big. After the craziness fades, they’ll still be pumping recycled beats at fiestas patronales in Naranjito. Latinos in this country are starting to record their own versions of reggaetón or other versions of Spanish hip hop too. So mi gente, no tapen el cielo con la mano, and give in to the crumpin’ beats.

I leave you with the sage words of Calle 13’s “Atrevete-te-te”:
Cambia esa cara de seria
Esa cara de intelectual, de enciclopedia
Que te voy a inyectar con la bacteria
Pa’ que des vuelta como machina de feria
Señorita intelectual, ya se que tienes
El área abdominal que va a explotar
Como fiesta patronal, que va a explotar
Como palestino… Yo se que a ti te gusta el pop-rock latino
Pero es que el reggaeton se te mete por los intestinos
Por debajo de la falda como un submarino
Y te saca lo de indio taino