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Stylistic origins: Dancehall, Techno, Hip Hop, Latin American Music, House
Cultural origins: 1980s onwards, Puerto Rico, Panama
Typical instruments: Sampler - Dembow - Bass -
Mainstream popularity: 1990s onwards, worldwide
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Puerto Rico - Dominican Republic - New York - Panama - Cuba - Japan - Los Angeles - Miami
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Puerto Rico - Tempo (artist)

Reggaeton (also spelled with the Spanish accent as Reggaetón, and sometimes as Reguetón in Spanish) is a form of dance music which became popular with Latin American (Latino) youth during the early 1990s and spread to North American, European, Asian, and Australian audiences during the first few years of the 21st century. Reggaeton blends Jamaican music influences of reggae and dancehall with those of Latin America, such as bomba and plena, as well as that of hip hop. The music is also combined with rapping (generally) in Spanish. Reggaeton has given the Hispanic youth, starting with those of Panama and Puerto Rico, a musical genre that they can consider their own. The influence of this genre has spread to the wider Latino communities in the United States, as well as the Latin American and Central American audience.

While it takes influences from hip hop and Jamaican dancehall, it would be wrong to define reggaeton as the 'Hispanic'- or 'Latino'- version of either of these genres; reggaeton has its own specific beat and rhythm, whereas Latino hip hop is simply hip hop recorded by artists of Latino descent. The specific rhythm that characterizes Reggaeton is referred to as "Dem Bow". The name is a reference to the title of the dancehall song that first popularized the beat in the early 1990s. An overwhelming majority of reggaeton songs share the same beat and for the most part, are indistinguishable from one another aside from their lyrics.

Reggaeton's origins represents a hybrid of many different musical genres and influences from various countries in the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States. The genre of Reggaeton however is most closely associated with Puerto Rico, as this is where the musical style later popularized and became most famous, and where the vast majority of its stars originate from.

Reggaeton lyrics tend to be more derived from hip hop than dancehall. Like hip hop, reggaeton has caused some controversy, albeit much less, due to a few of the songs' explicit lyrics and alleged exploitation of women ; supporters claim this criticism is misplaced due to most reggaeton songs having completely clean lyrics, as well as non-violent lyrics. Further controversy surrounds perreo, a dance with explicit sexual overtones which is associated with reggaeton music.


Early History and Origins

Reggaeton's roots are from Panama with the music evolving and coming to prominence in Puerto Rico. Reggaeton starts as an adaptation of Jamaican reggae (and later Jamaican dancehall) to the Spanish-language culture in Panama .

The origins of reggaeton begin with the, first Latin-American reggae recordings being made in Panama during the 1970s. Reportedly, the Jamaican reggae influence on Panamanian music has been strong since the early 20th century, when Jamaican laborers were used to help build the Panama Canal.

Artists such as El General, Chicho Man, Nando Boom, Renato, Black Apache are considered the first raggamuffin DJs from Panama. El General has been identified as one of the fathers of reggaeton, blending Jamaican reggae into a Latin-ised version. It was common practice to translate the lyrics of Jamaican reggae song into Spanish and sing them over the original melodies, a form termed Spanish reggae or Reggae en Español. Meanwhile, during the 1980s the Puerto Rican rapper Vico C released Spanish-language hip hop records in his native island. His production of cassettes throughout the 1980s, mixing reggae and hip hop, also helped spread the early reggaeton sound, and he is widely credited with this achievement . The widespread movement of Spanish reggae in the Latin-American communities of the Caribbean and the urban centres of the United States help increase its popularity .

During the 1990s reggae production took off seriously in Panama; this also occurred separately in Puerto Rico due to the increased popularity of Jamaican ragga imports. Towards the middle of the decade, Puerto Ricans were producing their own " riddims" with clear influences from hip hop and other styles. These are considered the first proper reggaeton tracks, initially called "under", a short form of "Underground". DJ Playero was one of the most famous producers at the time, releasing several "underground" cassettes that featured early performances of some soon-to-be-famous artists like Daddy Yankee. The basis for reggaeton was laid in Puerto Rico at this time, with the melding of Panamanian Spanish reggae, with influences from dancehall, hip-hop and various other Latin American musical genres .

The genre morphed through the years, at various points being termed Melaza, musica underground, reggae de Puerto Rico, and Dem Bow. This last name originated from reggaeton's distinguishing rhythmic feature: the Dem Bow (alternately spelled Dembow) beat. This beat was constructed by Jamaican record producer Bobby "Digital" Dixon, and first became popular in the song "Dem Bow" (They Bow) performed by Jamaican dancehall artist Shabba Ranks in 1991. The song and beat achieved greater popularity among Spanish-speaking Latin Americans when Panamanian artist El General released the song "Son Bow" in 1991, a Spanish language cover of "Dem Bow" using the same musical track. It should be pointed out that neither Shabba or El General sang "Reggaeton" as neither the genre nor its title were as yet formed. Additionally "Dem Bow" was just a single song in Shabba's catalog, with Ranks not singing another significant song using the "Dem Bow" beat. However the influence of the original Bobby Digital beat is undeniable, and modern Reggaeton often still reflects the original instrumentation, as well as the original rhythmic structure.

Rise to popularity

The name reggaeton only gained prominence in the mid-1990s (from the 1994 to 1995 period), with the Dem Bow beat characterizing the genre; this is in contrast to the more reggae, dancehall and hip hop-derived tracks previously created. The name was created in Puerto Rico to signify the hybrid sound, and distinguish it from the previous Spanish reggae, created from the years of mixing the different genres. Today, the music flourishes throughout Latin America.

Reggaeton soon increased in popularity with Latino youth in the United States when DJ Blass worked with artists such as Plan B and Speedy in albums such as Reggaeton Sex. The first song which introduced Reggaeton to a big amount of fans is the song "Tra Tra" by Don Chezina. From there on reggaeton gained fans with songs such as "Amor Con La Ropa" by Speedy, "No Puedo Estar Sin Sexo" by Plan B, and "Dembow" by Wisin and Yandel.

Reggaeton expanded and became known when other producers followed the steps of DJ Playero, like DJ Nelson and DJ Eric. In the mid 90s albums like Playero 37 (In which Daddy Yankee became known) and The Noise 5 and The Noise 6 were very popular in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Singers like Don Chezina, O.G. Black & Master Joe, Baby Rasta & Gringo, and Lito & Polaco among others were very popular.

Many now popular producers, such as the Dominican duo Luny Tunes, Noriega and Eliel, first appeared in the reggaeton scene in 2003. Albums such as Mas Flow, The Last Don, and Las Gargolas 4 expanded reggaeton's popularity among Latinos in the United States.

2004 was the year that reggaeton gained widespread popularity in the United States, eventually gaining attention in many "Western" countries. This was due to N.O.R.E. introducing the genre to mainstream America with the song " Oye Mi Canto", followed by Daddy Yankee who came out with his album Barrio Fino and his mega hit single " Gasolina". Another important artist that contributed to gain popularity to reggaeton, especially in Europe, is Don Omar, with singles like "Pobre Diabla" and "Dale Don Dale". Other very popular Reggaeton artists include Alexis Y Fido, Khriz Y Angel, Nina Sky, Nicky Jam, Zion y Lennox, Voltio, Calle 13, Héctor El Father, Ivy Queen, Wisin & Yandel, Tito El Bambino and Tego Calderon.

Don Omar's May 2006 album, King of Kings, became history's highest ranking reggaeton LP in the top 10 US charts, with its debut at #1 on the Latin sales charts and the #1 spot on the Billboard Latin Rhythm Radio Chart with the single "Angelito". Don Omar was also able to beat the in-store appearance sales record at Downtown Disney's Virgin music store previously set by pop star Britney Spears, further demonstrating Reggaeton's massive rise to popularity in the United States.

Reggaeton beats

Reggaeton's most notably unique feature is a driving drum-machine track, which sounds almost identical in virtually all reggaeton songs, and was derived from a popular Jamaican dancehall rhythm. As stated previously this beat is called "Dem Bow", from the Bobby Dixon-produced Shabba Ranks song of the same title.

Many of the sounds found in a typical reggaeton beat are electronically synthesized. Simple melodies may be produced with keyboards, electric guitars, and other electronic instruments. Other forms of electronic dance music have significantly influenced reggaeton beats, such as techno, house, and genres such as the merengue hip hop (also called merenhouse) of groups such as Proyecto Uno and Zona 7.

Reggaeton beats are highly versatile. The great variety and flexibility of reggaeton beats can be illustrated by Luny Tunes' CD The Kings of the Beats, which is a collection of purely instrumental beats. Reggaeton beats can be based on merengue, bachata, bolero, and especially hip-hop beats.

Reggaeton and hip-hop

Reggaeton bears many resemblances to hip-hop. The most notable resemblance to hip-hop is that reggaeton, in most cases, is recited instead of being sung. Another feature is that reggaeton CD's are laid out like hip-hop CD's, including intro's, occasional interludes, and hidden bonus tracks. Reggaeton also has hooks throughout a song that may include a chorus of singers. Reggaeton artists also adopt pseudonyms comparable to those of hip-hop artists. Overall, reggaeton and hip-hop are both thought of as street-styled music popular among urban youth.

Despite the similarities, reggaeton only roughly fits into the Latin hip-hop category but is not synonymous with hip-hop. True Latin hip-hop has beats that almost exactly resemble mainstream hip-hop beats. These "hardcore" Latin hip-hop artists include Big Pun, Fat Joe, Akwid, and Jae-P. Reggaeton, though, has rap-styled lyrics but has a very different beat that is influenced not by hip-hop, but by reggae, dancehall, merengue and techno. Although reggaeton has been highly influenced by American hip-hop, it has also borrowed features from many other genres as well and is not strictly considered to be Latin hip-hop.

Reggaeton and hip-hop are often remixed together, and reggaeton songs and live concerts may feature hip-hop artists such as Lil Jon, 50 Cent, and Eminem. Hip-hop songs such as Usher's Yeah and Snoop Dogg's Drop It Like It's Hot have been remixed by replacing the original beat with a reggaeton beat. In other remixes, reggaeton DJs may rap out an English song in Spanish. Reggaeton and hip-hop are accepting influences from each other today, and these musical blends also signify a cultural melting pot in today's urban scene.

Reggaeton and hip hop artists are often mixed together to create hit singles. Snoop Dogg was featured on Daddy Yankee's Gangsta Zone in his album Barrio Fino En Directo ; as was Paul Wall on remix to Yankee’s earlier hit song entitled Machete. The remix of Daddy Yankee's song Rompe featured Lloyd Banks and Young Buck of G-Unit. And Yankee’s first U.S. hit Gasolina was remixed, adding Miami rapper Pitbull, and Crunk music producer Lil Jon to the track. Sean Paul collaborated with him on the song ‘Oh Man’ on his most recent album, The Trinity. Hip hop producer Pharrell Williams produced and sang on the track ‘Mamacita’ with Daddy Yankee as well. American rapper Juelz Santana was featured on Don Omar's song Conteo on Omar’s album King of Kings which was featured in the movie The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Luny Tunes produced the R.Kelly song ‘Burn it up’ with Wisin Y Yandel on his album TP3 Reloaded as well as producing the remix to Paris Hilton’s song Stars are Blind again featuring Wisin y Yandel, which has sold over 300,000 songs on I-Tunes. Popular Reggaeton producer Héctor "El Bambino" produced the hit song ‘Here We Go Yo’ with Jay-Z, whom he collaborated with to produce his most recent album “Los Rompe Discotekas” (The Club Bangers) which came out earlier this summer. Reggaeton artist Voltio raps alongside with R&B group Jagged Edge on the song ‘So Amazing'. The song ‘Wanna Ride’ was recited and sung by distinguished Reggaeton artists Wisin y Yandel together with veteran rap group Bone Thugs N'Harmony, and which was featured in the movie Take the Lead starring Antonio Banderas. Both genres are accepting influences from each other today, and these musical blends also signify a cultural blending pot in today’s urban scene.

Lyrics and themes

Reggaeton lyrical structure highly resembles hip-hop lyrics. Like hip-hop, reggaeton artists recite their lyrics rap-fashion rather than sing it melodically. Like hip-hop music, reggaeton songs have hooks that are repeated throughout the song. Reggaeton also started as a genre composed of mostly male artists, with a slowly increasing number of female artists debuting over the years. Notable female reggaeton artists include Ivy Queen and Glory.

Reggaeton lyrical themes are versatile. Typical themes may include dancing, love stories, partying, short anecdotes of the rapper's life, and problems in life. Popular reggaeton songs are mainly intended to be danceable, rhythmic, party-like songs for young people. Reggaeton may or may not be objectionable depending on the artists, song, and the listener's interpretation, as one reggaeton song may have many interpretations because a song's meaning may not be very clear and direct. For example, the song Gasolina is often considered appropriate for children and has made it into the Reggaeton Niños series. However, because of the various possible connotations and literal interpretations of the song, some people criticize Gasolina as having possibly inappropriate sexual content .

Usually, reggaeton CDs are not labeled "explicit" like many hip-hop CDs are. One exception is that Daddy Yankee's Barrio Fino en Directo (Barrio Fino Live) was labeled explicit for objectionable content in the live concerts (and for explicit language by Snoop Dogg in Gangsta Zone), even though the regular studio version of Barrio Fino was not labeled explicit. Most reggaeton songs have completely clean lyrics (as in no profanity); very few songs have cursing/swearing in the lyrics. Some reggaeton artists are able to circumvent radio and television censorship by using sexual inuendo and lyrics with double meanings in their music.

Reggaeton across the world

Puerto Rico

Reggaeton is most commonly thought of as originating from Puerto Rico, where it has flourished and spread across Latin America and the international stage. The Puerto Rican influence in reggaeton has involved the addition of hip-hop to the Panamanian reggae style. Puerto Ricans have claimed reggaeton as their own partly due to the fact that the movement was originally anti-establishment, with the government attempting to ban the perreo ("doggystyle") dance. Reggaeton is now more accepted within the commonwealth.

Reggaeton derives from the post-Salsa music youth generation of the 80s and early 90s in Puerto Rico. Before reggaeton exploded in the mid-nineties, young street artists, heavyly influenced by East Coast hip hop and turntablism, rapped over cassette tracks easily acquired within their Commonwealth (United States insular area) status.

This new genre was simply called "underground". It contained very explicit lyrics about drugs, violence, poverty, homophobia, friendship, love, and sex. These common themes still predominate today in reggaeton music. "Underground" music was recorded in "marquesinas" (or Puerto Rican open garage) and distributed in the streets via cassettes. By the early 90s "underground" cassettes were being sold in commercial music stores. The genre caught up with the middle class youth and inevitably found its way to the media.

By this time Puerto Rico had a few clubs dedicated to the "underground" scene. Club Rappers in Carolina, and club PlayMakers in Puerto Nuevo were the most notable. Bobby "Digital" Dixon's dembow track was exploited in order to appeal in the context of the club. "Underground" music wasn't intended originally to be club music.

The Puerto Rican chapter of Morality in Media asked the local authorities to intervene and ban selling "underground" music, which subsequently required that all local productions being sold displayed a Parental Advisory label. By 1993 Dj Negro released The Noise 3 with a mock up label that read Non-Explicit Lyrics. The album contained no cursing until the last song. The album was a hit and "underground" music further crept into the mainstream. Senator Velda González of the Popular Democratic Party and the media continued to view the movement as a social nuisance.

Latin America

Reggaeton has been a huge hit all across the globe, especially in Latin American countries like in the Dominican Republic, Central America, and Mexico. Reggaeton has become staple music in most parties and events, complementing the common mix of merengue, salsa and electronic music and has paved a huge fan base. In some countries (such as Venezuela, with Calle Ciega, Doble Impakto and Mr. Brian and Pescozada and Heavy Clan from El Salvador), domestic "reggaetoneros" have arisen, expanding the Pan-Latin feel of the genre.

United States

In the United States, reggaeton is highly popular among Hispanic youth. Reggaeton is now popular in cities all over the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Houston, Miami, and almost every city with a large Hispanic population.


Reggaetón has become popular in Spain because of its appeal to Latin American immigrants, particularly those from Ecuador. A Spanish concept called "La Canción del Verano" (The Summer Song), under which a particular song or two define the mood for the season and are regarded unofficially as such by Spanish media, served as the basis for the extreme popularity of reggaetón songs such as the late Panamanian rapper Lorna's "Papi Chulo (Te traigo el Mmm)" in 2003, and Daddy Yankee's Gasolina in 2005. Puerto Rican and Panamanian reggaetón artists have toured the country, and Spain is developing a cadre of local reggaetón artists of its own.

Reggaetón is also experiencing a boom in Italy, thanks in big part to artists like Don Omar who filmed the video for his song Angelito in Rome, featuring many of the city's historic landmarks.

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