Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Email Conversation With Felix Jimenez on my Blanquitos and Reggaeton Post

Felix Jimenez is a journalist, professor and author of Las practicas de la carne (2005) and Vieques y la prensa (2001).

Mi Querida Raquel: LOVED YOUR BLOG! Las preguntas que tienes son pertinentisimas. But add this to the mix: The problematic reality of self-description. I wonder how many of the wildly successful, platinum-record winning regaetoneros would have self-destructed without an initial barrio-bound, non-blanquito description that was concocted to give them an early sympathy factor at the start of their careers. The fact that property values (and other financial and educational opportunities that might have been offered by their parents) are concealed from the equation REGGAETONERO=DEL PUEBLO=GENUINO=REAL=DE LA CALLE is a function of the ever-present "reggaetonero template" which eases the way for many a reggaetonero-hopeful to enter the musical world. As Cuba Gooding's character in Jerry McGuire, the template shouts "Show me the money!"

The myth of the street is a vital factor of reggaeton's "identity litmus test." It is an item on the essential check-list. How real and genuine can you be - in reggaeton's "identity litmus test" - if you have lived in a five-bathroom, gold-fixtured house in a gated community? The conflation of "genuine" and "real" with perceived barrio roots (and, thus, non-blanquito origins) is the ideal PR/PR (Puerto Rican Public Relations) ploy for nascent careers. WITH IT THEY AVOID QUESTIONS AND CEASELESS INTERROGATIONS ABOUT "WHY NOT ROCK?" OR "WHY NOT BALLADS, OR SALSA" OR "WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE REGGAETON?" Public relation machines here dictate that reggaeton is not a choice, or should not be perceived as one - it must be a natural outgrowth of a performer's "background." So performers act accordingly, even if reggaeton is a choice for them over other musical rhythms. As long as reggaeton seems to be an inevitability (meaning said reggaetonero HAD to go that route because it fits with his socioeconomic and cultural non-blanquito, barrio-caserío background) less questions are asked, and the reggaetonero acquires a more natural stance, a patina of "inevitability,", of being "the real thing," "the genuine item."

Daddy Yankee's Villa Kennedy-to-riches story, for example, includes the tid-bit that he did finish his associate degree. But his geographical milieu to a certain extent dictated his natural selection of reggaton. It was not choice. This "white' poor boy, (and OH SO HANDSOME) has said so himself: Era la musica que oia en mi calle. Yo adoraba a Vico C.

Ivy Queen recounts how she had to ask for money in stop lights to help feed her family when she was living in Añasco. Her story gives texture to her present. How many reggaetoneros (and there are many, which is weird) have been barbers or stylists? That does not necessarily correlate with the educational and financial opportunities they might have had (and discarded or missed or blatantly ignored) when they were growing up. It means that - again, in the realm of the "perceived "- that they are somewhat wayward. Thuggish. Not conventional. The "thugness" factor- cosmetic as it might be in some cases - pays off.

By the same token, Residente Calle 13's perceived intelligence is a function of his cashing in on the educational/financial opportunities that his lawyer father and actress mother lavished on him. Not that he was silver-spooned, but that he acted upon the possibilities that were there, afforded by whatever metal the spoon was made of. He is and was intelligent. Not thuggish enough. That is why people have such a difficult time pinning him down on his kind of music. And he hasn't labeled himself a full-blown reggaetonero either. From the outside perspective, and also from Calle 13's perspective, that would be an impossibility. He is cashing in on that impossibility. He knows the rules.

I think that the discarded opportunities that Tego, Voltio, Mexicano, and the like have are part of what they sell. Example: the public discussion about Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila's invitation to Don Omar to serve as a spokesperson for the Department of Education. At the end of the big brouhaha, when he was "disinvited," the question was, "So who can inspire the kids to stay in school, the one who did stay and graduated or the drop-out who feels he made the wrong decision and wants to warn would-be drop-outs"? The answer seemed obvious to 12 reggaetoneros who discussed the topic in a TV program: Drop-outs do it better because - all of them said - they have THE EXPERIENCE of having dropped out/

The entitlement of the street trumps the entitlement of education. Choosing to be DE LA CALLE classifies you as non-blanquito. The real blanquitos will never stand up.

What do you think? I'm curious. Contestame cuando puedas. Soon.


Hi Felix.

Que bueno estar en dialogo sobre esto contigo!

Me parece bien acertado eso que dices de la estrategia de relaciones publicas de la "inevitabilidad" del reggaeton para artistas "reales" "de la calle".

"I think that the discarded opportunities that Tego, Voltio, Mexicano, and the like have are part of what they sell. "

Your above quote is fascinating. Its not only about the thug persona they adopt, but about the opportunities discarded. YES!

Este mito y romantizacion de "la calle" es mind-blowing. As you say, to discard those opportunities to have a conventionally successful life, is celebrated as a sign of thuggish chic, an emblem of sexy rebelliousness. But is there more than front and image to all this?

Ultimately this is all about WHAT? What can we boil down this romantic "myth of the street" to? A symbol of youthful "rebelliousness", late 20th/early 21st Century style? A sign that the "traditional" way success was defined (and said to guarantee happiness) is bankrupt? Why is it bankrupt? Because its a socio-economic impossibility for many? Because its perceived to be too hard? Too unsexy? Is it because once you become "successful" then you are a slave to your "success" and happiness remains ever-elusive?

What does this all say about the way a sector of the youthful population is constructing/perceiving happiness? What does this all say about the conditions a sector of the youthful population is growing up in?

Where does pride in your community end and self-serving myth-making begin?

The street is a myth. And a reality. Shit, this is making my head spin.

"Choosing to be DE LA CALLE classifies you as non-blanquito. The real blanquitos will never stand up."

Another mind-blowing concept: "choosing to be de la calle". YET it is a choice that has to be camouflaged in the language of inevitability. Why?

I completely agree "the real blanquitos will never stand up." As long as authenticity in reggaeton is defined the way it currently is, no one in their right mind will "stand" against the interest of their bread and butter (and cars, and women, and bling).

te abrazo,

1 comment:

raquelzrivera said...

Welmo, a hip hop artist from PR, responded on myspace page (

"lo leí encantaron los comentarios, (ambos) yo no sé.....pero todo esto de ser calle pa mí es ilusorio, te sirve pa presentar un acercamiento esteriotipado y romántico de lo marginal, aunque no es marginal ná porque si lo fuera no estuviese expuesto, la calle sirve pa encajar en el disfraz 50 céntrico, pero en puertorro a nivel de venta y pauta lo romanticón fresilla es lo que realmente vende. A la hora e la verdad todos somos calle, lo único que unos entran mas tempranos que otros cuando oyen los tiros........... "buscan drama pa poder escribir, pa qué mentir si pa sufrir sólo hay que vivir""