(For the version in Spanish published in Wednesday's El Diario/La Prensa, click here.)
Last Sunday, the Miami Herald published an article titled "Reggaeton's unrealized dream."
Since Daddy Yankee had his hit "Gasolina," quite a few articles have come out in the most important newspapers in the nation (Los Angeles Times, New York Times, etc.) debating about the present and the future of this genre. Some have said reggaeton is dying. Others have said that reggaeton is dead. Still others have assured us that it's only hibernating.
Jordan Levin, author of the Miami Herald article, argues that reggaeton has reached a moderate and stable level of popularity—a plateau—but that its fortunes can change at any moment.
Levin says that the history of hip-hop (rap, in this case) can help us understand reggaeton's trajectory better: hip-hop spent its first decade (1970s) as an underground phenomenon, then had approximately a decade of successes, failures and folks speculating about its future (1980s), and it wasn't until the 1990s that it secured its spot as one of the darlings of global pop music. That's why, Levin says, considering the small amount of time reggaeton has had as commercial music, it's not strange at all that it's future seems so murky.
What attracts me the most about Levin's arguments is the idea that today's commercial hip-hop music can serve as a mirror for reggaeton's future.
"Will gentrification spoil the birthplace of hip-hop?", asks a New York Times headline from last Monday in an article dedicated to the fate of the building (and the neighborhood) where DJ Kool Herc threw the party that many credit as marking hip-hop's beginning.
Taking that headline as a mirror for the future of reggaeton we can safely predict that a few corporations and a tiny number of artists will keep making juicy profit$ from a music packaged and marketed as ghetto or "barrio" raw material. Meanwhile, the barrio (whether we're talking Santurce, Piñones, East Harlem, Bushwick, or the South Bronx) will be plagued by the usual problems: gentrification, displacement, police brutality, high dropout rates...
That would be reggaeton's true "unrealized dream." And we would all be guilty of its unfulfilled promises.