(For Spanish: Haga click aquí para acceder a la versión en español de este post en mi columna de hoy de El Diario / La Prensa)
Hip-hop is not reggaetón. And the other way around.
That seems to be one of the main points of the J-Lo co-produced movie Feel the Noise that opened last Friday, starring Omarion.
The story: a Harlem rapper gets in trouble with a local thug and his mom sends him to live in Puerto Rico with the father he never met before; there he falls in love with a cute dancer and with reggaeton.
The critics have not been enthused with the film, but moviegoers seem to have reacted a bit better, judging by the fact that it made it to #8 in the list of box office hits this weekend.
According to the New York Times, the plot is weak (I agree), but one of its pluses is that it promotes “minority kinship.” The New York Daily News says something similar: “[...]it rejects the lazy standard of onscreen enmity between black and Latin characters, instead promoting a sharing of cultures and styles. While this could be a cynical attempt to draw two segments of the audience, everyone involved genuinely seems to believe in the movie's message. Of course, none of that would matter without the music, which is packed in from end to end. Some viewers will go for Omarion; others for Voltio. Either way, they'll wind up staying for both.”
So how does this theme of “minority kinship” get manifested in the story?
Rob, the protagonist, was raised in Harlem by his African American mother, completely disconnected from his Puerto Rican father, from Spanish and from Puerto Rico. Javi, his stepbrother, is the child of Puerto Ricans, raised in Puerto Rico and has never visited New York. While Rob loves hip-hop, Javi feels the same for reggaeton (which Javi describes as a mix of rap, reggae and “parranda”. huh? parranda?)
The song that Rob and Javi do together is the symbol of the kinship between hip-hop and reggaeton, and between African Americans and Puerto Ricans.
Looking beyond the story and into the actors chosen, casting Omarion as the “half-Boricua” Rob and Malik Yoba as the bichote in Javi’s neighborhood reinforces the “minority kinship” idea, making the lovely (and necessary) point that African Americans and Puerto Ricans are often much closer (in terms of looks, in this case) than we admit.
On a few occasions, the characters explain that reggaeton is partially derived from hip-hop, but stress that they are different music genres.
The above is exactly the same thing that Latino hip-hop artists who don’t do reggaeton have been saying for years.
But rather than carving out a space for Latino hip-hop artists, this movie just perpetuates the notion that hip-hop is not a Latino space.
I appreciate that the movie highlights the kinship between African Americans and Puerto Ricans. Excellent point. But I’m not feeling the invisibility of the over three-decade history of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos doing hip-hop and not just reggaeton.