Friday, May 25, 2007

The future of reggaeton

(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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Reggaetón en el salón

Click here to access my column in today's El Diario/La Prensa, titled "Reggaetón en el salón" (Reggaeton in the Classroom). For an earlier, longer version in English, click here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

"Bemba Colorá" and the "Black Girl Painted White"

In response to my previous post "From White to Mulata: The Darkening Powers of Reggaeton,” David mentioned the LG and Cyn collaboration “Bemba Colorá,” produced by Danny Fornaris. (Thanks, David, for pointing me to it.)

Tú eres una negra rubia, pintá de blanca (You are a blond black girl, painted white)
Con la bemba colorá, black from the back (With thick red lips, black from the back)
Tú eres una negra rubia, pintá de blanca (You are a blond black girl, painted white)
La reina de la rumba y el meneo te encanta (The queen of the rumba and you love to move)

Epa, tengo la bemba colora (Hey, my thick lips are red)
Soy la negra jabá (I’m the high-yellow black girl)

Revuelca las caderas pa’ sentirte, negrita (Move your hips so I can feel you, black girl)
Revuelca las caderas pa’ sentirte, blanquita (Move your hips so I can feel you, white girl)
Revuelca las caderas pa’ sentirte, rubiona (Move your hips so I can feel you, blondie)
Revuelca las caderas pa’ sentirte, jabá [...](Move your hips so I can feel you, high-yellow black girl) [...]
Narizona, pero que linda es (Big-nosed but pretty)
Eres bembona, pero que rica es (Tick-lipped but pretty)
Eres culona y tu booty clap excita (Big-assed and your booty clap excites)
A hombres como yo [...] (Men like me)

I’m taking corrections to the lyrics. Am I mishearing? Part of me definitely wants to be.

Not to let LG off the hook, but a post on the racial/sexual implications of his lyrics need a lot more time and careful thought than I can put in right now.

But, frankly, what I most hope to be mishearing are Cyn's lines. “My thick lips are red/ I'm the high-yellow black girl.” It sounds to me like nails on chalkboard coming from lips and skin that—like mine—enjoy the privileges of whiteness in a racist society.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

From White to Mulata: The Darkening Powers of Reggaetón

Jowell & Randy have a song out called "Es Mala." Tito, a DJ and a student at Wesleyan University, has the following sharp, sharp observations to make:

Hey Raquel,

Have u heard the song "Mala Es" by Jowell & Randy off of Don Omar's "El Pentagono" ? It's definitely worthy of discussion... Here a some of the lyrics:

"niña niña niña blancaa..
te ponen reggaeton y cambia a mulata

niña niña niña niña blancaa..
te ponen reggaeton y cambia a mulata

tu eres bien mala , bien mala
se te nota en la cara
tu eres bien mala
y cmo el diablo mala ati se te nota en la cara

yo soy el que te motivo la falda
mirandote bien con esa falda blanca
tu estas dura sin duda y que nalga
mai tu me mata
esta noche yo te cambio de blanca a mulata ma"

Seems as if all the desired Women in Reggaeton are "mulattas" or in this case all Women are simply transformed into mulattas as a result of the dembow. Seems to me that Reggaeotn's attitude towards Women is increasingly not only sexualized, but also racialzed.


I sent the song to you via e-mail. I think that Reggaeton follows the narrative of the "mulatta" lust found in other genres, but I find that Reggaeton in comparison to other genres is becoming more & more explicitally sexually. Whereas before artists might have used a code word or some type of other word to maybe dumb-down their true sexualized & demeaning lyrics, artists are now becoming more & more direct, vulgar, & explicit. Even something as simple as going from saying "amor" to "sexo" makes the angle more sexualized for Reggaeton. Not to mention that "perreo" is a term derived from animals & is directly related to sex, so I think Reggaeton comprises a sexual culture to it, that is to say, that to listen & like reggaeton is somewhat naughty or sexual for a female & empowering & dominating for males. I think the "mulatta" is the idealized woman in reggaeton & this is evident from the music videos to artists simply sayin "ay mulatta" etc. in their songs. The issue for me is that when you take a musical genre that in my opinion is viewed as & is very sexualized & attach notions of race to it you you create a racialized & sexualized "subject" in those you are portraying & seeing as Women have very little agency in the Reggaeton world, this representation is pretty much upheld in PR society both on the island & in the states.


I think reggaeton has been raunchy & explicity all along, but I think the lyrics have reverted back to the "Reggeaton Sex" days of Underground. I think that "raunchiness" & degradation have become more mainstream & therefore are seen as less scandalous & more acceptable to society, so I think it has questioned our value as a community. The fact that Reggaeton outright refers to sexual references & acts & is accepted as mainstream Puerto Rican culture posing an interesting cultural issue for me. Now you can go to Puerto Rico and see young girls singing "dame con el palo, " & they're parents paying no mind to it, which I think is crazy. In the beginning of Reggaeton I found the lyrics to be much more raunchy, violent, & drug-related. Then maistream Reggaeton came along, switched the "sexo" to "amor" & the "nenas" to "gatas." I think these sudle changes in language allowed Reggaeton to be more successful in the mainstream, but now a lot of artists are moving back to the original lyrics because they already have a stable fan base. I mean, look at someone like Tony Dize, if you translated osme of his songs into english, they could put even 50 Cent to shame with the blatant sexual references & degradation of women.


Thank you so much, Tito, for sharing your thoughts.

I'm wondering: What do other folks think?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My column in today's El Diario / La Prensa: "La otra cara del hip-hop"

Click here for my column in today's El Diario / La Prensa titled "La otra cara del hip-hop."