Reggaeton is sweeping the Latin music world with its irrepressible blend of tropical Latin and reggae rhythms. Today many of the most popular reggaeton artists come from Puerto Rico, but you can't keep this music from sailing out to the rest of the world.
The distinctive sound of today's reggaeton is a mix of Jamaican dancehall rhythms, derived from reggae, and Latin merengue, bomba, plena and sometimes salsa. It's heavily percussive beat is called "dembow" and comes from Trinidad's 'soca' music; it fuses electronic dance music, hip-hop elements and Spanish / Spanglish rap to form a compelling, driving sound that has been embraced by hispanic urban youth worldwide.
Historically there has been an invisible line that has segregated Jamaican music and other Latin dance styles. But that line was breached in Panama, a country with a significant Jamaican population that had migrated south to work on the Panama Canal in the early 20th century.
There's a heated debate about whether reggaeton originated in Panama or Puerto Rico. While it seems obvious that the roots are Panamanian, some of the best know (and earliest) purveyors of today's reggaeton sounds come from Puerto Rico, so the confusion is easily understood.
The first Reggae recordings in Latin America were made in Panama in the mid-1970s . A large number of Jamaican immigrants, brought in to build the Panama Canal, brought Reggae music with them and introduced it to the local population. Nando Boom is considered one of the first raggamuffin deejays from Panama. Without Panamanian ragga deejays like El General, reggaeton would never have caught on. Some even argue that reggaeton itself started in Panama, and that Puerto Rican artists merely added influences from house music and hip hop. Those, however, are defining elements of the reggaeton sound.
In 1985, rapper Vico C from Puerto Rico produced one of the first Spanish-language hip hop records in Puerto Rico. Thus the two main influences of the genre were in place, as well as the two main producing countries.
Reggae production took off seriously in Panama in the early nineties, about the same time Jamaican ragga imports were becoming popular in Puerto Rico. It was common practice to translate an original Jamaican reggae song (the same melody and rhythm, but with translated lyrics). 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".
The reggaeton scene widened when Puerto Rican and Cuban styles perfused the Panamanian-style reggae. Today, the music flourishes throughout Latin America.
The genre's most notably unique feature is a driving drum-machine track derived from early Jamaican dancehall rhythms and heavily influenced by other forms of electronic dance music, such as techno, house, and genres such as the merengue hip hop (also called merenhouse) of groups such as Proyecto Uno and Zona 7.
The lyrics speak about the reality of life on the streets, misunderstandings, unfair situations, love, cheating, and passion. Although some reggaeton lyrics can be sexist and violent, the focus is on less controversial topics such as dancing. Latino youth - both male and female - have come to respect female artists such as Ivy Queen, who highlights female strength. This respect has paved the way for many other female Reggaeton artists.
Reggaeton's multi-ethnic flavor demonstrates the openness and positivity of Puerto Rican society. Reggaeton's creativity and break from American and Jamaican musical styles reflects Puerto Rico's multi-ethnic culture and its cultural proximity to other Latin American countries, the US, and Jamaica. Many important reggaeton musicians come from Panama, another country where Latin and Anglo influences join hands.
• BIP • Cheka • Daddy Yankee • Lelito • Demphra • Pitbull • Don Chezina • DJ Sy • Don Omar • La Factoría • Mey Vidal • Ghetto y Gastham • Héctor y Tito • Ivy Queen • Khriz y Angel • Latin Dreams • Lito y Polaco • Magic Juan • Nicky Jam • Papa A.P. • Tego Calderón • Tempo • Trébol Clan • Vico C • Wisin y Yandel • Papi Chulo