History of Reggaeton Music

by Piero Scaruffi

TM, ®, Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.

[Note: these are additions to my History of Rock and Dance Music ]

In the early 1980s Jamaican production duo Steely and Clevie (keyboardist Wycliffe "Steely" Johnson, who had played with influential dancehall band Roots Radics, and drummer Cleveland "Clevie" Browne, who had introduced the drum-machine into reggae) revolutionized dancehall reggae with drum-machines and synthesizers. In 1989 they created a beat, or, better, "riddim", for the Poco Man Jam sung by Jamaican dancehall vocalist Gregory Peck. This came to be known as the "dembow riddim"). Jamaican producer Robert "Bobby Digital" Dixon used it in the anti-colonialist anthem Dem Bow (1990) sung by dancehall singer Rexton "Shabba Ranks" Gordon. The song became an underground hit in Spanish-speaking Central America and led to increasingly sophisticated and lengthy remixes released as mixtapes incorporating elements of hip-hop and dancehall, and adopting Spanish lyrics (instead of the original English lyrics). Meanwhile, starting in the mid-1980s, there were two musical centres that were popularizing Spanish-language versions of English-languages genres: Panama was the place where reggae became popular in Spanish (notably with Chicho Man, Nando Boom and El General) and Puerto Rico was the place where rap became popular in Spanish (notably with Vico C). Meanwhile, Domincan immigrants had introduced their merengue music in Puerto Rico, and Jorge Oquendo, owner of a record label specializing in Spanish rap, had the idea of mixing Spanish rap and merengue and launched the international careers of Luis "Vico C" Cruz, whose first album was La Recta Final (1989), and the 14-year-old Marlisa "Lisa M" Vazquez, whose first album was Trampa (1989). Oquendo met Edgardo "El General" Franco who was doing something similar in Panama and helped him become the first international star of Spanish-language dancehall reggae thanks to the hit single Tu Pum Pum (1991). In 1992 Vico C's dj, Felix "DJ Negro" Rodriguez, opened a night-club in Puerto Rico's capital San Juan, the Noise, that became a legendary school for aspiring turntablists and singers of Spanish reggae such as DJ Nelson and Ivy Queen who experimented with the new synthesis of hip-hop and reggae. This is the club where reggaeton came into its own, as documented on DJ Negro's cassette The Noise (1994) and on Pedro "DJ Playero" Torruelas' cassette 37 (1994), the cassette that made Daddy Yankee popular, and a little later on Martha "Ivy Queen" Rodriguez's album En Mi Imperio (1996). Nelson "DJ Nelson" Martinez produced The Original Rude Girl (1998) for Ivy Queen Los Reyes del Nuevo Milenio (2000) for Wisin & Yandel (Juan Luna and Llandel Malave). At that time reggaeton began to infiltrate the night-clubs of Miami. Persecuted by the authorities for its incitement of violence, drugs and sex, reggaeton didn't have a radio station until Mix 107.7 was launched in popped in 1999 in San Juan. Starting from the year 2000, a similar Caribbean-hop hybrid was concocted by the production duo of Luny Tunes (Francisco "Luny" Saldana and Victor "Tunes" Cabrera) who had moved from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, and DJ Nelson discovered them and brought into the Noise circle.

Puerto Rican rapper Tegui "Tego Calderon" Rosario's debut album El Abayarde (2002) and Ramon "Daddy Yankee" Rodriguez's album El Cangri.com (2002) launched the new wave of reggaeton, followed by Luny Tunes' and Norgie Noriega's album Mas Flow (2003), Ivy Queen's album Diva (2003), William "Don Omar" Rivera's album The Last Don (2003), with its singles Pobre Diabla and Dale Don Dale, and Zion & Lennox (Felix Torres and Gabriel Pizarro)'s Motivando a la Yal (2004).

Reggaeton spread outside the Spanish-speaking world, and especially in the USA and Europe, when Luny Tunes produced Daddy Yankee's hit single Gasolina (2004), pop star Shakira recorded La Tortura (2004), and Dominican-born producer Edwin "SPK" Almonte produced New York rapper Victor "N.O.R.E." Santiago's hit single Oye Mi Canto (2005), featuring both Tego Calderon and Daddy Yankee. It climbed the charts with Don Omar's album King of Kings (2006), with Daddy Yankee's album El Cartel III - The Big Boss (2007) and with Wisin & Yandel's Wisin vs. Yandel - Los Extraterrestres (2007). Its popularity would steadily increase in the next ten years until Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee would top the US charts for several weeks with the poppy cumbia-influenced Despacito.

TM, ®, Copyright © 2002 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.

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