Reggaeton hitting its stride

So lately I’ve been feeling new Reggaeton as much as anything. First hearing it from a rooftop in Antigua, Guatemala in early ’99 I was immediately drawn to a new sound I didn’t have a name for belonging to a scene of which I was totally unaware. I think the first song I really latched on to sampled an old Bob Marley riff (De La Soul sampled the same riff for “Keepin’ the Faith”) which was tuggingly familiar. I ended up buying cassettes both legally and on the streets of Panajachel that had titles with “Regue” in them. Not that I knew what I was getting. In baby Spanish I was asking for youth music that was the most “intenso.” I had no way of listening to them during my sojourn but after checking them out back in Portland I ended up bringing some along to a career-defining May Day gig that Spring at the Borthwick manor. I would cart around a tape deck to house party gigs at the time in order to take advantage of street tapes filled with new Reggaeton and Merengue-House songs of which I hadn’t yet found more legitimate copies.

A trip to New York City in 2002 convinced me that Reggaeton was the biggest sound on the streets of El Barrio when people weren’t taking the mellow road with sappy Bachata. From first hearing Bhangra I knew it was going to break into the American mainstream but I don’t remember having any such thoughts about Reggaeton; I just knew that it slayed at parties. In fact I DJed a house party many years ago on Haight St. where I was about to take over the decks and decided to spring a new sound on people. As I was about to put on my first song someone came up and asked me to play some Hip-hop. I told them sure and thought “I hope they like Latin Hip-hop.” Well as I drop the first Reggaeton track the man come back to me saying “I’m from P.R. My whole crew is from P.R. This is our music. This is our roots.” They begin to go crazy and jump up and down on the dancefloor. Well, I have to assure anyone who doesn’t live in Portland that this is an unbelievably rare and unusual scene for Portland. Portland is not only most definitely not NYC, it is the whitest city of its size in America, and the Spanish-speakers here are for the vast majority, not from Puerto Rico. For years I would go to Latin stores in the Portland metro area and find nary a hint of Reggaeton. Reggaeton has since become a pan-Latin smash, the most popular urban genre in Spanish, and has achieved a great deal of mainstream exposure and sales. There was a period of time last summer when it felt like 1 out of 5 songs on 95.5 was a Reggaeton cut.

As much as I have stuff dating back to the early days of Reggaeton it is the latest releases that have me the most excited. I’ve had such a vast collection since the first time I went crazy at a Spanish Harlem shop that sometimes it has felt like more a chore to slog through all my Reggaeton discs than a joy. Well, ever since Mas Flow 2 things have been entirely different. That was the most significant time that I discovered a Reggaeton disc filled with hot tracks and not just 1 or 2. Lately Hector El Bambino, Tito El Bambino, Wisin y Yandel, Zion y Lennox, Ivy Queen, anything by Luny Tunes, and in it’s un-remixed form, Daddy Yankee’s “Rompe” have all been sounding to my ears like a consolidation of stylistc features and a spear-charge forward into the next phase for Reggaeton. Don Omar has his first album of new material in quite a while. I have yet to pick it up but I am curious in what directions he will be pushing Reggaeton, as I am about Tego Calderon whenever he gets around to releasing a new album.


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