From Bad Bunny reigning the 2020 Billboard charts to J Balvin’s countless Reggaeton-infused pop collaborations, the new era of reggaeton has penetrated the sound waves of popular music on an international scale. While in recent years Reggaeton made itself a home in popular culture due to the massive popularity of artists like Anuel AA, J Balvin, and Karol G, a lot more could be said of the origin and pioneers of the genre that has allowed these white Latinx artists to thrive. Marked by its cross-cultural fusion and unapologetic Blackness, Reggaeton was once rooted in the voices of Afro-Latinx artists and political activism through music.
Although whitewashing is an issue that goes beyond solely the genre of Reggaeton, the erosion of this music’s black origin sanctions a larger discussion on the few Afro-Latinx reggaetoneros that have been granted the same level of superstardom as their white-passing counterparts. As Reggaeton continues to make headway, it is only right that we pay homage to the hip shakers and drum beaters of the music. Read on to discover the unsung black history of Reggaeton and how this has contributed to its international success.
While Molded and Popularized in Puerto Rico, Reggaeton’s Roots Lie in Panama
During the 1980s, Afro-Panamanians would establish the foundation of Reggaeton through the sounds of Reggae en Español. Spanish reggae, or Reggae en Español, was quite literally the Spanish speaking version of Reggae songs after the growing phenomenon of Jamaican reggae beats by Black Latin Caribbeans. Soon popularized by Panamanian artists like Nando Boom and El General, Reggae en Español, would reach Puerto Rico in the 1990s and soon morph itself into the Dancehall beats, Spanish lyrics, and Hip-Hop rap culture we know today.
Reggaeton Was Once Censored
An underground haven for the poor and mostly black communities within Puerto Rico, Reggaeton would be targeted by governor Pedro Rosselló from 1993 to 1999 in an effort to criminalize the music genre. Disdaining Reggaeton for its hyper-sexual and violent lyrics, the Puerto Rican police department and National Guard began raiding record stores in and around San Juan. Despite Puerto Rico’s attempts at censoring the music genre through the anti-crime initiative Mano Dura Contra el Crimen, Reggaeton would later be commercialized and labeled “Latino music” in an attempt to erase its Black roots.
The Pioneers Spoke of Afro-Latinidad Struggle Through Their Music
A Puerto Rican native, Tego Calderón was not only one of the first reggaetoneros to popularize the genre with his 2002 smash hit “Pa’ Que Retozen,” he deliberately spoke out about his Afro-Latino identity throughout his music. Noted within his song “Loíza,” he blatantly discusses his struggle as a dark-skinned Puerto Rican when he states, “They want to make me think that I’m part of a racial trilogy/Where everyone is equal without special treatment.” In the song, he later goes on to say, “You changed the chains for handcuffs/We’re not all equal in legal terms/And this is proven in the courtrooms.” Calderón highlights the colorism many Afro-Latinx people face within their own countries through systemic racism tactics like the mass incarceration of darker-skinned people.
Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall Is Sampled in Most of Our Favorite Reggaeton Songs
As previously mentioned, a lot of Reggaeton’s current influences stem from Jamaican reggae yet it is still important to note that some of our favorite Reggaeton songs include samples of iconic Jamaican dancehall songs. One song in particular, “Murder She Wrote” by Chaka Demus & Pliers, has been sampled more than 54 times and can be found in songs like Daddy Yankee’s “Shaky Shaky” and “Que Tire Pa’lante,” and Wisin y Yandel’s “La Barría.” Even more so, Shabba Ranks’ song “Dem Bow” has laid the instrumental foundation for the majority of Reggaeton hits during the early 2000s.
Ivy Queen Disrupted Respectability Politics
Known as La Reina del Reggaeton, Ivy Queen stepped into the Reggaeton game as a member of the Noise, a Puerto Rican collective of DJs, rappers, and producers who performed in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Performing her first song “Somos Raperos Pero No Delincuentes” (We are Rappers, Not Delinquents) during Puerto Rico’s anti-crime initiatives of the 1990s, and then later gaining international praise with her 2003 hit, “Yo Quiero Bailar,” Ivy Queen’s music has constantly echoed a level of political activism. Specifically, as a white-passing Latina, Ivy Queen disrupted her association with white respectability politics within her music as well as within her overall aesthetic.