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Panelists Rally Around Rap…The Number Of Latin Artists & Size Of Latin Audiences Keeps Growing…Tego Calderon & Merengue-Pop Act Gisselle In La Verdadera Historia De Pedro Navaja

Conference Panelists Rally Around Rap

Judy Cantor

June 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Billboard, Gale Group Inc, VNU Business Media. All rights reserved. 

Proclaiming rap "a revolution in Latin music," participants and audience members championed the future of the genre at a Billboard Latin Music Conference panel in May that felt more like a rally than an industry seminar.

"There will be a time when Spanish rap and reggae will be accepted by the mainstream," said Oscar Cortez, known as DJ Kazzanova, who produces a daily rap segment on WCAA Latino Mix in New York. "Mainstream does not mean pop. A lot of people are getting up-to-date with real Spanish hip-hop and recognizing the music from the street." Cortez's and other panelists' comments were greeted with cheers from audience members, who displayed the grassroots enthusiasm for rap, reggaeton and other hip-hop styles that have made the music so popular among Latin American and U.S. youth.

"Right now, it's about taking chances," said panel moderator Yolanda Foster, VP of programming at Mun2 Television, whose live daily show The Roof showcases artists from the urban Latin scene. "That's what's making a difference. We're educating the advertisers. We're bringing them a whole new market of urban and bilingual. The street has to keep busy, because the big guys will start listening."

Several panelists pointed to the success in Puerto Rico of dancehall-style reggaeton as an example of the possibilities for rap in other Latin markets. "Reggaeton is a voice that hasn't been heard in a while, the voice of the Pueblo," said Robi Draco Rosa, artist, producer and founder of the label Phantom Vox, adding that reggaeton makes up 60%-70% of all record sales in Puerto Rico. "This is such an exciting time."

The lack of a presence by major-label executives on the panel or in the audience was viewed by participants as indicative of the work that needs to be done for Latin rap to be seen as a viable genre, despite vibrant underground scenes in markets including Miami, where the conference was held, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

"The movement has gone through changes, and it's going to keep evolving," said Anthony Perez, producer and director, of Perfect Image Film & Video Production, which produces programming for Mun2. "As record labels become more interested, we all have to tight against bureaucracy and established agendas. We can't think that we're going to change people's square way of thinking in a day."

Perez and other participants urged those working with rap to increase awareness by stepping up street marketing efforts. "We have to clear the path," he said. "No one's going to clear it for us."

Panelists acknowledged that, as in the Anglo world, producers and promoters have to make efforts to eradicate prejudices about rap music and rap artists. In addition, they advocated for urban Latin music that could break down geographical and cultural barriers and appeal to young audiences in diverse Spanish-speaking countries and U.S. regions.

"Black is black everywhere you go," said Dominican rapper and producer Magic Juan, who had early success as the lead singer of seminal Latin rap group Proyecto Uno. "But Latin is a bunch of different countries. We've got to find a way to make it musically hot so that everyone, everywhere, will get what's going on. That's what's going to make this music really popular."

The Rise Of Rap: The Number Of Latin Artists And Size Of Latin Audiences Keeps Growing

June 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Billboard, Gale Group Inc, VNU Business Media. All rights reserved. 

Rap, hip-hop and reggateon (a modern form of reggae dancehall) are hardly new to the Latin market. Over the past decade, rappers have become a common feature on many pop albums, and, more telling, various acts--from Sindicato Argentino del Hip Hop to Orishas--have appeared on the Billboard charts and in mainstream consciousness.

The rap movement is significant enough that there is a rap category at the Latin Grammys, destined to serve purveyors of the genre from the entire Spanish-language marketplace. But here in the U.S., the rise of Spanish-language rap as a movement has been hampered by a lack of mainstream distribution. While many of the best-selling rising rap acts reside in Puerto Rico, most are signed to independent deals. Distribution of the albums is independent, as well, and is mostly confined to the island. But the past year has seen a rise in rap acts on Billboard's Top Latin Albums charts, as more and more artists are being scooped up for major distribution, with labels like EMI, Sony and Universal expressing their interest in developing the genre.

Among the new batch of rising acts and established artists expanding their horizons, here are a handful to keep an eye on.


At 26, Ramon Ayala, better known as "Daddy Yankee," is already a veteran of the rap/reggaeton field and--since childhood--has been using songs to paint a portrait of the social issues he has experienced. His discography includes five albums and more than 50 guest appearances (a common trend in the rap/reggaeton field), including collaborations with Anglo and Latin artists Nas, DJ Tony Touch, Big Pun, Grupo Mania, Olga Tanon and Domingo Quinones.

"I feel very grateful because it's been 13 years of making music. To be accepted by the public is very difficult," says Daddy Yankee, who made Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart for the first time last year. "I have to be realistic; if artists do not innovate, their career is over. As long as I am healthy, I'm gonna keep on working with lots of energy," he adds.

Daddy Yankee has also developed an eye for production, and has collaborated with Nicky Jam, Guatauva and Playero. His latest album, El, which he also produced, was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

This year, Daddy Yankee is expanding his reach, and he recently visited Honduras and Panama for promotion. In August, he will release his sixth album, El 2, Barrio Fino, on VI Music, which is currently distributed by UMVD. The album's launch will be supported by a massive concert at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.


William Omar Landron Rivera, artistically known as Don Omar, is Puerto Rico's up-and-coming rap/reggaeton artist. He started singing in church, where he was part of such groups as the No Limits House Band and the Christian Rappers. But, in the last three years, his participation on more than 20 rap albums has made him very popular in the genre. His latest contribution was to MVP, a multiartist compilation in which his song "Dale Don Dale" was chosen as the radio single, helping the album sell more than 60,000 copies.

Now, he's readying the release of his debut album, The Last Don, under the guidance of Hector "El Bambino," one-half of popular reggaeton duo Hector & Tito. Set to hit stores this month, The Last Don includes guest artists as diverse as rock band La Secta, tropical/merengue acts Tony Tun Tun and Limi-T 21, and reggaeton artists Hector & Tito, and Daddy Yankee.

"My best achievement is having made myself known as a respectable artist," says Omar. "The best payment an artist can have is the support and respect of the audience. Without having a solo album out in the market, I have the privilege of counting both."


For more than a decade, Tego Calderon performed many odd jobs, the latest being a cab driver, while he dreamed of being a rap artist. He jumped at an opportunity to be featured on a rap compilation, and his excellent performance led to multiple album appearances. Now, at 30, he is the most popular rap/reggaeton artist in Puerto Rico due to his debut album, El Aballarde, on White Lion Records, which has reportedly sold more than 100,000 copies. Not surprisingly, his March 14 presentation at Roberto Clemente Coliseum drew a sold-out crowd.

But what has boosted Calderon's acceptance, not only among rap/reggaeton fans but also among mainstream audiences, is his unique style. Calderon fuses hip-hop with up-tempo rhythms such as reggaeton, salsa and bomba (a form of call-and-response tribal music driven by heavy percussion). And he delivers his lyrics in a more relaxed and easier-to-digest manner than the more fast-paced, angry style of rap. As of this year, Calderon will be able to go even more mainstream, thanks to a management deal with Samcord Productions (which represents Paulina Rubio) and major distribution through BMG.

"I owe much of my success to my musical upbringing. I learned every type of music; I was influenced by Ismael [Rivera] and hardcore rap--Public Enemy, N.W.A.," says Caledron. "I am grateful to life, to people. I think that will be reflected in my [upcoming] album."


Last year, Miami radio audiences were treated to something of an oddity: a rap track, by a completely unknown act, playing in heavy rotation on popular tropical station WRTO 98.3, Salsa 98. It was "Pana Pana" by Don Dinero, a New York rapper of Cuban parents, whose music is reminiscent of Orishas in its use of Cuban rhythms and melodies but is far more urban in its rap content. Don Dinero (whose real name is Jose Manuel), who's been rapping since he was 8, took the song to Salsa 98 PD Leo Vela after numerous record executives turned down his independently produced CD, Que Bola. "You know what they told me? This album will never work," says Dinero. "Now, every label wants me.

Dinero is sticking with Cuban Connection, the label he created with his brother, and which he initially distributed through Reyes Records in Miami. Now, he's inked a distribution deal with Universal, which should help his music gain entry to Puerto Rico. In the meantime, he's working on a compilation album called La Coneccion, which will feature Cuban Connection acts, as his second single, "Desahogo," starts to hit other radio stations nationwide. Things, he says, can only get better. Which makes sense, given his name.

"Everybody that knows me on the street calls me Dinero, Don Dinero. In my neighborhood, if people need money, they come to me. I have a gift for that."

Popular Rapper Tego Calderon & Merengue-Pop Act Gisselle Have Been Confirmed As Part Of The Supporting Cast Of The Musical La Verdadera Historia De Pedro Navaja

Randy Luna

June 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Billboard, Gale Group Inc, VNU Business Media. All rights reserved. 

In Puerto Rico: Popular rapper Tego Calderon and merengue-pop act Gisselle have been confirmed as part of the supporting cast of the musical La Verdadera Historia de Pedro Navaja. They join salsa singer Gilberto Santa Rosa and pop diva Yolandita Monge, who play Pedro Navaja and Diana la Maromera, respectively. Calderon will play El Lince de la Barandilla, while Giselle will be Betty McKenna. The musical opens in October at Centro de Bellas Artes de Caguas.. . Ras Records, home to such popular reggae acts as Culture, Midnite, Israel Vibrations, and Gondwana, has released the self-titled debut album by 11-piece Puerto Rican ensemble Bayanga. The band, led by four percussionists, fuses uptempo Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms. Ras Records, a division of Sanctuary Records distributed in the U.S. by BMG Distribution, will release the album in selected European countries this summer.

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