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THE NEW YORK TIMES
A Caribbean Party With A Hip-Hop Beat
By JON PARELES
August 12, 2003
Reggaeton, Puerto Rico's fast-spreading rap and dance music, drew 12,000 dancing fans to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night for the first Reggaeton Summerfest: more than a dozen of the genre's top stars in a nonstop three-and-a-half-hour concert. The headliner and most forward-looking performer was Tego Calderón, but huge roars and singalongs also greeted Don Omar, Hector y Tito, Daddy Yankee, Rey Pirin and the lone female rapper on the bill, Ivy Queen.
Reggaeton is a Caribbean and American hybrid with a growing popularity fueled by its sound and its demographics. The bouncing midtempo beat comes from Jamaican dancehall, the vocabulary uses the rawest Puerto Rican slang, and the attitudes and wardrobe from athletic jerseys to Daddy Yankee's bling-bling jewelry to the rakish suits and hats of Mackie Ranks y Yaga reflect hip-hop.
Many of the acts were duos in which one member (often with a Jamaican-style name like Alberto Stylee or Ranking Stone) used the rough tone of Jamaican dancehall toasting and the other came on more smoothly or even sang. The backup came from disc jockeys and drum machines.
Reggaeton's rappers are tough guys and party people. When they're not boasting like gangsta rappers about their fearlessness and weaponry, they're offering details of how they'll be dancing, drinking and putting the moves on women. Every few songs the rappers chanted, "Hasta abajo" (roughly, "Get down") and did a crouching, hip-thrusting update of limbo dancing.
Although reggaeton's performers are Puerto Rican, many of its fans in New York are from the Dominican Republic. The concert briefly set aside reggaeton for a miniset by Grupo Aventura, which is rooted in the Dominican ballads called bachatas. Again and again the rappers drew cheers by unfurling flags and saluting Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic; Mexico and Colombia were also cited. Many recent immigrants are happy to hear lyrics in Spanish over a contemporary beat.
That beat ran almost continuously through the show. Sometimes it was unembellished; sometimes it added the minor chords and simulated strings of gangsta rap or a staccato melodic hook. The rappers distinguished themselves by their delivery: breakneck articulation from Daddy Yankee, Middle Eastern inflections from Don Omar, gritty defiance from Ivy Queen, a rough swagger from Rey Pirin.
There were also guest salsa singers. Domingo Quiñones sang with Daddy Yankee, and Victor Manuelle appeared with Hector y Tito, upgrading the singsong tunes of reggaeton with the refinement of salsa. Mr. Manuelle not only joined in the "hasta abajo" dancing, but also traded improvisations with Hector and Tito, making a link between the improvised words and music of a salsa sonero and the "improvisando" rapping of reggaeton. Ranking Stone and Trebol Clan offered rhymes in tribute to Celia Cruz, who died last month.
Despite a brawl in the front rows during his set, Mr. Calderón made the best case for reggaeton as music with room to grow. He arrived onstage with dozens of people including male break dancers, female bump-and-grind dancers and drummers who played the African-rooted Puerto Rican bomba. His songs drew on hip-hop, reggaeton, salsa and reggae; his raps did some boasting, some insulting and some flirting but also hinted at larger concerns. By breaking reggaeton's formulas, Mr. Calderón promises more hybrids to come.