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San Jose Mercury News

It's Reggae, It's Rap, And It's Muy Caliente; This Puerto Rican Sound Is Called Reggaeton, And It's Catching Fire In The U.S.

By Nerissa Pacio

8 March 2005
Copyright © 2005 San Jose Mercury News. All rights reserved.

It's an urban musical mutt. A mix of Spanish rap, dancehall reggae and Latin rhythms spiked with the rebellious flavor of hip-hop.

And while most of its lyrics are in Spanish, native speakers aren't the only ones digging the latest craze in Latin pop music: reggaeton.

Already having made inroads in Miami, Orlando and New York -- where there are large Caribbean and South American immigrant populations -- the emerging genre originally from Puerto Rico recently exploded onto the Bay Area's mainstream airwaves and Latin and hip-hop nightclubs.

Current chart-topping hits such as ``Oye Mi Canto,'' by the half-black, half-Latino rapper N.O.R.E. (a.k.a. Noreaga); ``Gasolina'' by Puerto Rico's Daddy Yankee; and ``Culo,'' by Miami-Cuban MC Pitbull can be heard throughout the day not only on Spanish station KEMR-FM ``Viva'' (105.7), but also on mainstream hip-hop's KYLD-FM ``Wild'' (94.9) and KMEL-FM (106.1).

``It's a movement,'' says Pitbull, a.k.a. Armando Perez, known for his rowdy ``crunk''-style bilingual hip-hop, splashed with reggaeton (pronounced reh-gay-TONE). ``People are loving bilingual rap. There's a huge appetite for it. It's helping the Latin world to speak.''

Reggaeton's rise from the Puerto Rican underground to the English-speaking mainstream has taken more than a decade. Its ascent can be attributed in part to its cross-pollination with hip-hop, which shares a similar grass-roots history.

On ``Culo'' (the word, offensive to some, refers to a person's rear end) and his latest single, ``Toma,'' Pitbull collaborated with Southern rapper-producer Lil Jon.

P. Diddy has asked Daddy Yankee to be the image for his spring-summer collections of the Sean John clothing line. And Ivy Queen, the only woman to successfully break into the male-dominated genre, collaborated with Puerto Rican-American rapper Fat Joe on her latest album, ``Real.''

Mainstream radio and club DJs have also started mixing reggaeton with hip-hop hits, says Tony ``O'' Orellano, a veteran Bay Area Latin music DJ. The music has made its way onto DJ playlists from Christina Milian's ``Dip It Low'' and Ashanti's ``Only You,'' to Snoop Dogg's ``Drop It Like It's Hot,'' now remixed with the unmistakable syncopated reggaeton beat.

``There's this huge new untapped market in the United States,'' says Pitbull, 24. ``You have people from South America, Spain, a whole lot of people from Latin countries here. . . . They are like, `These are my roots, this is where I'm from, give it to me and feed me.' ''

Packed house in S.F. With a growing West Coast fan base, reggaeton artists have also begun arriving at Bay Area venues. In January, Ivy Queen made her first Bay Area appearance at San Francisco's Factory. Hosted by Wild 94.9, about 2,000 people, mostly young blacks and Latinos, lined up around the block and packed the house for the oversold show.

``We have the same background as hip-hop,'' says Ivy Queen, a.k.a. Martha Ivelisse Pesante, who has been compared to groundbreaking female rappers Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim for her brazen attitude and pro-female lyrics. ``The reggaeton community in Puerto Rico loves hip-hop so much. There's so many similarities to both of the genres. So what's happening is that the American hip-hop market is coming to Puerto Rico to mix hip-hop with reggaeton.''

Although she and other pioneers such as Tego Calderón and Panamanian rapper El General have persevered for years, she says reggaeton was until recently largely ignored by major record labels and mainstream DJs.

``I think people are realizing now this is the music of the youth,'' Ivy Queen says. ``It came from people that were out on the streets. Poor guys or just regular people. . . . We've grown because we keep it real.''

The overwhelming success of the Ivy Queen show prompted promoters to bill a reggaeton festival on March 26 at the Concourse Exhibition Center in downtown San Francisco. Don Omar, N.O.R.E., Pitbull, Rupee and Oro Solido are slated to perform live, says Salvador Martinez, a local Latin music booking agent at SM Management and Promotions.

Demand on the rise Manuel Morano, Viva 105.7 programming director and a promoter for Latin dance club Barcelona in Sunnyvale, says he began noticing the escalating demand for reggaeton in the Bay Area, especially among bilingual Spanish-speaking youths from 18 to 24, within the past six months.

Reggaeton's burgeoning buzz, Morano says, is comparable to that of rock en español in the '80s, but with a much edgier vibe.

``The lyrics and the way they dance to it, called the perreo, is very sexual,'' says Morano, of the slow, grinding dance named after the Spanish word for ``dog.'' Like much of hip-hop, reggaeton's lyrics focus on street life, gangs, drugs, violence and profanity.

But whatever the lyrical content, clubgoers say they enjoy it for its infectious beat, booming with the Latin sounds of bombas, timbales and congas.

``Everybody loves it,'' says 26-year-old Alex Rodriguez of Milpitas, at Barcelona on a recent Friday. ``The first time I heard it was in Mexico. I usually listen to rock en español. But this kind of dancing -- it's the dance of the future.''


8 March 2005
Copyright © 2005 San Jose Mercury News. All rights reserved.

A sampling of reggaeton artists.

Daddy Yankee

From: Puerto Rico

Hits: ``Gasolina'' from 2004 album ``Barrio Fino.''

Fact: Has been asked by P. Diddy to model the upcoming spring-summer collection for the Sean John clothing line.

Owns: Record label El Cartel Records.


From: Queens, N.Y.

Hit: ``Oye Mi Canto''

Fact: The half-black, half-Latino rapper -- a former Def Jam artist now signed with Roc-A-Fella Records -- wanted to reference his Latino side in ``Oye Mi Canto.''

Nina Sky

From: Queens, N.Y.

Hits: ``Turnin' Me On,'' featured on ``Oye Mi Canto.''

Fact: Singers Natalie and Nicole Albino are identical twins.

Ivy Queen

From: Puerto Rico, raised in New York City

Latest album: ``Real'' on Universal Latino

Fact: Only top-ranking female reggaeton solo act; compared to hip-hop's Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim for her brash and pro-female lyrics.


From: Miami

Hits: ``Culo'' and ``Toma,'' featuring Lil Jon

Fact: Known for his ``crunk'' style hip-hop laced with reggaeton.

Tego Calderón

From: Puerto Rico, raised in Miami

Latest album: ``El Enemy de los Güasíbiri'' on BMG Records.

Fact: Known as ``the poet of the street,'' his musical influences come from salsa and Afro-Caribbean music.

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