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EFE News Service

Spanish-Language Rapper Sees Genre As Social Spearhead

By Iñaki Estivaliz

27 May 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE News Service. All rights reserved.

San Juan, May 27 (EFE).- The Nuyorican rapper considered the father of reggaeton, a Spanish-language mix of urban U.S. hip-hop and Afro-Caribbean elements, says the irreverent genre highlighting sex and violence is, more than a soundtrack for erotically charged "doggy-style" dancing, a vehicle for social commentary and protest.

So says Vico C, reggaeton's "philosopher," who was born in New York but raised in the tough San Juan barrio of Puerta Tierra. More than a performer, the man born Luis Armando Lozada Cruz and better known as Vico C considers himself "a revolutionary."

"I don't work to be fashionable, ... I work for the message," he told EFE in an interview.

As early as the mid-1980s, Vico C was recording rap cassettes in Spanish, which he sold in the historic San Juan discotheque The Noise, where many of the genre's legends - including DJ Negro, DJ Playero and Lisa M, among others - got their start.

In 2003, he won a Grammy for the best urban music album for his reggaeton production "En honor a la verdad" (To be truthful).

With his music, Vico C is trying "to change incorrect thinking in homes and among the legislators, and do away with hypocrisy, the negligence of parents with children, and to recover the values of love, peace and progress."

The first reggaeton artists to market their music did so with backing from drug traffickers or "bichotes," and - added to the fact that many of its stars have had drug problems, among them Vico C - the genre has found it hard to dissociate itself from crime.

For Vico C, however, this type of music is not just an excuse to dance "perreo," a Spanish term meaning "doggy-style" and referring to the dance's flesh-pressed undulations.

He said that the genre was born when U.S. rap was combined with Jamaican reggae and then - in Panama - incorporated Spanish-language lyrics.

But he also claims that Puerto Rico was where the music became a social phenomenon and a "revolutionary weapon," where its rhythms blaring from car speakers make the vehicles tremble, where mothers name their children after the genre's stars and where most of its performers come from.

In the early 1990s, when it was still an "underground" style, reggaeton caught the attention of the Puerto Rican Senate in the form of a bill - which was not passed - that would have limited the highly sexual content of music videos produced by the genre's artists.

Last week, the Puerto Rican Colosseum was transformed into a huge disco where 7,000 people danced in a reggaeton marathon, and one local radio station announced that it would begin broadcasting the music 24 hours a day.

For Vico C, reggaeton's success and spread is due to the fact that after the 1970s salsa boom, neither rock nor any other type of music could adequately express the feelings and experiences of the humblest and most marginalized Latinos.

"Salsa was really nice and Nirvana shook up the longhairs, but there was no genre with which Latinos, in general, could identify," he explained.

What is certain is that reggaeton speaks - above all - of sex, with explicit lyrics or bald-faced metaphors: "I bought a little cart to sell hot dogs, which is what they all want. My hot dog is very hard," Rankin Stone, for example, sings in Spanish.

But the music also speaks about violence in the slums, the drug turf wars, the code of conduct among the underclass and social criticism, all to an Afro-Caribbean beat.

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