DJs I know who enjoy Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” mixes from a couple years back often don’t seem to know what genre the manic, kind of menacing, multi-layered song is. Like that matters, right? This is the Spanish language-rich stew of reggaeton, a percolating concoction that developed in dancehall (late period reggae) and developed its 3 + 3 + 2 groove into a downbeat that makes it arguably more a subgenre of hip-hop. (Find the song “Gasolina” on one of the various Latin music comps, or on YouTube, and go from there -- and there are some massive, tripping mixes out there to find.)
In an early 2006 edition of the Village Voice, Jon Caramanica, who will be at the 2009 Pop Conference at EMP|SFM with his own paper on ‘Rap Memes’ titled “Crank That? Yahhh! Soulja Boy Wants You To Dance Forever” (on Friday, April 17, 2009, 4:00 - 5:45 PM), raised the bloody pirate gauntlet for a Caribbean-style racial-musical civil war when he announced that he didn’t care about Eminem, the real conflict was between reggaeton and the rest of the hip-hop world. This got the often slandered genre written up in American magazines, and though sales of the artists are surprisingly good compared to the rest of the music business, its use of Spanish to deliver the lyrics and Third World economic factors have kept reggaeton from truly dominating the rest of the globe from its sources.
It’s those sources that cause a lot of controversy, at least in terms of who claims they “own” the music’s origin. As “junk culture” despised as the harshly textural, poetic, often scatological and violent music of some really fucking poor lower working class fans, Panama, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico in particular love to slug out who the hell brought the noise in the first place.
This are among the topics extrapolated in the book Reggaeton. Just out in April 2009, the thick anthology from Duke University Press seems to be the best place so far to find out about this music, and the EMP Pop Con will be part of the discussion where we can hear two of its editors and essay contributors, Raquel Z. Rivera and Wayne Marshall, carry it into the oral realm.
On Friday, April 17, Rivera will be part of the four-writer presentation “¡Reggeatón! Perreo and Beyond.” Rivera is a researcher at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College and previously authored New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). She is a frequent freelancer and writes about reggaeton on the blog Reggaetonica. Her contribution to Reggaeton is one of the best, describing the hard times for creators and distributors of the music brought by meddling, oppressive authorities abusively enforcing “community standards.”
According to the Pop Con synopsis, Rivera will focus on how the music “has been accused of aiding and abetting the dirtiest of dancing, providing the default soundtrack for sex work, and facilitating the corruption and deflowering of young people on dance floors worldwide.”
Marshall kicks the book off with a great general overview and history of how black music from Jamaica and America became something called underground in the 90s, giving a glimpse at the proto-reggaeton artists who were webbing its DNA even a decade before that. Marshall is the Florence Levy Kay Fellow in Ethnomusicology at Brandeis University, offering courses in Music and African and Afro-American Studies. “¡Reggeatón! Perreo and Beyond” will feature Marshall as well.
I am also excited to see that the Pop Con is also bringing Alexandra T. Vazquez to this part of the conference, as this author’s contribution, “Salon Philosophers” (focusing on African artist Ivy Queen) to the anthology is some of the most revealing regarding cultural clash and philosophical paradox in Reggaeton.
This sounds like an excellent opportunity to get to know this music better, as intimidating as it has been for many people who have responded to it the way others had towards jazz, punk, salsa, and other musical forms created out of utilitarian means and transgressive methods of joy. From there, the Reggaeton book couldn’t be a better printed guide.