5 Things You Didn't Know About Reggaeton

What you're hearing is reggaeton, a widely popular Latin blend of reggae and dancehall that is quickly making its way into the mainstream. Cultivated in Puerto Rico, the genre is characterized by a thumping beat, fast-paced Spanish reggae lyrics and tropical dancehall melodies.

The popular Latin urban music became a force on the American music scene thanks to such mainstream hits as "Oye Mi Canto" by N.O.R.E., Tego Calderon and Nina Sky, and "Gasolina" by Daddy Yankee. Here's your chance to get well-versed in the genre.

1- In June 2005, 4 of Billboard's Top 10 Latin albums were reggaeton
Once dismissed as a passing fad, reggaeton is now one of the busiest sections of music stores across the nation. Having survived in Puerto Rico for many years, the genre is now alive and thriving in the mainstream United States.

In 2004, overall music sales increased by 5.3% in the U.S., a much lower figure than had been anticipated. During the same year, however, Latin music sales soared by 23.6%, thanks largely to the emergence of reggaeton in America. Both Universal Music and Sony/BMG have established their own Latin hip-hop labels, and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs is allegedly looking to add the same sort of label to his own empire at Warner Music.

Reggaeton stars such as Tego Calderon and Daddy Yankee are commanding huge deals with American music labels as they emerge from their contracts in Puerto Rico. These and other icons of the Latin urban genre are touring America and becoming top draws in their own right.

The impact of Latin America's urban hip-hop sound has been so strong that reggaeton remixes of tracks from Alicia Keys, Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, and even Evanescence have become big hits as well. Don't be surprised if reggaeton originals and remixes continue to climb the urban and pop charts over the months to come.

Reggaeton didn't originate where you thought it did...

2- Reggaeton came out of Panama
Though Puerto Rico is the modern-day hotbed of reggaeton, Panama is the original birthplace of the music. In the 1970s, a drove of Jamaican workers came to Panama to help work on improvements to the Panama Canal. The workers brought with them the reggae sounds from their home country, and soon local Panamanian artists began borrowing the music and incorporating it into their own songs.

Deejays like Nando Boom helped popularize this Latin form of reggae in Panama. By the early '80s, the music could be heard across much of Latin America, though it was still considered underground. As reggae and hip-hop increased in popularity in Puerto Rico in the 1990s, the pieces were in place for the establishment of a new, uniquely Latin genre.

Local Puerto Rican artists would habitually translate Jamaican reggae into Spanish, and when these lyrics were fused with Panamian-style reggae beats, reggaeton was born. A mix of hip-hop, reggae, meringue, and dancehall, the genre would become hugely popular in Puerto Rico by the mid-'90s.

3- Vico C & El General are the recognized founders of reggaeton
Though reggaeton is a mixed bag of several eclectic styles, each with their own origins, a few deejays helped define and introduce the new musical genre to the masses. One of these pioneers is Vico C, a New York-born rapper and deejay who grew up in the tough San Juan, Puerto Rico neighborhood of Puerta Tierra.

Throughout the 1980s, Vico C recorded Spanish-language rap cassettes and sold them at The Noise, a legendary San Juan club. As the cassettes caught on, Vico C soon became a producer, a position which allowed him to help aspiring artists develop the reggaeton style until it became the music we know today. The self-described "philosopher of reggaeton" has won two Latin Grammys for his work, and continues to perform and produce today.

Although Vico C helped spread the message and sound of reggaeton, few dispute that it was El General who got the music started in the first place. A Panamian ragga deejay, El General was one of the artists most profoundly influenced by Jamaican reggae. He took these influences to his turntables, where he created his own version of Latin reggae.

It was trailblazing music of El General and his peers that caught on in Panama and eventually spread to Puerto Rico. As it reached the island, Vico C picked up the torch and mixed in modern influences to complete the reggaeton sound.

4- Reggaeton is as much traditional as it is modern
Bomba and plena are two traditional genres of Puerto Rican folk music that have pervaded today's reggaeton beats. Though usually grouped together, these two forms have distinct histories and sounds.

The plena is a narrative song, often describing the sorrows of people living in the coastal communities of Puerto Rico. While the plena's focus is mainly on the lyrics, the genre is distinguished by the sound of its panderetas, handheld drums similar to tambourines. It is the sound of the panderetas, as well as that of the guiro, a notched, hollowed-out gourd, that reggaeton artists often borrow.

Another traditional genre that has weaved its way into reggaeton is bomba. Though derived from the same West African origins as plena, bomba has many differing features. Bomba is not a narrative genre, but is described as an accompaniment for dancers; a drum-based rhythm that features the sounds of several small tambors as well as a maraca.

Furthermore, the music alone does make bomba what it is. The singing and dancing that are combined with the genre's drum beats make bomba an event more than just a song. The fast beats of the buleador and subidor drums are the main contributions that bomba has made to reggaeton.

Why reggaeton won't be disappearing anytime soon...

5- For many, reggaeton has supplanted rap
Since reggaeton traces it origins to the folk music of Jamaica and Latin America, genres which have their roots in the voice of the struggling working class, there is a shared ancestry between reggaeton and today's urban scene. Mix in the tough undertones of hip-hop music and the catchy beats of dancehall, and it becomes pretty obvious that reggaeton's audience will be primarily composed of adolescents and young adults.

When reggaeton emerged in the Puerto Rico of the 1990s, it was soaked up by the island's youth. The lyrics, which increasingly mimicked rap in their brashness and political incorrectness, angered parents but were loved by their rebellious children.

With a sharp divide between lovers and haters of the genre, it was only natural that reggaeton become the anthem music for Puerto Rico's young, hip and rebellious. Further helping to solidify this demographic was the emergence of reggaeton dances and nightclubs. A grinding dance called perreo, or doggie-style, was invented. With a name like that, one can only imagine how naughty this hip-swaying dance became.

Just as rap has been a symbol for urban youth in North America, reggaeton became, and remains, a defining symbol of urban youth in Latin America, specifically Puerto Rico. The upbeat rebelliousness of the music is hard for any youngster to ignore.

With the dominance of artists like Tego Calderon, Don Omar and Ivy Queen on the Latin Billboard charts, reggaeton is swiftly becoming the newest sensation in music. Its popularity in mainstream America is only going to rise, thanks to catchy rhythms and its close association with rap.

Although artists like Wyclef Jean and P. Diddy have begun to take notice and incorporate reggaeton into their music, curious listeners are only getting a small taste of the true music that Puerto Ricans have been enjoying for years. As the genre continues to break through in America, the public will not be able to get enough of reggaeton.