Latino Studies Reggaetón
by
Petra R. Rivera-Rideau
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0123

Introduction

Reggaetón (also spelled reggaeton, reguetón, and regeton) is a popular music characterized by rapid vocals and a steady “dembow” beat. While early reggaetón was often described exclusively as a rap-dancehall hybrid, more contemporary versions of reggaetón incorporate elements from other genres of music such as R&B, vallenato, bachata, merengue, pop, and electronic dance music, among others. Scholars and fans alike debate reggaetón’s origins. Some argue that reggaetón began as reggae en español (also called plena) in Panama. Others claim that the genre developed first as underground on the island of Puerto Rico. While these debates may never be resolved, what is certain is that reggaetón is indebted to multiple streams of migration, including (but not limited to) West Indians to Panama, Dominicans to Puerto Rico, and West Indians, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans to the United States. These transnational movements not only exposed people to different musical genres, but also offered possibilities for cultural exchange that impacted local ideas about race, diaspora, and nation. For example, several scholars write about representations of race, particularly blackness, in reggaetón. Many of the musical genres that influenced reggaetón, such as hip-hop or dancehall, come from predominantly black communities in the Americas. These genres not only influenced reggaetón’s sound, but also the fashion, style, vocabulary, and aesthetics associated with it that spoke to the experiences of mostly poor, urban, and non-white youth. A second major theme in scholarship about reggaetón is gender and sexuality. Critics have admonished reggaetón for its misogynistic representations of women in lyrics and music videos. Some articles also address how reggaetón reinforces or challenges certain notions of black and Latino masculinity. Related to broader issues of gender, scholars have explored race and gender in reggaetón across different communities and various time periods from the 1980s to the present. Most reggaetón scholarship focuses on Puerto Rico, home to many of the most popular artists and producers. Panama has also received some attention from scholars given the crucial role reggae en español played in reggaetón’s development. Another place that has been the focus of reggaetón scholarship is Cuba given the island’s unique music scene and, especially, the tensions between reggaetón’s unabashed consumerism and the ideals of the Cuban Revolution. While reggaetón circulated in Puerto Rico and elsewhere beginning in the 1980s, in 2004 the genre broke into the mainstream Latin music industry with Daddy Yankee’s hit, “Gasolina,” from his album Barrio Fino. Several scholars thus explore the representations of Latinidad in reggaetón, particularly in the United States, as well as the music’s crossover into Latin pop markets. Despite its international popularity, reggaetón has received relatively little attention from scholars, and many aspects of the music are ripe for research. However, generally, reggaetón scholarship emphasizes themes such as race, gender, nation, diaspora, and the politics of representation that speak to larger debates in ethnic studies, women’s and gender studies, and cultural studies, among others.

General Overviews

Despite reggaetón’s longstanding popularity in Latin America and among US Latinos, it has received relatively little attention in scholarship. However, several texts provide a general overview of the music, its precursors reggae en español and underground, and contemporary debates about race, gender, socioeconomic class, and other social issues. Marshall 2006 provides an overview of reggaetón’s development from Panamanian reggae en español to contemporary Latin pop. Written during a time when reggaetón just started to break into Latin pop markets, Marshall’s article also attempts to predict the future of reggaetón at a moment when the music appeared poised to take over the mainstream. Rivera, et al. 2009 is an edited volume that contains chapters about different reggaetón scenes across the Americas, historical analyses of the music, and discussions about race, gender, and class. The editors’ introduction “Reggaeton’s Socio-sonic Circuitry” and Wayne Marshall’s chapter, “From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino: The Cultural Politics of Nation, Migration, and Commercialization” are especially useful overviews of the genre’s history and cultural politics. Rivera-Rideau 2015 traces the development of reggaetón in Puerto Rico, home to many of the genre’s most popular artists. These texts thus put forward many of the fundamental themes in reggaetón scholarship.

  • Marshall, Wayne. “The Rise of Reggaetón: From Daddy Yankee to Tego Calderón and Beyond.” Phoenix, 19 January 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Provides an overview of reggaetón’s rise to pop status from its beginnings as Panamanian reggae en español and Puerto Rican underground. Discusses reggaetón’s sonic connections to dancehall, hip-hop, and other forms of Caribbean popular music. Offers predictions for the future of reggaetón in both Latin and US mainstream popular music.

  • Rivera, Raquel Z., Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Pacini Hernández, eds. Reggaeton. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    Includes chapters about reggaetón in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and the United States. Addresses diverse issues in reggaetón such as gender, race, transnationalism, cultural politics, and others. Contains a brief bibliography of early scholarly and popular sources about reggaetón.

  • Rivera-Rideau, Petra R. Remixing Reggaetón: The Cultural Politics of Race in Puerto Rico. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822375258E-mail Citation »

    Examines the rise of reggaetón in Puerto Rico and the United States, with particular attention to the music’s racial politics, connections to diaspora and transnationalism, and gender and sexuality. Includes a chapter about Panamanian reggae en español and Puerto Rican underground, but focuses primarily on reggaetón in the 2000s. Ends with a discussion of reggaetón’s entrance into Latin music markets in the United States.

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