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REGGAETON HAS A BEAT, AND YOU CAN DANCE TO IT WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?

Byline: Fred Shuster Music Writer

As recently as three years ago, few outside Puerto Rico knew the simple, instantly recognizable beat of reggaeton, the Latin hip-hop sound poised to eclipse rap. Back then, Daddy Yankee, the genre's biggest star, didn't even speak English.

Today, the tropical-flavored Latin rap of reggaeton is blaring inescapably from radio, TV, taco shacks, nightclubs and Hummers.

With an appealing rhythm derived from Jamaica's post-reggae ``dancehall'' genre, and topped by frequently raunchy lyrics rapped in Spanish, reggaeton is a raw street noise polished in top studios and aimed directly at an exploding demographic - bilingual urban youth.

Along with Puerto Rico's Daddy Yankee (Raymond Ayala), whose Latin Grammy-nominated international million-seller ``Gasolina'' kicked open the door for the genre, reggaeton's leading exponents include Tego Calderon, Angel & Khriz, Luny Tunes, Queen Ivy, Don Omar and Cuban-American rapper Pitbull. More widely known Top 40 stars R. Kelly, Alicia Keys, Sean Paul, Shakira, Lil Jon and Ricky Martin have all fashioned reggaeton remixes, with further crossover from other big names expected.

The stuff is so popular that Billboard just launched a reggaeton chart, Spanish-language radio stations across the country are revising their formats to program it, and MTV2 has a new weekly reggaeton video music block. Local radio stations KXOL-FM (96.3), KSSE-FM (107.1) and KPWR-FM (105.9) - Power 106 - are supporters, and one of the most popular places to see and hear the music is on local TV network LATV, where live performances and videos are introduced by hip, young hosts speaking breakneck Spanglish.

``It started like 10 years ago as an underground dance music at parties in the (housing) projects,'' said Puerto Rican rapper Tego Calderon, 33, who emerged in '03 with platinum hits in New York, Miami and three-dozen Spanish-speaking countries and subsequently collaborated with 50 Cent and other top rap acts.

``Salsa and merengue was the dance music, then people started rapping over that, telling stories of the streets, trying to keep it real like the New York rappers. Then we started rapping in Spanish over JA (Jamaican) dancehall. People called us crazy, but we made something of our own.''

Reggaeton (pronounced ``regga-tone'') was recognized in the top categories for the first time this year in the sixth annual Latin Grammy Awards nominations, announced Tuesday. Receiving two nods each were Daddy Yankee (record of the year for ``Gasolina'' and best urban music album for ``Barrio Fino'') and Luny Tunes (record of the year for producing ``Gasolina'' and best urban music album for ``The Kings of the Beats'').

Considered the fastest-growing genre in the music biz, the hot dance music has also made an impact in concert halls. Last Friday, a multiact reggaeton bill filled the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk. On Saturday, Daddy Yankee kicks off a world tour at Madison Square Garden before moving on to coliseums in Ecuador and Colombia, and Staples Center on Sept. 9.

``If you haven't experienced the Latin movement, this is your chance,'' said Yankee, 26, who has a movie and the de rigueur clothing and sneaker line in the works. ``I want to take the genre to the next level. We have a lot to offer the industry, and it's time to show them what we're made of. At first I didn't understand the responsibility I had, but now I understand.''

Insiders think reggaeton will soon have its own category at the mainstream Grammys, and some predict the increasingly popular beat will make inroads in gringo genres like rock, country and pop, just as hip-hop has done.

``I don't care what language you speak, you're going to get up and dance to it,'' said Leila Cobo, bureau chief for Billboard's Miami-Latin division. ``It sounds like nothing else, but the music will have to evolve. You already hear more blends of styles, and in the next few years we'll see even more strains of Latin hip-hop as a result.''

The basic hallmark of reggaeton is the perfectly timed electronic drum rhythm used in every track. A dramatic chorus typically acts as an intro to the songs, which often celebrate sex in varying degrees of explicitness. But unlike African-American rap, gunplay, drug-dealing and bloody revenge fantasies are not part of reggaeton's vocabulary.

``We want to make songs that everybody can appreciate - that parents can get for their kids,'' said Luny (Francisco Saldana) of the Latin Grammy-nominated duo Luny Tunes, which has written and produced for virtually every top name in reggaeton (and wrote and produced Daddy Yankee's ``Gasolina''). ``The words have changed a lot since it began. We want this music to be accepted.''

Adds Diane J. Almodovar, BMI's assistant vice president of Latin music: ``Back in the day, the lyrics were pretty crude, but the message is getting cleaner. There's a certain savvyness in reggaeton (lyrics) that's not just the usual straight-up hip-hop. And the flip side is a lot of (English-speaking) urban artists are reaching out to the Puerto Ricans to do remixes incorporating Spanish lyrics.''

While blockbuster tracks like Daddy Yankee's ``Gasolina'' can fuel million-selling albums by a single artist, reggaeton is a music of compilations, and those multi-act discs may be the best way to appreciate the new beat. A good place to start is the chart-topping ``MVP 2: The Grandslam,'' featuring dance-floor fodder by Don Omar, Angel & Khriz and others.

``That's how hip-hop started in '88,'' said rapper Khriz, 24. ``It was a process of discovery for people. They'd hear a track somewhere, or they'd find a 12-inch mix of a song and play it. You'd earn respect for your track.

``It came from the streets, just like we did. We didn't take any music classes. This is our life. If I wanted money, I'd go to school and be a doctor.''

Fred Shuster, (818) 713-3676

fred.shuster(at)dailynews.com

DADDY YANKEE

Where: Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles.

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 9.

Tickets: $49.50-$125. (213) 480-3232; ticketmaster.com.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) who's your DADDY?

Led by Daddy Yankee, the Latin-rap sound of reggaeton is making big waves

(2) Angel & Khriz are featured on the popular ``MVP 2: The Grandslam'' reggaeton compilation CD.

(3) DADDY YANKEE

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

Box:

2005 Latin Grammy Awards
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 24, 2005
Words:1042
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