Today we have seen how a music genre known as reggaeton has reached unprecedented popularity, the entire Latin America region seems to have fallen into the hands of stylised Reggaeton-performers in such a way that any US Hip-Hop artist is totally replicated by his Latin American counterparts. But, what's behind it? Why so many organisations have already complained about this trend? Are they right or are they simply resisting a change in their culture?

First we must understand where this phenomenon was originated from, and how it became such a monster in the media: At the beginning of the nineties, Rap music (a genre in which melody took a secondary role against rhymes as the primary component) boomed and spread into the US music industry, but no one could have foreseen that the violence so characteristic of the US society would also leak into show business through the genre, which was also the principal engine promoting crack and gangs in every African-American community of the US. The infamous Gangsta Rap (or Gangs’ Rap) drew a massive attention by promoting aesthetics of violence and civil disobedience, which triggered a cult towards drugs, and unleashed the use of "profanity" (or what is otherwise known as street-language), forcing record labels to tag the cover of their artists’ products with a "Parental Advisory" sticker to signal to retailers and costumers that the records contain "language which is not appropriate", which drew even more public’s attention, especially from those who were initially only curious about the genre. This also drew the attention of youth from mainly lower working class families in African-American neighbourhoods, who were mesmerised by the visual promises of the genre’s aesthetics, which promoted a criminal lifestyle. With the artistic mutation of Gangsta Rap into different derivates, (such as reggaeton or now dembow) elements of a sexual content were incorporated by the videoclip culture of US television networks the likes of VH1 and MTV.

In the mid-nineties this phenomenon took off in the international music industry and generated millionaire sales, Puff Daddy (as Sean Combs was known by that time), Dr Dre, Snoop Doggy Dog, Tupac Shakur, and Notorious Big's popularity started to rise generating a massive fandom, which followed by the assassination of the latter two, created a momentum in the genre, where violence addressed the artists directly making them no longer passive subjects in their own Gangsta-worlds. Although at the dawn of the nineties artists like MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice sang an "innocent Rap," it was with the murder of these two artists that the genre paradoxically caught the attention of the masses, making a blueprint for other artists, such as R Kelly, Eminem, 50 Cents, Jay Z, and more contemporary ones like Kanye West or Missy Elliot — and many others — to become millionaires. Adding to this, television productions in the format of reality TV featuring these performers showing off tacky jewellery, mansions and condominiums with sponsored car brands, surrounded by a "harem" of half-naked women. With these "reality shows" and all the paraphernalia shown in the media, a full stereotype for fans and performers of the genre was created. This identity-package caught the attention of millions of young people in Latin America, where the mutation of this influence took a different form: At the beginning of the nineties emerged in Mexico and Panama two sorts of variations of the US Rap, although similar in their roots, a band called Caló pioneered this genre by taking elements of Rap music and integrating a "rapper" among their singers, making Rap music to reach popular levels. While on the other hand a Panamanian artist known as El General impersonated a "rapper," incorporating lyrics with ambiguous signification making allusion to imageries of explicit sexual nature, together with bitter obscene language, from which other representatives would emerge to join a new wave appropriating Rap music in spanglish: the so-called reggaetoneros.

Reggaeton, which is a mutant variation of rap music, didn’t had its momentum during the nineties, times in which the genre was considered "underground." It wasn’t until the 21st century when Latin American "hip-hoppers" started to imitate and incorporate the structure of Rap music (sampling melodies instead of original productions, making rhymes for the sake of matching sound instead of making actual sense, etc.) and slang-words from street-language from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, etc., being pioneers of this syncretic artistic mutation bands like Control Machete, who although were highly criticised by the Mexican conservative society, their popular approach to "social criticism" pushed them to amount a big mass of followers by the end of the nineties, in the entire world, helped by US cable networks targeting latinos, who started to use spanglish-slang as a consequence of their fandom. Following this success, other bands appeared in the spanglish panorama, among them the ska-band Molotov. But against the ska-scene, reggaeton-icons turned into a genre of their own, thanks to performers like Daddy Yankee, Don Omar and later, targeting the middle-class, a reggaeton-product was developed to access a more exploitable market, with bands like Calle 13, who synthesised the rap-formula by mixing it with the earlier underground pre-reggaeton style, into a "normalised," apt to the whole family humorist gangsta-style. Although a vast majority in Latin America chooses to avoid supporting reggaeton, the genre leaks in every locus of poverty through radio and television programs specialised in broadcasting this kind of music and its lifestyle: From the barrio in Washington Heights to the favelas in Rio de Janeiro — inciting promiscuity in times of AIDS, drug- and alcohol-abuse, delinquency and crime — attacking the already weakened social fabric of these societies, by promoting anti-values targeting the youth of the lower class to make them buy and adopt a stereotype disguised as a "lifestyle."


Drug & Propaganda in Latin America

Written by Ezequiel Méndez
First published March 13, 2009

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