Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 36 illustrations Published: April 2009

Caribbean Studies, Cultural Studies, Music > Popular Music

A hybrid of reggae and rap, reggaeton is a music with Spanish-language lyrics and Caribbean aesthetics that has taken Latin America, the United States, and the world by storm. Superstars—including Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Ivy Queen—garner international attention, while aspiring performers use digital technologies to create and circulate their own tracks. Reggaeton brings together critical assessments of this wildly popular genre. Journalists, scholars, and artists delve into reggaeton’s local roots and its transnational dissemination; they parse the genre’s aesthetics, particularly in relation to those of hip-hop; and they explore the debates about race, nation, gender, and sexuality generated by the music and its associated cultural practices, from dance to fashion.

The collection opens with an in-depth exploration of the social and sonic currents that coalesced into reggaeton in Puerto Rico during the 1990s. Contributors consider reggaeton in relation to that island, Panama, Jamaica, and New York; Cuban society, Miami’s hip-hop scene, and Dominican identity; and other genres including reggae en español, underground, and dancehall reggae. The reggaeton artist Tego Calderón provides a powerful indictment of racism in Latin America, while the hip-hop artist Welmo Romero Joseph discusses the development of reggaeton in Puerto Rico and his refusal to embrace the upstart genre. The collection features interviews with the DJ/rapper El General and the reggae performer Renato, as well as a translation of “Chamaco’s Corner,” the poem that served as the introduction to Daddy Yankee’s debut album. Among the volume’s striking images are photographs from Miguel Luciano’s series Pure Plantainum, a meditation on identity politics in the bling-bling era, and photos taken by the reggaeton videographer Kacho López during the making of the documentary Bling’d: Blood, Diamonds, and Hip-Hop.

Contributors. Geoff Baker, Tego Calderón, Carolina Caycedo, Jose Davila, Jan Fairley, Juan Flores, Gallego (José Raúl González), Félix Jiménez, Kacho López, Miguel Luciano, Wayne Marshall, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Alfredo Nieves Moreno, Ifeoma C. K. Nwankwo, Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Raquel Z. Rivera, Welmo Romero Joseph, Christoph Twickel, Alexandra T. Vazquez


"[This text] does much to illuminate the evershifting connections between reggaeton and the social categories and identities in question, and admirably lays the groundwork for future study of this quintessentially transnational music and any sonic progeny yet to appear.” — Kenneth Bilby, World of Music

Reggaeton has marked a tuming point in the social debate on this music. The honest intention to understand the phenomenon persuades the book, and this also poses a whole range of new questions that should be addressed in future work: how does reggaeton inform a sense of Latinidad differently in the United States and in the continent? How are we to understand music considered immoral and at the same time identity-forging? Is the success of reggaeton all about its music? These and other issues sustain an area of scholarship which, thanks to initiatives like this anthology, is slowly gaining visibility.” — Nora Gámez Torres, EIAL

Reggaeton is a comprehensive and strategically varied study of one of the most popular youth music and dance genres of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Its intellectual and methodological breadth reflects the innovative visions of its editors. . . . [T]he editors of this volume have successfully brought together the kinds of perspectives needed to begin to understand this music’s richness and significance.” — David F. García, CENTRO Journal

“[A]n excellent critical anthology. . . .” — Jace Clayton, Frieze

“[An] ambitious and far-reaching book. “ — Roberto Irizarry, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“[T]he Reggaetón anthology is far from your average academic tome. But beyond the multimedia bells and whistles, the book is truly a watershed moment for the musical genre, for Latino cultural criticism, and for 21st C academia. . . . You may not like reggaetón (but I bet you move just a little if it comes on when you're on the dance floor), but after this, it'll be just a little harder to dismiss it as ‘racketón,’ as Juan Flores recounts one of his friends doing.” — Carolina Gonzalez, Sound Taste

“Exceptional coverage of gender relationships, life in slums across these areas, and how young musicians have coped and created something new out of a variety of older music makes this a fascinating study.” — Library Journal

“It seems reggaeton has finally penetrated the academic world. As arguably the most exciting and influential music to emerge from the region in the last decade, this is essential reading for those interested in contemporary Latin music and culture. Hopefully, this is the first of many books to tackle this complex and controversial musical phenomenon.” — Georgina Nicoli, Songlines

“One of the strengths of the book is its inclusion of articles by journalists and artists as well as academics. . . .” — Paul Harkins, Popular Music

“Since reggaeton is a relatively young style of music (having begun in the late 1980s or early 1990s), a volume of this sort is invaluable. . . . Enhanced by numerous illustrations, this is a serious, well-written study that significantly enhances the literature on reggaeton style.” — D. V. Moskowitz, Choice

“This multifaceted and comprehensive volume is an essential reference that goes beyond music by touching on issues related to popular youth culture in the Americas.... To quote the lyrics of Don Omar in Dale Don Dale, this book will certainly ‘fire up the crew’ (Pa’ activar los anormales) to generate fruitful discussion and new avenues for investigating today’s popular youth culture.” — Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier, New West Indian Guide

Reggaeton is a well-grounded and engrossing approach to a subject matter that is both mainstream and marginalized at the same time. Most definitely an essential read for anyone interested in modern Caribbean popular culture.” — Alexis Stephens, Remezcla

Reggaeton is a truly important contribution to our understanding of the most pervasive and perhaps most misunderstood Latin musical genre at the turn of the 21st century. The blend of academic and journalistic writings with artistic statements, interviews and visual art offers the reader an extraordinary window into the complex landscape of reggaeton. . . . Raquel Z. Rivera, Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Pacini Hernadez have established the foundation for the rich and productive academic conversation that the genre will still generate.” — Alejandro L. Madrid, Dancecult

Reggaeton is an excellent collection which itself occasions many surprises. Overall the book is structured in much the same way as its subject (reggaeton), as a series of overlapping, interconnected and often contradictory layers. . . . This book is a tour de force of criticism and analysis which is relevant not only to the study of reggaeton but to the study of popular music in general.” — Cameron White, Transforming Cultures

“The admirable book Reggaeton . . . invites us to carefully ‘read’ this extraordinary musical and social phenomenon of our times. . . . The authors in this volume extensively document the crossing of geographic, racial, ethnic and linguistic borders. . . . As the essays in this book skillfully demonstrate, the ‘reggaeton nation’ constantly moves between numerous countries and cities, between Spanish and English, between Caribbean and African American rhythms.” (Translated from the Spanish) — Jorge Duany, El Nuevo Día

“This collection of essays is the first attempt to critically engage with the phenomenon, and wisely hedges its bets with a broad collection of writings—earnest academic appraisals are effectively offset by punchy location reportage from Latin America, Q&As with major protagonists and landmark magazine pieces from the music’s early days. . . . [A] largely informative and sometimes exhilarating survey of a multinational phenomenon.”
— Derek Walmsley, The Wire

“I cannot overstate how critically important this volume is. It captures the synergies of a musical and cultural movement that few have seriously grappled with, even as the sounds and styles of reggaeton have dominated the air space of so many urban locales.” — Mark Anthony Neal, author of Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic

“It’s about time academia dared to include reggaeton. This might mean that we’re finally understanding that all of us are los de atrás (the ones behind): our country, Puerto Rico, and the whole Caribbean. I hope people support this book so it can be translated into Spanish, and kids in Puerto Rico and Latin America can read it. Because we Caribbean people, even if we don’t want to, even if we don’t like it, even if it hurts, we come from behind . . . and there’s a value to that. There’s a beauty to being los de atrás.” — Residente, frontman of the Grammy and Latin Grammy award-winning duo Calle 13

“The kinetic contributions in Reggaeton melt false borders—ones wrapped like straitjackets around peoples, knowledges, and cultures—and move the crowd. More than an exciting, exhaustive treatment of this vital musical culture, this anthology is a fine blueprint for engaged cultural scholarship right now.” — Jeff Chang, author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

“This anthology opens a chapter in hip-hop history that brings it all back home, back to our transnational Afro-Spanish-speaking countries and diasporas and ’hoods where young people are going through their hip-hop ecstasies and traumas, but in their own language, and in their own unique and hitherto-unknown style.” — Juan Flores author of From Bomba to Hip-Hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity, from the foreword to Regg


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Raquel Z. Rivera is a Researcher at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, City University of New York. She is the author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone and many articles for magazines and newspapers including Vibe, Urban Latino, El Diario/La Prensa, El Nuevo Día, and Claridad. She blogs at

Wayne Marshall is the Florence Levy Kay Fellow in Ethnomusicology at Brandeis University. He blogs at, from which a post on reggaeton was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006 anthology.

Deborah Pacini Hernandez is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Tufts University. The author of Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music and a co-editor of Rockin’ Las Americas: The Global Politics of Rock in Latin/o America, she has written many articles on Spanish Caribbean and U.S. Latino popular music.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii

Foreword: What's all the noise about? / Juan Flores ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Reggaeton's Socio-Sonic Circuitry / Wayne Marshall, Raquel Z. Rivera, and Deborah Pacini Hernandez 1

Part I. Mapping Reggaeton

From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino: The Cultural Politics of Nation, Migration, and Commercialization / Wayne Marshall 19

Part II. The Panamanian Connection

Placing Panama in the Reggaeton Narrative: Editor's Notes / Wayne Marshall 77

Reggae in Panama: Bien Tough / Christoph Twickel 81

The Panamanian Origins of Reggae in Español: Seeing History through "Los Ojos Café" of Renato / Interview by Ifeoma C. K. Nwankwo 89

Muévelo (Move It!): From Panama to New York and Back Again, the Story of El General / Interview by Christoph Twickel 99

Part III. (Trans)Local Studies and Ethnographies

Policing Morality, Mano Dura Stylee: The Case of Underground Rap and Reggae in Puerto Rico in the Mid-1990s / Raquel Z. Rivera 111

Dominicans in the Mix: Reflections on Dominican Identity, Race, and Reggaeton / Deborah Pacini Hernandezq 135

The Politics of Dancing: Reggaetón and Rap in Havana / Geoff Baker 165

You Got Your Reggaetón in my Hip-Hop: Crunkiao and "Spanish Music" in the Miami Urban Scene / Jose Davila 200

Part IV. Visualizing Reggaeton

Visualizing Reggaeton: Editors' Notes / Wayne Marshall and Raquel Z. Rivera 215

Images by Miguel Luciano 218

Images by Carolina Caycedo 221

Images by Kacho López 222

Part V. Gendering Reggaeton

(W)rapped in Foil: Glory at Twelve Words a Minute / Félix Jiménez 229

A Man Lives Here: Reggaeton's Hypermasculine Resident / Alfredo Nieves Moreno 252

How to Make Love with Your Clothes On: Dancing Regeton, Gender, and Sexuality in Cuba / Jan Fairley 280

Part VI. Reggaeton's Poetics, Politics, and Aesthetics

Chamaco's Corner / Gallego (José Raúl González) 297

Salon Philosophers: Ivy Queen and Surprise Guests Take Reggaetón Aside / Alexandra T. Vazquez 300

From Hip-Hop to Reggaeton: Is There Only a Step? / Welmo Romero Joseph 312

Black Pride / Tego Calderón 324

Poetry of Filth: The (Post) Reggaetonic Lyrics of Calle 13 / Frances Negrón-Muntaner 327

Bibliography: Selected Sources for Reading Reggaeton 341

Index 345
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4383-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4360-8
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