Pop Music and Culture: CuBop, Up-Rock, Boogaloo and Banda. Latinos Making Music in the United States

Pop Music and Culture: CuBop, Up-Rock, Boogaloo and Banda. Latinos Making Music in the United States

CFA MH333/433 A1

MWF 12-1 CFA (855 Commonwealth) B36

Prof. Michael Birenbaum Quintero

Surveys the musical styles of Latinos in the US. Discusses the role of these musics in articulating race, class, gender and sexual identities for US Latinos, their circulation along migration routes, their role in identity politics and ethnic marketing, their commercial crossover to Anglo audiences, and Latin/o contributions to jazz, funk, doo-wop, disco and hip hop. Case studies may include Mexican-American/Chicano, Puerto Rican/Nuyorican and Cuban-American musics; Latin music in golden age Hollywood; Latin dance crazes from mambo to the Macarena; rock en español; the early 2000s boom of Latin artists like Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, and Jennifer López; reggaetón, race politics, and the creation of the “Hurban” market; and the transnational Latin music industries of Los Angeles, New York, and Miami.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Latin Rap, underground/melaza, reggaetón, the "Hurban" demographic and other hip hop mutant offspring

Although it was Nuyoricans who had participated in early hip hop, the first Latino rappers to break out were from the West Coast. East L.A. Chicano Kid Frost began rapping in the 1980s and broke out with the Chicano Anthem "Mi Raza" ("My People), full of Spanglish, the calo dialect, Chicano images of murals and lowrider, and the memorable line "You're so cool I'ma call you culo [ass]."

Also in 1990,  "Mentirosa,"a  Spanglish, Santana-sampling rap by California Cuban Mellow Man Ace made it to #14 on the Billboard charts and got play on MTV. "'Cuz right now you just a liar / A straight mentirosa (Who me?) / Today you tell me som'n / And tomorrow ejotra cosa." The mini-boom in West Coast Latino rap culminated with the Ecuadorian-born, Glendale, CA-bred rapper Gerardo's easily mocked "Rico Suave," also from 1990-91, which is best described as "so bad it's … bad." After "Rico Suave," which made #7 on the pop charts and #2 on the rap charts, America had had about enough Spanglish rap for the next twenty years or so. (Gerardo Mejía is now a record company executive at Interscope - go figure).

Some Chicano rappers have come up in the 1990s, singing mostly in English. Some, like Cypress Hill, became internationally popular. Others, with a more emphatically Chicano underground aesthetic, kept at it for the local  scene - these range from the gangsta-rapper Mr. Criminal, and Mr. Capon-e, whose music references not only classic West Coast G-funk but also the Chicano love for oldies, a holdover from the early Chicano rock of the 1950s.

By the late 1990s, a number of well-respected Nuyorican rappers, again, rapping mostly in English, came up in New York, most famously the Bronx-based Terror Squad, headed by gangsta's gangsta and rapper's rapper Big Pun (RIP), Fat Joe, and Havana-born Cuban Link). Here's Pun and Joe in a 1998 classic.
In the 1990s, Queens-based Beatnuts (comprised of a Dominican and a Colombian) and more recently, Peru-born, Harlem-resident political rapper Immortal Technique are well regarded in indie hip hop circles.

Hip hop would end up circulating the globe, but with ongoing migration and return migration between the US and Puerto Rico, and people sending mix tapes back and forth, there was already a rap scene in Spanish in the 1980s in Puerto Rico. The pioneering Vico C, whose ghetto philosopher tales of street life made him one of the best known from that place and time. Take, for example his classic "Tony Presidio," about a local boy gone bad, is a great example (although the video now looks laughably low-budget and 1990s-ish).

This will seem like a digression but it isn't:

As Wayne Marshall writes, in the 1990s, New York hip hop, and subsequently Puerto Rican hip hop, was increasingly influenced by Jamaican dancehall reggae. In New York, a significant portion of the black population, especially in Brooklyn, is of Jamaican, Trinidadian, and other West Indian/Caribbean ancestry, including some seminal figures in hip hop: Kool DJ Herc, Notorious BIG, KRS-One, Slick Rick, Busta Rhymes, Li'l Kim, Foxy Brown, and others. By the 1990s, dancehall reggae was, alongside hip hop, an integral part of the soundtrack on the radio, at clubs, and at parties in New York City.

At roughly the same time, dancehall reggae was also popular among people of West Indian descent in Panama, many of whom were bilingual and translated the latest dancehall hits from Jamaica into Spanish. So (for example), Jamaican Little Lenny's English-language anthem to the ladyparts, "Punanny Tegereg" was transformed into "Tu Pum Pum," in Spanish, by Panamanian rapper "El General" in 1989. These Panamanian reggae en español songs were in many cases recorded in New York and became popular among Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans both in New York and on PR itself.

Dancehall/reggae and rap use different beats (as Marshall helpfully shows us). Hip hop is based on the so-called "boom bap," which rendered graphically, would look something like this.

Dancehall reggae has a lot of different rhythm tracks (called "riddims" in Jamaica) that were often recycled for use in multiple songs. The Bam Bam riddim, for example, was popular. However, the most popular of all was the Dem Bow riddim, named after the song "Dem Bow" (1991) by Shabba Ranks (and soon covered by El General in Panama).
The song and its riddim (which is closely related to the "Poca Man Jam" riddim), is basically a tresillo rhythm superimposed over a straight four count - that is, a habanera.
The "Dem Bow" riddim would become the backbone of reggaetón. First however, a scene emerged in Puerto Rico associated with the Afro-Puerto Rican underclass of the island's housing projects or caseríos - usually called underground or melaza. This music was released in mixtapes. Here, none other than Vico C explains that the same artists rapped over both hip hop and the Dem Bow beat that would become reggaetón:

On the underground mixtapes, MC's in PR rapped over a background constructed out of samples. These samples rapidly changed between the dancehall-associated dembow and hip hop's boom bap. The famous Playero 38 mixtape for example, released by the San Juan-based DJ Playero in 1993 features (among others) a young Daddy Yankee.

Before  the first two minutes of the tape are up, we hear a Jamaican-style double-time introduction, then dancehall influenced rapping over a West Coast hip hop beat, which turns into the dancehall "Hot Dis Year riddim" before segueing into the beat from Queens hip hoppers' De La Soul's "Talkin' Bout Hey Love," and then back to "Hot Dis Year." Beyond its musical innovation, the melaza scene is important for its explicit borrowing, through hip hop inspired fashion and dance as well as music, of a transnational and expressly black identity, something rarely seen in the Caribbean.

By the turn of the millennium, the conversion of underground/melaza into reggaetón begins (although no one knew it yet). Free and easily downloadable beat-making programs became available online, making it possible for this with access to computers and the internet able to make beats. One of the most important was the free program Fruity Loops (now "FL Studio"). By the time of his 1999 mixtape, Playero 41, DJ Playero's beats (as on "Todas las yales" with Daddy Yankee) were almost entirely synthesized rather than sampled (and heavily influenced by techno music), although the music still featured shifts between dembow and hiphop beats. By 2000, the predominant beat was a Puerto Rican version of Dem Bow featuring bass drops and a syncopated synthesized timbal.

The Puerto Rican underground scene also inspired Francisco "Luny" Saldana  and Victor "Tunes" Cabrera, two Dominican-born DJs from the unlikely setting of Peabody, Massachusetts, a suburb with a mostly white population, who cooked up beats after work as cook and dishwasher at a Harvard University residence house. The beats made by the two were sleek and pop-friendly, beginning with their 2003 "Quiero saber" track with Ivy Queen.
Luny Tunes' 2003 mixtape Más Flow was a sensation in Puerto Rico, and set the formula for reggaetón."Gasolina," their 2004 track for Daddy Yankee was a worldwide mega-hit. In case you spent that year in a coma, it sounded like this.

Luny Tunes' rise coincided with  the moment at which the record industry started to look to market to young Latinos. In the wake of the 1999-2000 "Latin Boom" in pop music, the "hurban" market aimed to unite Latino young people - East Coast Caribbean, West Coast Mexican, Americans, and the sizable markets of Latin America itself, under the banner of so-called "Hispanic-Urban" or "Hurban" music. By 2005, Spanish-language radio stations, owned by gymongous media conglomerates like Clear Channel and the US-based Spanish-language Univisión empire,   across the country was moving to a "Hurban" format featuring reggaetón, hip hop, and dance-oriented pop.

New York's "La Kalle" radio (2006)
Hurban radio (2005)
Hurban (2005)
Wayne Marshall on hurban renewal
The deliberate appeals to a Latinos of various national ancestries, both in and out of the US, is clear in "Oye mi canto," produced by Boy Wonder, a NYC-born musician of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent. The song (featuring Daddy Yankee and Nuyorican N.O.R.E., and PR-born, NY-based vocal duo Nina Sky) explicitly mentions number of different countries, and the video uses flags (helpfully supported by scantily-clad models) to make the international appeal explicit.
This international appeal also is partially responsible for the rise of bachata-influenced reggaetón like Wissin y Yandel's "Mayor que yo," featuring the twangy bachata guitar sound.
In many places, there has been a strong counter-reaction to reggaetón, often in terms that both decry its crass commercialism and sexuality, and that make veiled or explicit sneers at its Afro-Latino or working-class associations. On reggaetón as tasteless (or not): El Reggaetón es para nacos (Reggaetón es for "nacos"), Me gusta el reggaetón y no soy naco (I'm not a "naco" and I like reggaetón), and The National Anti-Reggaetón Brigade.

Reggaetón also has a (slightly) less commercial wing. The Afro-Rican rapper (who went to school in Miami) Tego Calderón makes songs, beginning with his 2003 album "El Abayarde"  that are explicitly focused on black Latin Americans, such as his song "Loiza,"  referencing an Afro-Puero Rican town, that samples the traditional Afro-Puerto Rican drum/dance called bomba:

Calle 13, featuring two white, art-school educated stepbrothers began their career in 2005 with an extremely political track called "Querido FBI" reacting to the FBI's assassination of a well-known activist for Puerto Rican independence, and followed that with the profane goofiness of songs like "Atreve-te-te-te," an international hit in 2006. Their more recent work is also artsy and political, internationalist, and increasingly distant from the classic reggaetón sound. Meanwhile, the dembow-centered, Luny Tunes-derived version of reggaetón has softened since about 2009 (and Hurban radio has declined), in favor of a broader palette of sounds and beats for so-called "música urbana."

Meanwhile, in other countries, reggaetón and its cousins keep morphing in their own terms. Some more modern Panamanian bultrón/plena/reggae(tón) - Kufu Bantón's "Vamos pa' la playa" ("A pasarla bien con los friends"). Notice the use of R. Kelly's "Thoia Thong" track. The roots reggae and dub influence remains strong in Panamanian reggae - for example in El Rookie's "Grave Error" (although Rookie also sings more reggaetón-styled music, in some cases in collaboration with Puerto Rican producers).

Reegaetón has sired mutant offspring all through the world. Its  sub-genre in the DR is called, appropriately, dembow.

Here it is in Colombia:

Puerto Rican reggaetón vocalists also regularly appear in salsa there.

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