Reggaetón Animal

Immigrant dreams, dirty dancing, and the revolution: Meet the new Latin hip hop of Maria Isa and Danny y Elliot

The ethos is a new spirit of protest, frankness, and rowdiness. "The essence of reggaetón—and hip hop, too—is to express yourself in a way that you're not going to be scared to say what you feel and what you're going through," says Back-Up Plomo, 21. "The government is militarizing the frontiers. They're making it harder for immigrants to become legal. We believe this is a place that gives you an opportunity, but the truth of the matter is that lately it's not been going that way."

Then there is the matter of sex, a topic on which reggaetón makes the dirtiest New Orleans bounce sound prim. On a recent rainy afternoon, DJ Pablo, 24, plays me some tracks from the late '90s— old-school in perreando years—pressing an air horn on his Roland SP-404 for club effect while sitting in his Brooklyn Park basement. Born Pablo Duran in Cordoba, Argentina, the thinly goateed promoter DJs live for Danny y Elliot, a popular Puerto Rican-born duo known, as are most reggaetón acts, for encouraging female listeners to give up perspiration, inhibitions, and apparel. Yet the oldies go further. Pablo offers an on-the-fly translation of El Maricón's "Puta Cabrona Bellaca" (roughly: "Horny Slut Bitch"), a track that closes with a scene of simulated fucking notable mainly for its absence of female vocals. "He's saying he's not gay, but he likes dick, too," says Pablo, smiling. "It's a nasty-ass song, but my girlfriend likes it."

Another refrain, from Las Guanábanas' "Maldita Puta" (vaguely: "Fucking Bitch"), translates as: "Piss on her pussy and spit in her face." Pablo echoes the sentiment of an earlier perreo fan: "It's out there, man."

Tony Nelson

In more recent years, reggaetón has become increasingly self-possessed. After the slaying of Puerto Rican independence activist Filiberto Ojeda Ríos by the FBI last year, rapper Residente Calle 13 wrote and released an angry song titled "Querido FBI" ("Dear FBI") with a pointed line that translates as: "Instead of aiming into our own house, we need to aim up where it's cold, up to the Northerner." A strain of Puerto Rican nationalism runs through all the major reggaetón artists from the American commonwealth.

"I don't know if anyone's sitting in the Oval Office thinking of Tego Calderón and Daddy Yankee," says Maria Isa, 19, the most overtly political local reggaetón performer. "But as far as the media, a lot of reggaetón artists are for Puerto Rico libré, and people notice."

school in perreando years—pressing an air horn on his Roland SP-404 for club effect while sitting in his Brooklyn Park basement. Born Pablo Duran in Cordoba, Argentina, the thinly goateed promoter DJs live for Danny y Elliot, a popular Puerto Rican-born duo known, as are most reggaetón acts, for encouraging female listeners to give up perspiration, inhibitions, and apparel. Yet the oldies go further. Pablo offers an on-the-fly translation of El Maricón's "Puta Cabrona Bellaca" (roughly: "Horny Slut Bitch"), a track that closes with a scene of simulated fucking notable mainly for its absence of female vocals. "He's saying he's not gay, but he likes dick, too," says Pablo, smiling. "It's a nasty-ass song, but my girlfriend likes it."

Another refrain, from Las Guanábanas' "Maldita Puta" (vaguely: "Fucking Bitch"), translates as: "Piss on her pussy and spit in her face." Pablo echoes the sentiment of an earlier perreo fan: "It's out there, man."

In more recent years, reggaetón has become increasingly self-possessed. After the slaying of Puerto Rican independence activist Filiberto Ojeda Ríos by the FBI last year, rapper Residente Calle 13 wrote and released an angry song titled "Querido FBI" ("Dear FBI") with a pointed line that translates as: "Instead of aiming into our own house, we need to aim up where it's cold, up to the Northerner." A strain of Puerto Rican nationalism runs through all the major reggaetón artists from the American commonwealth.

"I don't know if anyone's sitting in the Oval Office thinking of Tego Calderón and Daddy Yankee," says Maria Isa, 19, the most overtly political local reggaetón performer. "But as far as the media, a lot of reggaetón artists are for Puerto Rico libré, and people notice."

boom-ch-boom-chick

boom-ch-boom-chick

The dem bow contains its own version of the story. Nourished to hip-hop splendor in Puerto Rico, it came from Jamaica, and traces a path of migrant exchange between the islands, New York, and Panama. The beat took its name from "Dem Bow" ("They Bow"), the 1991 Bobby "Digital" Dixon-produced track by growling Kingston ragamuffin deejay Shabba Ranks, which Rio Abajo-born rapper El General (Edgardo A. Franco) translated into Spanish the same year as "Son Bow," using the same backing track. Three quarters of a century earlier, tens of thousands of black Jamaicans and Barbadians had built the Panama Canal, and by the '90s the descendants of those workers crowded the same dense barrios of Panama City mowed through by the U.S. invasion in 1989. That war restored the white elite displaced since the '68 coup by populist general Omar Torrijos, but the dem bow delivered cultural revenge on the North. Today, footage of Torrijos shows up in a montage of revered figures in the MTV-rotated video for "Reggaetón Latino," by Puerto Rican superstar Don Omar.

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