wayne marshall, raquel z. rivera,
and deborah pacini hernandez
introduction
Reggaeton’s Socio-Sonic Circuitry
In a January 2006 article published by the Village Voice, Jon Caramanica ended
a largely celebratory piece on reggaeton with a somewhat sudden, cryptic
remark: ‘‘Fuck a Slim Shady,’’ he quipped, ‘‘Hip-hop’s race war begins here.’’∞
Caramanica thus suggests that the most prominent ‘‘racial’’ tensions around
hip-hop are not between African Americans and whites (represented by prom-
inent white rapper, Slim Shady, a.k.a. Eminem) but between African Ameri-
cans and Latinos. Similarly, blogger Byron Crawford’s tongue-in-cheek March
2006 post for xxl magazine’s website, ‘‘Ban Reggaeton: Fight the Real Enemy
of Hip-Hop,’’ makes one wonder how exactly—snide and enigmatic remarks
aside—the perceived rivalry between hip-hop and reggaeton is informed by
extramusical tensions between African Americans and Latinos.≤
What seems
clear is that reggaeton has emerged in recent years as a prominent, potent
symbol for articulating the lines of community. Its suggestive sonic and cul-
tural profile has animated contentious debates around issues of race, nation,
class, gender, sexuality, and language. That the genre’s commercial rise and
mainstream presence in the United States have coincided with increasingly
tense rhetoric and anxiety centering on immigration—rhetoric which in turn
informs the reception and production of the music—makes an analysis and
understanding of reggaeton’s social, historical, and political dimensions all the
more important, if not urgent.
Drawing on reggae, hip-hop, and a number of Spanish Caribbean styles
and often accompanied by sexually explicit lyrics and a provocative dancing
style known as perreo (doggy style), reggaeton emerged from Puerto Rico in
the late 1990s but only recently crossed over into the U.S. mainstream and
public consciousness. According to Nielsen SoundScan, while overall album
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