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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Riddims by the Reggaetón

I'd been hearing about reggaeton here and there over the last few months--maybe I saw a disc in Cancun's jukebox? A flyer for a reggaeton show ended up on the sidewalk outside our place. Glanced at some mix CDs by local DJs at some show(s) we hit, and then a couple weeks ago read this blog entry by Jeff Chang (more about Chang and Can't Stop Won't Stop in a future post).

At the time I didn't follow the link to the Raquel Cepeda Village Voice piece that Chang links to. It was only today, as I was cleaning out the past few weeks' VV e-mailings that I opened up that article:

Riddims by the Reggaetón
Puerto Rico's hip-hop hybrid takes over New York
by Raquel Cepeda
March 28th, 2005 3:07 PM

The article is good primer on what reggaeton is and where it comes from ("an approximately 20-year-old fusion of dancehall, born in the poorest neighborhoods in Puerto Rico, with mostly Spanish-language rap and tropical rhythms"); and who to look out for (according to Cepeda: Ivy Queen, Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Tego Calderón. I'm thinking Cepeda is a writer to be trusted on matter like this. I'd been saving a review-a-day from Salon of And It Don't Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years, edited by none other than Cepeda.) It even comes with an accompanying compilation of links to sample the music online: Riddims on Demand: A Reggaetón Download Feast.

So I read the VV piece around lunchtime today. As I was walking back from 16th St. along Capp and passed Balompie Cafe, a concert poster caught my eye: Ivy Queen and Daddy Yankee at the top of the bill for a show at the Cow Palace in a week. Interesting coincidence, I thought.

After swinging by home, I strolled down S. Van Ness to the Post Office (to drop some checks for the taxman in the mail), made some phone calls while sitting in the sun outside the 24th St. BART station, and then walked back up Mission a couple blocks. Poked my head in a couple stores, and then saw that Musica Latina (Mission Music Center) had the same concert poster in the window. I took a look at some of the titles hanging behind and displayed under the counter. I didn't see anything I could recognize as reggaeton, and I headed toward the front door, but the store was quiet, so I had the chance to askthe guy working the counter if they had any reggaeton. Turns out they had plenty. His first recommendation was what I ended up walking out with--a CD/DVD set titled Chosen Few: El Documental, with the CD a collection of 25 tracks, the DVD a documentary about the music--all for only $10.

(If it turns out I and/or you need more: Guy also pointed out a 2CD/DVD set--top tracks from the past few years + the videos; while Chang recommends this mix.)

That remarkably affordable price is possible, I think, because it appears that the scene is still DIY and indie. There's no major label intermediating between the artists, the record store, and me. It may be because the hype hasn't yet filtered into their executive offices, or because reggaeton's creators have consciously held on to their creative capital. A Daddy Yankee quote in Cepeda indicates it's a mix of the two factors: " 'Reggaetón artists have learned a lot about business by studying hip-hop's history. Hip-hop had people who abused it and the first artists were taken advantage of,' says Daddy Yankee. 'We learned from it. And much like early hip-hop, the record labels ignored us.' "

I was taken aback to find, at the bottom of a flyer tucked inside the jewel case for El Documental advertising itself and some other upcoming releases, these words: "the freedom movement: FREEDOM is a movement of artists and producers who own their creative works which we deliver everywhere at revolutionary FREEDOM prices"

Speaking truth to power, and more power to them. Check the group that put out El Documental: Urban Box Office, which has lots of audio samples (and is selling El Documental for $7!).

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