I was born in San Francisco, CA to two Chicano musicians who connected over their complete obsession with playing and studying music. Once we were old enough to hold instruments, my sister and I expressed some reticence about performing with our parents, but due in part to the closeness of the Mexican family unit and the allure of high-paying, fun gigs, we caved and formed our family band, La Familia Peña-Govea. I was seven years old and learning to play traditional Mexican and Colombian music alongside my family, which opened my world to the diverse soundscapes of Latin America. Now, I work as a Latin Music Analyst for Pandora Radio, where my job is to listen to and classify genres of Latin pop.
While the Bay Area remains a hub for Central and South American Latinx art and music, its cultural landscape is also permeated by the extremely rich musical practices of the Caribbean, especially salsa and reggaeton. If rancheras and boleros were my folk music, then reggaeton was definitely my pop. When I heard reggaeton for the first time as a middle schooler, the game was over; your girl was turned out, a captive of the infectious dembow beats and suave sex lyrics.
If you didn’t grow up in a place rich in Latinx culture, then your introduction to the world of reggaeton might’ve begun with artists who have penetrated the American mainstream like Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Luis Fonsi. Up until recently, reggaeton was a genre of music largely ignored by ethnomusicologists and pop charts alike — deemed too formulaic and vulgar for ethnomusicologists, and too brown and “other” for pop charts. Latinxs make up 18.1% of the general population of the United States, so wouldn’t it make sense for this widely produced and consumed genre of Latin music to be reflected in the charts? Surprisingly enough, it is only very recently that reggaeton (albeit in its more pop and hip-hop articulations) has crossed the vast river of acceptance into certified A1 pop territory.
Reggaeton is widely understood to have come from Puerto Rico, but ethnomusicologist Dr. Wayne Marshall helps us trace its roots back to ’70s Panama in a lecture he gave at Berklee College Of Music in 2015 titled “The Roots Of Reggaeton.” Dr. Marshall posits that the first iteration of reggaeton, known specifically as “reggae en Español,” emerged from the dissemination of reggae and dancehall “riddims” by migrant workers who came from Jamaica to Panama to work on the Canal.
An example of this particular cultural exchange worth spotlighting here is “Tu Pun Pun” (also known as “Tu Pum Pum”), released by Panamanian plena artist named Edgardo Franco who went by the moniker El General. He is known as a father of Reggae en Español and came up as part of a Panamanian plena group called Parliament Pacific Stars alongside fellow originator Hector Tuñón (aka Renato). Franco built his career when he moved to New York to study business admin in the ’80s. To make “Tu Pun Pun,” El General collaborated with producer Michael Ellis and the track exemplifies the pared-down sampling style of early New York hip-hop and Jamaican dancehall DJs. It’s a straight-up reggae song with Spanish lyrics thrown on top of it and it became a hit in the States in the early ’90s.
Reggae en Español was true to its name. The songs followed typical reggae form, the lyric meter was consistent with the typical double and triple time style of dancehall, and the instrumentations and simple riddims of reggae and reggae en Español were quite alike. It is through reggae en Español that we can pinpoint the emergence of the “dembow” rhythm paired with lyrics in Spanish.
Dembow follows a typical four on the floor pattern with a little hop in the middle that really makes you want to shake your ass. (For my musicians who want to count it out, it sounds like this: one, two, and three, four, one, two, and three, four.) We can trace the word dembow back to the early ’90s, with one of the most prominent and oft-cited examples being Shabba Ranks’ 1991 single “Dem Bow.” The track was produced by fellow Jamaican reggae and dancehall producer Bobby Digital and inspired in part by Nando Boom’s “Ellos Benia (Dem Bow).”
On “Dem Bow,” Shabba Ranks rhymes about how people react to his musical and sexual prowess, but he also mocks gay men. While that isn’t a liberating aspect of the track, the lyrics on “Dem Bow” also discuss the way Black Jamaicans and marginalized people in general are subjugated under imperialism: “Freedom fi black people, come now/ Dat mean say the oppressors dem, just bow.” I could write about imperialism, colonialism, and trans-border messages in music all day but I’ll chill out on this OG reggaeton with one takeaway: Let it be known that the pairing of the dembow rhythm — which we can find in literally every reggaeton song ever — and the Spanish language first popped off among Panamanian artists.
Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, a new articulation of reggaeton emerged. Unlike reggae en Español, which tended to stay very true to its Jamaican antecedent, this new music baby called “urbano,” or “underground,” fused with a hip-hop production tradition. We don’t have to delve far into the history of hip-hop in ‘80s and ‘90s New York to recall the revolutionary practice of heavy sampling: a bricolage of existing music clips paired with flat, synthetic beats.
This production style informed urbano creators who layered countless samples of distinct dancehall riddims to create the sometimes busy and chaotic dance beats that we can still hear in modern reggaeton. As urbano grew more popular around the island, it was attacked by the Puerto Rican state as well as the conservative watch group Morality In Media, who deemed the music too vulgar and hypersexual to be played in clubs, houses, la calle, or to be recorded and distributed. The police raided record stores, confiscated cassettes, and even issued court citations to some record store employees. (For more on this, check out FACT’s recent reggaeton primer or Remezcla’s reggaeton column.)
The cultural production of postcolonial subjects will always be racialized and otherized; the fact that this music is inextricably linked to Black traditions pushed the state to slander and ban it. It should also be said that blackness compounded with sexuality is a double no-no to an imperial state that is trying to build a national identity. The overtly sexual nature of urbano is represented by its dance perreo, which basically means “doggie-style.” Urbano’s sexuality, coupled with its proximity to blackness intensified censorship of this budding music culture. Though the state’s raids did succeed in censoring recorded urbano to a certain extent, the genre continued to flourish underground.
Reggaeton styling crossed borders and took root in many different Latin American countries, the Caribbean, and the United States. I personally remember hearing reggaeton everywhere in the Bay Area starting in the early 2000s, when Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” (2004) bumped from all over el barrio and Don Omar was zaddy. Since that era began, there hasn’t been a lull in reggaeton production in Latin America and abroad. In fact, the genre has become more and more diverse, birthing subgenres such as moombahton, cubaton, reggaecumbia, a whole new genre classified as dembow out of the Dominican Republic, trap en Español, and many others.
What’s more, hubs for reggaeton are emerging all around the world, which means there is plenty of fertile ground for the sexy-ass seeds of reggaeton to be sown. A few reggaeton hubs include the Dominican Republic, New York, Cuba, Panama, and Colombia. As reggaeton masquerades as Latin pop or Latin trap and sashays onto Top 40 radio stations, the genre is slowly taking over the imagination of pop artists in the US, with many of those stars now featuring reggaeton artists on their tracks. This seems like a natural progression, since dancehall has been dominating US airwaves for the past three years, beginning around the time Justin Bieber debuted the singles “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean?” in 2015. Two years later, the Bieber-assisted remix of “Despacito” would launch Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s song into the US market. It became the first Spanish-language song to top the Billboard charts since “Macarena.”
Though reggaeton has existed in some iteration for decades, the fact that so much urbano was distributed via mixtape makes tracking down digitized versions of early songs a bit of a challenge. While you can find a smattering of great reggaeton tracks from the ’90s across platforms, this playlist commences in the early 2000s, when the digital age took off and reggaeton first entered the international market. The 28 songs on this playlist represent an array of reggaeton aesthetics, and while some are certified pop bangers, others are a bit more obscure. We travel from Puerto Rico to Cuba to New York to Brazil to Chile to Spain to the Bay Area and beyond — this sound has already gone global and it’s time to get familiar if you haven’t already.
Hector Y Tito — “Felina” (2002)
“Felina,” by Puerto Rican duo and reggaeton pioneers Hector y Tito, was produced by the prominent reggaeton producers Luny Tunes and Eliel, and released in 2002 by Universal Music Latino. This song is your typical perreo that talks up a “feline” the narrators are into. The music video is especially interesting because parts of it take place in a flamenco party — at one point, Hector raps in the middle of a group of flamencas. The use of Spanish cultural iconography in their Puerto Rican reggaeton song exemplifies how cross-cultural this (and all Latin) music is.
Ivy Queen — “Yo Quiero Bailar” (2003)
Puerto Rican star Ivy Queen is a notable figure of early reggaeton, as she was one of the few women that gained recognition when she was putting out hits during the genre’s early boom in the early ’00s. “Yo Quiero Bailar” is about wanting to get freaky on the dance floor but not necessarily wanting to sleep with a dance partner. Her pro-women and feminist statements throughout the song stand out in a male-dominated genre that often objectifies and sexualizes women.
Don Omar — “Dile” (2003)
Don Omar is the King Of Kings Of Reggaeton. He was born and raised in Puerto Rico and started out his career performing with the aforementioned Eliel. The duo collaborated on “Dile,” which is a personal favorite of mine because I listened to it over and over in my middle school cumbia class. As a kid who grew up playing cumbia music, I knew very well that this was not cumbia, but that little snapshot shows how reggaeton can lend itself to various musical traditions. Another more recent example is Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin’s “I Like It,” which, while not technically reggaeton, definitely borrows from its tradition and capitalizes on the genre’s stronghold in Latinx communities.
The musicality of “Dile” is significant in that it utilizes typical guitar lines of bachata, a style of dance music coming out of the Dominican Republic. The highly syncopated electric guitar figure spans the entirety of the song. Combined with the dancehall riddims, it creates a super yummy dance jam appealing to an array of dance styles. Don Omar is a unique vocalist with some melodically beautiful dance hits, and though he officially retired from reggaeton last year, he led the pack for over a decade.
Daddy Yankee — “Gasolina” (Feat. Glory) (2004)
Now we have an all-time hit, “Gasolina,” released by Puerto Rican papi Daddy Yankee in 2004. While Don Omar might go by the King Of Kings Of Reggaeton, Daddy Yankee is undisputedly also a King. Produced by Luny Tunes, “Gasolina” was one of the biggest reggaeton hits of its time on all of Billboard’s Latin charts, as well as a charting song in other countries, including the States.
“Gasolina” really opened the North American market up for other reggaeton hits to climb the charts in years after. The song boasts a cacophonous synthetic beat with wild 32nd note buildups throughout, that encourage a frenzied reaction from listeners. As a teen, I figured the song was innuendo for something nasty and sexy, but it wasn’t until visiting Puerto Rico that I came to understand the lyrics as double-entendre. “Gasolina” is a cutty cocktail that people like to drink in the club made with rum, tequila, vodka, and fruit juices (if you freaks wanna try it). That shit will really mess you up.
Pitbull — “Culo” (Feat. Lil Jon) (2004)
“Culo” was released by Mr. Worldwide, the Cuban-American artist Pitbull, in 2004. This song is of particular interest because it uses just one dancehall riddim with clapped quarter notes, while the typical production style of reggaeton favors layering more riddims into the beat. “Culo” samples the riddim from Nina Sky’s “Move Ya Body,” and this slick remix features that song’s producer Lil Jon. “Culo” introduced a new era of American producers and rappers collaborating on reggaeton tracks. This song charted relatively high for a Spanish-language song in the US, peaking at #32 on the Hot 100 in the summer. The poetic significance of this song is low because it’s mostly just them going off about some girl’s culo, i.e. her booty.
Wisin Y Yandel — “Noche De Sexo” (Feat. Romeo Santos) (2006)
“Noche De Sexo,” by Puerto Rican duo Wisin y Yandel, was another commercial hit, peaking at #10 on Billboard’s Latin Tropical Songs chart. This song, aptly named “Night Of Sex,” is exactly what it purports to be: a song about sex. My favorite part is when featured artist Romeo Santos does his crooned intro. Romeo is one of the most famous and prolific bachata singers in the United States, breaking onto the scene with his band Aventura in 1999. He has been doing his solo thing for the last seven years and is still featured on the biggest reggaetoneros’ tracks (Ozuna’s “El Farsante,” for example). His voice is compatible with a variety of genres and he’s reached a broad audience with his pleasant whining. Wisin y Yandel broke up but just this year they reunited to tour new music, which is good news because they are way better as a duo. I saw Yandel play a solo concert last year and it was like … aaaaiight.
Shakira — “Hips Don’t Lie” (Feat. Wyclef Jean) (2006)
Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” was and is one of the most famous and highest-charting reggaeton songs ever. Ever. It features Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean and many live instruments to ramp up the regular dancehall riddim samples. Another song about booty, but instrumentally, “Hips Don’t Lie” gets pretty interesting with frilly guitar fills and a fat horn section. Aside from that, why was “Hips Don’t Lie” so successful? Is it Shakira’s fun frog voice? That catchy synthetic trumpet line? Naw, sis, it’s because it’s in English! Unpopular opinion but, yes, this English reggaeton song vaulted reggaeton further into the mainstream music market. (Read: white music market.)
Calle 13 — “Atrévete-Te-Te” (2006)
Finally, we arrive to “Atrévete-Te-Te” by another PR duo, Calle 13. If you’re at all familiar with Latin pop, I bet you remember the first time you heard this song. Musically, this is probably the most exciting and well-executed song on this playlist. It opens with real, screaming clarinets that come straight from the cumbia of Colombia and though the lyrical themes are in keeping with many of the songs on this list — sex, cultural pride, with a stray mention of Green Day and Coldplay thrown in the mix — this song is unique. I don’t know if Calle 13 would identify it as such, but to me it is a true reggaecumbia, a subgenre of reggaeton that is basically a cumbia with dancehall riddims stacked on top. While those clarinets raise the aural intensity of the song, it is still a relief to hear some real instruments on a track like this.
Tego Calderón — “Tradicional A Lo Bravo” (2007)
Puerto Rican-born Tego Calderón serves up another healthy helping of real instruments with his 2007 hit “Tradicional A Lo Bravo.” This song is sick because it demonstrates Calderón’s superior musicianship. “Traditional A Lo Bravo” starts as rapid-fire merengue with wailing clarinet in the mix and then changes meter and slows down into this saucy, dirty cumbia. Calderón included some plena breaks and the reggaeton beat is consistent throughout. As you can see in this video, he is also an instrumental musician and features himself on congas. The song has so much movement and range that it sits with me for hours.
Plan B — “Si No Le Contesto” (Feat. Tony Dize, Zion, & Lennox) (2010)
I’m not sure who OK’d the name of this Puerto Rican group but Plan B’s favorite song of mine is “Si No Le Contesto,” which they released in 2010. It reached #8 on Billboard’s Latin charts and is Plan B’s most successful single to date. The song features a highly electronic production method with purely electronic and synthetic instruments, as well as repetitive melodic refrains typical of this genre. This is another song about traición (treason/betrayal) and cheating, really getting into the trope of “musician who fucks around on his girl.”
Reykon — “Tu Cuerpo Me Llama” (Feat. Los Mortal Combat) (2011)
We got caught up in Puerto Rico, so allow me introduce you to some reggaeton from South America that I discovered while traveling through Ecuador and Peru. “Tu Cuerpo Me Llama” by Colombian artist Reykon (also known as Reykon “El Lider”) was remixed to feature the group Los Mortal Combat and got big across Latin America in 2011. What jumps out on this song is the affected piano playing on beats two and four, which lends it an electro-cumbia feel. Electro-cumbia is a contemporary style of synthetically-produced cumbia out of Colombia and you can hear the regional influences shine through on Reykon’s song.
Nene Malo — “Bailen Rochas Y Chetas” (2012)
Another song that was slapping in South America around the time “Tu Cuerpo Me Llama” was big was Nene Malo’s “Bailen Rochas Y Chetas.” This is not the easiest or most aurally pleasing song to listen to because of the low quality of the production, the bright synthetic instruments, and Nene Malo’s supper gritty voice, but it was a hit nonetheless. It exemplifies a lot of tacky tendencies of the electro-cumbia genre, with some heavy reggaeton beats behind it. Though “Bailen Rochas Y Chetas” could also belong in the little offshoot of reggaeton known as reggaecumbia, this song is not just any reggaecumbia song; it has a really poppy techno breakdown at a couple points and an amazingly ugly choreographed dance that goes along with it. Women would squad up and do this dance to it:
Yes, I learned it. Yes, I love it. Nene Malo (“Bad Baby”) forever.
Nicky Jam — “Si Tú No Estás” (Feat. De La Ghetto) (2014)
This track by Nicky Jam makes the list simply because it has a ridiculously catchy hook. Nicky Jam is a US-born reggaeton artist with roots in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. He started out his career in a duo with Daddy Yankee known as Los Cangris. But unlike his earlier tracks with Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam sings his lyrics on solo tracks, he doesn’t rap them, and personally, I don’t miss the rapping. Thank you, Nicky Jam, for making it chill for ultra-macho reggaetoneros to sing their little hearts out.
Gente De Zona — “La Gozadera” (Feat. Marc Anthony) (2015)
Back to el Caribe: “La Gozadera,” by Gente De Zona and featuring Marc Anthony, typifies the beautiful and natural marriage between timba and reggaeton. Timba can be described as a hyphy, busy, trap set version of salsa that comes from Cuba. Gente De Zona are an amazing duo that produce full-band timba arrangements riding on reggae riddims. Like Don Omar’s “Reggaeton Latino,” this is another pan-Latinx anthem that boasts Cuban artists as well as the Puerto Rican-American salsa star Marc Anthony. The video for “La Gozadera” was filmed in Cuba, and the song shouts out various Latin American countries.
Maluma — “El Perdedor” (2015)
Let’s turn an eye back to Colombia and celebrate this bad baby boy Maluma. Thank god for these singing-ass reggaeton stars to soften the delivery of so much machismo and female objectification. “El Perdedor” is about Maluma being sad over some girl, but he complicates the song with the narrative of the music video, which critiques anti-Latinx racism demonstrated by police. In the clip, Maluma’s girl’s dad is a cop who threatens him to stay away from her. Maluma benefits from being a white-passing Latinx, but I’m happy that he presented this critique of racial profiling and the institutional racism of law enforcement.
Osmani Garcia — “El Taxi” (Feat. Pitbull, Sensato, & Dayami La Musa) (2015)
“El Taxi” by Osmani Garcia is a straight up rip-off of Chaka Demus and Pliers’ 1993 reggae track “Murder She Wrote,” which is somewhat based on the 1966 Toots & The Maytals track “Bam Bam.” Osmani grabbed the beat and made it even catchier with his rhythmically dynamic, attention-grabbing refrains. You can clearly hear three different riddims stacked on top of each other to create this classic dancehall beat. The shakers and metallic minor percussion bring out the bright tambors to complement the low kick drum and severely flat, riffing bass. This dance hit is topped off by a whimsical and comical feature by Pitbull.
Los Desiguales — “Eso Es Bola” (Feat. El Príncipe & Damian) (2016)
Los Desiguales’ “Eso Es Bola” is another Cuban anthem with a timba backing band and synthetic reggae riddims. This song is musically complex but the vernacular is common and it deals in relatable themes. “No me diga, no me cuente, que chismosa son la gente,” Los Desiguales sing. The song is basically just talking about how metiche (nosy) some people are and how everyone inevitably loves to gossip.
A lot of reggaeton out of Cuba discusses el chisme (gossip). There are dozens of cultural reasons for this, but I will use a personal anecdote to illustrate why. What stuck with me during my time in Cuba is that people share information via word-of-mouth quickly and with efficiency. A lot of households don’t have wifi and people aren’t as glued to their phones as they are in the States. Imagine if instead of filming and sending a video of some scandalous shit to a friend, you all lived in the same barrio and just shouted, “It’s going down!”
J Balvin — “Safari” (Feat. Pharrell Williams, BIA, & Sky) (2016)
“Safari” by J Balvin came out in 2016 and represents a new crossover moment for Latin pop in the US. Balvin’s music has been climbing the charts in recent years and he landed his first #1 with Cardi B and Bad Bunny for “I Like It.” Though Balvin is a singer and rapper who pretty much exclusively deals in reggaeton, he incorporates an array of influences in the production of his music, from rock to electronica, and beyond.
Balvin was born in Colombia but lived in the US for some time, and his music has been shaped by the American pop landscape. He became well-known for his own music upon his return to Colombia and has sung his way to the top of charts around the world. “Safari” is a noteworthy entry in his catalogue because Pharrell sings the hook, further emphasizing Balvin’s status as a crossover star, and the two brought I Am Other’s BIA onto the track as well. Balvin puts on colorful, exciting tours with high production value, and he’s invested in the visual elements of being an artist. The video for “Safari” finds Balvin and Pharrell in a club, watching a series of women take the dancefloor — I personally like the part in the music video when the hot girl beats the shit out of some random creep who grabs her butt.
La Favi — “No Eres Bueno” (Feat. Ms. Nina) (2016)
La Favi is a Spanish artist born in San Francisco, who, full disclosure, happens to be my roommate. That doesn’t detract from the fact that she’s an exciting new artist making music worthy of a mention on this male-dominated list. La Favi’s single “No Eres Bueno” features Argentinian-born, Spain-residing Ms. Nina, who rose to fame on Tumblr for her photography and gif art. She has since made strides in the music world making trap en Español and reggaeton, and she’s become a leading figure among women hoping to break into the genres.
This track showcases the expansive impact reggaeton has had on a global Latin music market and how this genre is truly trans-border in its production and consumption. These two artists paired together exemplify the nuances of being a feminist bad bitch; the song and video present them as sensitive, super-fly, and fun. It’s been rewarding to see more female reggaeton artists on the come-up in recent years because yes, women also love partying and sex and talking shit about their partners so why shouldn’t we also be producing this kind of music?
Luis Fonsi — “Despacito” (Feat. Daddy Yankee) (2017)
We’ve arrived. This is the song that changed the game, that opened up the US pop market last year to the current deluge of reggaeton-inspired production. “Despacito,” by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi and featuring Daddy Yankee, debuted last year and hopped to the top of charts in 47 countries. The aforementioned Justin Bieber remix narrowly lost a bid to become the longest-running #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. It ultimately tied with Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Daddy” at 16 weeks, cut off from surpassing the ’90s hit by the arrival of Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.”
Nevertheless, the “Despacito” video became the most-viewed in history on YouTube. This is the song that broke 2017 — it was everywhere, thanks in part to the fact that Bieber’s name was attached to it. Please don’t forget, though, how the Biebs got caught singing words like “Dorito” and “burrito” to the tune of “Despacito” in the club, effectively getting his brown card revoked for life. Luis Fonsi may have forgiven him, but I haven’t.
Nego Do Borel — “Você Partiu Meu Coração” (Feat. Anitta & Wesley Safadão) (2017)
With reggaeton pulling up a chair in the American mainstream, the variety of voices on the come-up have been relatively diverse for a genre that used to be pigeonholed as being from one country. Maluma’s 2018 song “Corazon” is a remake of “Você Partiu Meu Coração” by Brazilian artist Nego Do Borel. It utilizes Brazilian samba rhythms coupled with dancehall riddims. This song is exciting because it is one of the few songs on the radio that presents someone singing in both Spanish and Portuguese. There isn’t a huge amount of Brazilian reggaeton, as the biggest dance music in the country is baile funk, a genre similar to reggaeton in how it borrows from many different traditions, but that is rhythmically distinct from reggaeton.
Ozuna — “La Modelo” (Feat. Cardi B) (2017)
There is no way we could finish up our list without talking about Ozuna, one of the biggest reggaeton stars of the moment. He has countless hits from the last couple of years, but let’s take a moment to appreciate “La Modelo,” which features Cardi B. Ozuna is a Puerto Rican singer and rapper. He (and everyone else) was very excited about his collaboration with Cardi B because he got to feature a huge pop star singing in Spanish and rapping in English on his very straightforward reggaeton song. This is the type of crossover collaboration that will effectively facilitate the reggaeton takeover of pop music all around the world. Ozuna has a great voice, playful lyrical motifs, and invigorating melodic ideas. His vocals are very breathy and nasal-y, which pairs well with Cardi’s harder-hitting grit. I want more from the two of them soon!
Kali Uchis — “Nuestro Planeta” (Feat. Reykon) (2017)
Yes, there is a reggaeton song on Kali Uchis’ latest album, which dropped in the spring. Stereogum named Isolation one of the best albums of the year so far for its dexterity; the album finds Kali Uchis singing across genres and formulating a sound that is diverse and distinctly her own. Kali Uchis’ smooth and sweet R&B vocal stylings meld beautifully with the dancehall beats in this pared-down reggaeton joint. Kali Uchis is a bit of a chameleon — the album finds her collaborating with Kevin Parker and Damon Albarn, and on this track, she partnered with Colombian reggaetonero Reykon (featured above). Together, the duo created a distinctly reggaeton-influenced song that stands apart from Kali Uchis’ earlier work.
El Negrito, El Kokito, Y Manu Manu — “Ojala (Yo Sone) Pa Que Guarachee Santa Clous” (2017)
Cubaton is reggaeton al estilo Cubano, or reggaeton à la Cuban. This song is a great example of cubaton and it is hands-down my favorite track on this playlist. “Ojala (Yo Sone) Pa Que Guarachee Santa Clous” has an almost comically poppy rumba — this time, rumba refers to a Spanish genre derived from flamenco — that vibes with all the palmas (hand claps) and the strum and hit guitar in the beat.
Sonically, this track is just gorgeous, and the accompanying low-budget video heightens its sweetness. The song spins a hopeful tale about a guy wanting to be with some girl, in a major key, which really never happens in reggaeton. Like J.Lo’s “El Anillo” (we’ll get to that one soon), “Ojala” is also popularly covered by rumba groups all over Cuba. While the track is certainly popular on its home turf, it’s a bit underground and likely will never hit big in the States.
Bad Bunny, PJ Sin Suela, Y Ñejo — “Cual Es Tu Plan” (Feat. DJ Nelson) (2018)
“Cual Es Tu Plan” is a case study in how reggaeton beats and that sticky syncopation of the dembow riddim is currently interacting with other styles of pop music. “Cual Es Tu Plan” is a smooth, pop-inflected joint that beautifully combines different aspects of neo-soul, R&B, funk, and reggaeton. It hosts a slew of acoustic and electronic instruments, with a full horn section and a funky bass paired with a flowing Rhodes keyboard, artfully placed on top of a shaved-down dembow riddim.
There are relatively few reggaeton or reggaeton-adjacent songs that feature Bad Bunny. Bad Bunny is one of the most popular Latin artists of the moment, but he mostly makes trapeo, or trap in Spanish. He is a skilled rapper and decent singer with a unique voice that makes him sound like he’s singing underwater. Once you familiarize yourself with him, Bad Bunny will be recognizable anywhere you hear him. His biggest moment in the American mainstream came with “I Like It,” and soon after he was featured on the cover of The FADER. Now, Bad Bunny’s got Drake rapping in Spanish on their new collaboration, “Mia.” Aside from his unique musical style, Bad Bunny is also a fashion freak and style icon who usually sports tiny sunglasses and a weird haircut.
Juanes — “Pa Dentro” (2018)
Speaking of a successful genre switch, let me introduce you to one of my current favorite tracks: “Pa Dentro” by Colombian rockero Juanes, which also came out in 2018. Juanes was known for making rock en Español with the band Ekhymosis in the ‘90s, and in 2000 he started a solo career. One of his biggest tracks was a song called “Me Enamora,” which came out back in 2007 and never got all that big Stateside, though it did make it onto the Hot 100. Now, he’s setting aside rock en Español in favor of some reggaeton, which makes sense for an artist trying to expand his audience and reach, but isn’t always successful. “Pa Dentro” happens to be a great moment for Juanes and it doesn’t sound all that unlike what he built his name on. Juanes’ croony voice is paired with a guitar, as is typical of all of his other tracks, but there’s a pegajoso (sticky) reggaeton beat driving this song. Congrats, Juanes, you made your comeback.
Tomasa Del Real — “Sirena” (2018)
“Sirena” is another 2018 release, this time from a Chilean reggaetonera named Valeria Cisternas, aka Tomasa Del Real. She rocks what I suppose would be described as a Tumblr aesthetic, and she has a nasally autotuned voice that drives me crazy in a good way. Cisternas chose the stage name “Tomasa Del Real” to capture both the masc and femme parts of her identity and her artistry, and she coined the term neoperreo and is considered an originator of the subgenre along with the aforementioned Ms. Nina. Neoperrero is another subgenre of reggaeton born out of Latin American DIY communities that aims to be inclusive and is dominated by women. I love Tomasa’s fully synthetic beats and dirty talk when she demands, “Mueve ese culo sirena,” or, “Move that mermaid ass.” She integrates a playful interest in fantasy with a sexy android aesthetic. I’m a fan.
Jennifer Lopez — “El Anillo” (2018)
To close, here’s a new one from a mature star that’s been in the limelight for decades. J.Lo really did it again with her bossed-up song “El Anillo,” which debuted earlier this year and is all about her waiting on some dude to propose to her. The video is awesome and her dancing is amazing. Besides giving off a real dirty perreo vibe from this Puerto Rican-American princess from the block, this song also uses samba rhythms that make you wanna shake your ass.
What really makes this song stick in my head though is not J.Lo or her video or age-defying appearance but the way other groups are covering this song. I was in Cuba a couple of months ago and literally every single rumba group was covering “El Anillo.” (In this instance, rumba is Yoruba and Spanish musical practices performed through drums, vocals, and dance.) It’s straight-up incredible to hear ancient African religious songs medleyed with this newly-minted pop song from a certified megastar, and a fantastic example of reggaeton’s ever-expanding reach.
We compiled all of the available songs on this playlist on Spotify. Listen here.