With a history spanning three decades and several countries, reggaetón has given Latino youth a potent voice in the international hip-hop matrix. In the 1970s young musicians in Panama began to make music in the style of Jamaican dance hall but with Spanish lyrics. This trend became popular in Puerto Rico, especially through the song Muévelo, a 1991 hit by Panamanian singer El General (Edgardo Franco). The 1990s underground scene in Puerto Rico also included rap en español (rap in Spanish), an off-shoot of hip-hop. Puerto Rican youth latched onto the infectious rhythm of a song called Dem Bow by Jamaican dance hall singer Shabba Ranks and gave their hybrid music a new name, reggaetón.
One of reggaetón’s first stars in Puerto Rico was Tego Calderón, who spoke to Afro-Puerto Rican pride in songs like Loíza (2002). The Puerto Rican duo Calle 13 gained a strong following for their innovative beats and social commentary and went on to receive both Latin Grammy Awards and Grammy Awards (in 2008 & 2010, respectively). The sexy and elegant Ivy Queen, reggaetón’s biggest female star, helps balance the machismo of male reggaetón singers with songs like Que Lloren (2007).
Many reggaetón songs have themes of partying and sex, as exemplified by Daddy Yankee’s 2004 hit, La Gasolina, which helped spread the reggaetón fever all over the U.S., even crossing over to Anglo youth. But, like hip-hop, the genre includes a diversity of voices that are not always heard in the mainstream.