Explain: Las Nietas de Nonó, Daddy Yankee, and Calle 13 Resist the Scars of Colonization, Discrimination, Poverty, and Racism by Embracing Their Challenges, Connecting to Their Cultural Roots, and Empowering Themselves and Others Through Their Art
How racial barriers play in the experiences of Mexican Americans has been hotly debated. Some consider Mexican Americans similar to European Americans of a century ago that arrived in the United States with modest backgrounds but were eventually able to participate fully in society. In contrast, others argue that Mexican Americans have been racialized throughout U.S. history and this limits their participation in society. The evidence of persistent educational disadvantages across generations and frequent reports of discrimination and stereotyping support the racialization argument.
Music is one of the most ubiquitous forms of expression available to both the elite and the poor and powerless. The judiciary, advocates, and legal academy use music to advance legal arguments, elucidate a legal concept or theory, or build a “narrative framework or a theory of case.” Many scholars have addressed the ways in which music is a potent form of cultural resistance and anti-subordination praxis. Music can alter consciousness and mobilize the masses. In focusing on rap music as a form of cultural resistance, many scholars situate the genre within the social context in which it emerged: the South Bronx in the 1970s. They argue that rap music emerged as a retort to the destructive effects of deindustrialization, urban blight, white flight, and urban renewal projects in the South Bronx, which relegated its residents to the societal margins of New York City and rendered them invisible. There was a stage for these neglected residents of the South Bronx—especially young African Americans and Latinos—to document and record the impact of law enforcement’s policies and practices, dilapidated housing conditions, and the lack of funding for public education in their community and daily lives. This commentary created by and for everyday people, in their words and idioms, revealed subversive and satirical examples of popular protest and cultural resistance. This “bottom up” approach allowed those who resided within the margins of society to become direct and active participants in the building and shaping of a new paradigm.
In 1995, reggaeton began to gain traction in Puerto Rico, and by the early 2000s it swiftly grew in popularity amongst young communities on the island and in the diaspora (Marshall, 2010). The genre launched into the mass media during 2005, especially through the successes of Puerto Rican performers Daddy Yankee and Don Omar, with most of its popularity centered in the cities of New York and San Juan (Flores, 2018). Wayne Marshall, Raquel Rivera, and Deborah Hernandez (2009) detail the complexity of reggaeton in cultural expression stating, “its suggestive sonic and cultural profile has animated contentious debates around issues of race, nation, class, gender, sexuality, and language” (p. 1). Thus, tense political situations concerning expression of identity found in reggaeton formed political divides, and for many created a dim view of the genre. However, in recent years, attitudes towards reggaeton have shifted, with a growing acceptance of its inclusion into the Puerto Rican soundscape. Shrouded in a blur, reggaeton’s beginnings emerged from a mixing of several genres important across the Caribbean; controversy persists over its origins. Most debates center around its geographic creation and conflicts between Panama and Puerto Rico. However, Wayne Marshall (2010) defines reggaeton as a “Puerto Rican and, increasingly, pan-Latino fusion of hip-hop and dancehall reggae”. He later adds that reggaeton developed at the turn of the 21st century as record producers began to commercialize it across Latin America.
All in all, for all its power and popularity, reggaeton remains an embattled pop form: it’s not reggae, it’s not rap, and for some, it’s not Latin either. Reggaeton has been belittled by a vast array of critics, among them rockists, reggae purists, hip-hop heads, upper- and middle-class Puerto Ricans, and Latin music aficionados. Purists of all sorts decry reggaeton, which makes sense, for it is an inherently hybrid music. It is also, in essence, an industrial music – a high-tech product with a tendency toward, and an aesthetic based around, recycled rhythms and riffs. Although reggaeton’s detractors have some valid complaints, especially with regard to the genre’s most crassly commercial releases, it is clear that quite frequently they simply have not listened closely enough, or to the right things. . . or with their hips.
Rivera, R., Marshall, W., & Pacini Hernandez, D. (Eds.). (2009). Reggaeton. Durham: Duke University Press.
Powell, J., & Menendian, S. (2016). The problem of othering: Towards inclusiveness and belonging. Othering and Belonging: Expanding the Circle of Human Concern, 1(1), 14-40.
Rivera-Rideau, P. (2015). Remixing reggaetón: The cultural politics of race in Puerto Rico. Durham: Duke University Press.