!cabron! que reggaeton !
remember that observation i made last summer with regard to the snares in reggaeton?
well, i've put together a thing or two since then that help explain where this remarkable, distinctive practice of switching snares every several measures or so has its beginnings: puerto rico in the early 90s, of course, i.e., during the dembow era, when underground referred to raggamuffin flows over sample-based beats, and when top DJs/producers, such as playero, and night clubs / mixtape series, such as the noise, were synonymous with a genre that wasn't so much unnamed as overnamed, bursting with significance and signification, and perhaps not so much "underground" as it was "undergrown" (as i once misread the cover as saying).
it was no doubt growing assiduously, though, and the music and scene have undergone a great deal of growth and change since those early days. even so, the latest reggaeton productions continue to embody this early history - significantly submerged as it may be - in their very sonic structure. mainly, the snares. you see, back in the days of what dj/rupture calls "proto-reggaeton," when the spanish-language reggae/rap made in san juan was called any number of things (including some nasty epithets), you could hear the snares switch just as regularly as you do now. you might not notice though, since everything else would change too.
if you listen to puerto rico's underground music of the 1990s you hear - by and large - a series of flip-tongue, sing-song vocalists rocking risque over homemade versions of recent reggae riddims and hip-hop beats. the favorites are ubiquitous - dem bow, bam bam, drum song - and they cycle in and out of the half-hour to hour mixes that constituted the genre's main medium throughout the decade. not on a song to song basis, mind you, but on a section to section basis, so that a four-bar chop'n'stab loop of the dem bow would be followed by a similar version of a version of the bam bam, then something of the drum song, and so on.
frequently, not only are these loops reassembled - sample-based hip-hop stylee - from well-worn reggae riddims, they're composites of several of them. thus, at times, the dem bow drums might roll along with the bam bam guitar and/or the drum song bass - not to mention the syncopated snare and heavy hi-hat from slick rick's "mona lisa," the sax riff from the 45 king's irrepressible, irresistable "900 number" loop, the bassline from special ed's "i got it made," marley marl's immortal "symphony"-flip of otis redding's piano intro, and various other old school and contemporary hip-hop references. these chopped-and-rearragned loops of recognizable fragments make for a rather resonant mix, and over such steadily shifting accompaniment spanish-slanging MCs with dancehall-derived flows skip triple-time over the beats, often while intoning one of those two-or-three-note dancehall melodies that jamaican DJs have endlessly reworked since the early-mid 80s and which are especially characteristic of early 90s dancehall (a/k/a, ragga).
so those famous shifting snares in all the newest nuendo-nicked pistas played and programmed by luny tunes, et al., are quite closely connected to this foundational practice of versioning the versions, of taking a hip-hop hatchet to reggae's pop-will-eat-itself aesthetics, creating dense, sample-based collages that engage and embody, as they directly index, the popular and no doubt political (for san juan youth) "musica negra," as they used to sing on mixtapes before the tagline became "reggaeton latino" - the "black music" that resounded across the soundscapes of san juan and new york, home and home-away-from-home, and animated a specific sort of youth- and class-based cultural politics in the late 80s and throughout the 90s.
in some ways, the practice is rather consistent with dancehall reggae's own approach to riddim production in the early 90s. think of cutty ranks's "a who seh me done (wake the man)," which shuffles between the familiar strains of the bam bam and a downbeat-centric, hip-hop-inflected beat, or dave kelly's action riddim - another favorite source for underground pistas (via that inescapable terror fabulous and nadine sutherland joint) - a track which juxtaposes starkly contrasting calls and responses to create an effective, affective form. (really, who can resist when the riddim's propulsive percussion yields to - or breaks before - that gloriously naked, bubbling bassline?) the approach also presents a striking parallel to brazilian funk's deployment of a small set of core (electro/bass-derived) rhythm tracks against a panoply of pop culture references - as sampled, as shouted, as captured in a ringtone.
hearing so many snares with new significance, i wonder whether the change in sound mirrors or informs an attendant shift in cultural politics? does this receding presence of hip-hop and reggae, this disappearing sonic blackness, overlay with a broader drift from class-bred commitments to racial and social justice? as samples of jamaican and african-american music yield to synth melodies inspired by merengue, bachata, salsa, freestyle, club/house, and even "tecno" (que chipmunk hoovers!), how do these figures inform the lines of community we draw in our imaginations and interactions? what might the ghostly connections between today's slick, synthetic anthems and the rough-and-rugged, cut'n'paste pistas of the 90s say about race and nation then and now?
.. boom ..
i don't know how long it will be up, but for those of you looking to follow this thread yourselves, there is no better resource than lobo lansky's: an utterly amazing and comprehensive archive of reggaeton albums and mixtapes from the seminal playero 37 to don omar's new highest-charting reggaeton debut. dude's got links to videos, too. not all of the albums are uploaded yet, but lansky intends to have it finished and fleshed out to eight pages (!) by july. since he's only streaming, he may be able to keep it up for a while, but i recommend checking it out while it's still right there in all its digitized splendor.
i highly recommend it, actually. i gotta say, i really enjoy this music. not only is it full of resonant references to a lot of my favorite tunes, it's bursting with energy and creativity (despite being so deeply "derivative"). it's fun, funny, and occasionally poignant. it's unhinged and uninhibited. it's critical as it's conservative. it's vanguard and rearguard at once.
it's all mixed up and not afraid to show its seams.
.. cha-boom chick ..
happy listening over at lansky's - keep yer ears on the snears !!
and your eyes, well, here's something for them (from playero 40):