linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on



been meaning to write about calle 13 for a while now (^^that's them^^), and mi amiga raquel rivera just gave me a reason to finally do so. these days you can find raquel blogging at herspace, but she's also opened up a blogspot to bring her thoughts to the wider web.

raquel's latest post regards a song/video by calle 13 called "la jirafa" (the giraffe). she recently wrote me about the track: "The lyrics are absolutely beautiful," raquel enthused, "Free association, sweet, sharp love song. Doesn't rely on pop lyrical cliches!"

but without that ol' dembow, raquel was wondering what to call it, and so, go figure, she asked me:
I hear no usual "reggaeton". Sounds like he's relying on (maybe) Brazilian-like percussion for a similar move your hips effect. Correct? What do you think of stuff like this being called "reggaeton"?
to which i replied:
yes, it sounds brazilian (maybe forro? or just some adapted samba-ish thing), which may be right, since visitante was in a group prior to calle 13 that did a bunch of brazilian stuff, including in portuguese. they were called bayanga. you know of 'em?

i can't vouch for the brazilian style in particular, or even whether it is one or only gives that impression. you're right in terms of "hips effect" -- it also plays a bunch with 3:2 polyrhythms, and though it's not quite the prototypical reggaeton pattern, they overlap a lot and feel similar. i guess i wouldn't have a problem calling this reggaeton, despite the unorthodoxy. for one, his flow relates to the track in the same manner as it does on more typical 'dembow' style beats. also, i think we're just going to continue to hear reggaeton's palette broadened (especially when art school kids are brought to the party). i'm sure there are plenty of self-appointed genre police bestowing authenticity on some slice of the style (and maybe excluding this sort of outlier), but reggaeton has always been pretty experimental and ecumenical in its influences, so i suspect that most people would hear this particular track as reggaeton all the same.
now, i don't know about you, and i'd be curious to hear from any of you brazilianists out there, so see it for yourself and let me (and raquel) know what you think.

i've gotta admit that i've been diggin' calle 13 for a minute now. their debut album is full of quirky beats, clever wordplay (from what i can grok), and fresh flows. they're clearly engaging seriously (and very playfully) not just with reggaeton but with a wide range of traditions and influences, poking plenty of fun at mainstream US culture, at PR culture, and at themselves. at first i was afraid that they were just the MIA of reggaeton, but i think they're at least as cute, probably more clever, and a lot less cloying. then again, yeah, it's artschool agitpop, all the same. considering, though, that they're signed to white lion -- the same label that put out tego's early efforts, as well as voltio's recent release -- they would seem less summarily dismissable as bougie bandwagoners. and their widespread and grassroots popularity in puerto rico also seems to suggest that the group is more than a gimmick. still, an observation on ILM's 2005 rolling reggaeton thread falls not far off the mark:
i cant help finding it amusing that ilm's toedip into reggaeton instantly managed to find the world's only artschool hollertronic aesop rock undie guy!! and without seeing the pic first! i dont mean it in a bad way like but u gotta laff
even so, something tells me that calle 13 has more going for them than this characterization would seem to imply. they appear to consider more carefully their appropriations, for one, and to wear their satire, as well as their sincerity, on their sleeves. (then again, residente, the group's MC, doesn't seem to wear sleeves very often.) to give you pause, apparently residente recommends reading judith butler (!) in order to better understand how gender works and how he works gender, and there's no doubt that we could use more savvy rappers to put such theory into practice. whether that's what's going on in a song/video like "atrevete te-te" is, of course, another question:

at any rate, such a video seems at least as provocative and potentially subversive -- in its play with the cliches and archetypes of the genre -- as, say, good ol' chacarron.

listening more closely, it's not surprising that calle 13 has had such uptake in PR. their music is clearly on the pulse, subtly incorporating dembow breaks and infusing a variety of sounds and styles that go well beyond the synth orthodoxies of the genre's mainstream offerings. musically, tego is the only other reggaeton artist embracing such idiosyncracy, engaging with so many styles, and producing truly exciting fusions. the comparison's not a bad one, i don't think: residente's flow has stylistic resemblances to tego's, too -- both rap in a slow, comfy drawl, nonchalant and cool, closer to hip-hop than reggae, both foreground social and cultural critique, despite their willingness to play the macho role as well, and both have a wicked sense of humor to boot. case in point (though not lyrically): calle 13 has recently incorporated residente's teenage sister into their act; they call her PG-13.

what i'm describing here -- a new wave, if you will, of reggaeton artists willing to play with (and advance) the form -- is sort of what raquel's question was getting at: where do we draw the lines, especially with regard to innovative or experimental (dare we say avant garde?) acts? is this reggaeton? is it (a la sr.reynolds) "post-reggaeton"? or is it, as a certain puertorican blogger would have it, an example of a "renaissance" and a "vehement" stage for the genre? the somewhat sardonic (can one be somewhat sardonic?) reggaeton timeline that luis offers would seem to affirm a wider public perception of some sort of significant stylistic shift underway (and i have to say that i find it a pretty useful, and on-point, schematic of the "evolution of reggaeton"; bravo, luis).


as a point of contrast, i should note that i'm not totally open to anything calling itself (or being called) reggaeton (or "post-reggaeton," if we must, which, we prolly shouldn't).

recently i received a query similar to raquel's from a reader in portugal (thx, ana!), who wrote:
This may seem a bit strange, but there's something really confusing me regarding the song "No Hay Igual" by Nelly Furtado (from her latest album "Loose"). "No Hay Igual" has insistently been identified (by numerous music writers and other people) as a reggaetón track, and, to my ears, that sounds absurd. The news of a partnership with Calle 13 on a new version of the song and on the video obviously aggravated my thoughts.

Having never read anyone dissociate that song with that very specific musical genre, I'm beginning to consider that I haven't been listening properly either to "No Hay Igual" or to reggaetón (or even both), which certainly concerns me.

this was my response:
I think in general the song's labelling as such is more a product of journalistic laziness (and ignorance?) than anything. For many, "reggaeton" has just become another vague tag for "Latin," when of course it refers to a rather specific style. I can hear why people make this mistake with a song like "No Hay Igual": it has Latin-esque percussion, often accenting similar beats as in reggaeton songs. But to my ears, the emphasis here, despite a fair amount of polyrhythmic percussion, is stronger on beats 2 and 4 and thus more consistent with hip-hop/R&B (which is not surprising, given that Timbaland produced the track). I definitely would not call this a reggaeton track, though we might consider it a piece of "post-reggaeton" pop, insofar as it wouldn't have been possible/fashionable without reggaeton's rise in recent years.
now, that would seem to contradict my more generous reading of calle 13's "la jirafa" as a reggaeton song. on the one hand, i was arguing that we shouldn't have too strict a sense of where the genre begins and ends, especially given how omnivorously it has incorporated everything from hip-hop to reggae, techno to bachata, salsa to bhangra. on the other, i was trying to talk more about the perceptions of listeners and "core reggaeton listeners," if you will, and that for them, hearing residente flow over a polyrhythmic beat as he would any ol' pista, "la jirafa" would probably register as reggaeton -- quirky reggaeton, but reggaeton all the same. in the case of ms.furtado, however, i think it's safe to say that reggaeton devotees would not be inclined to hear it as reggaeton, unless perhaps she put calle 13 in the video, which she did. if you listen to the beat, though, it presents a rather different feel than most reggaeton tracks or "la jirafa" create with their afro-caribbean/brazilian grooves. "no hay igual" is much more (afro-)american in its duple-meter stress, despite the underlying 3+3+2 figures; in fine timbo fashion, it seems to bring together indian/"eastern" percussion, quasi-dancehall bump, futuristic synthology, and virginia-style syncopation. to call it "reggaeton," or even "latin" (spanish lyrics aside), is, i think, misleading, playing into the same ol' "hot latin" stereotypes that too often cloud the discourse around reggaeton. but i suppose that's more-or-less what furtado and her handlers were going for.

at any rate, here's the track ana's talking about. what does it sound like to you? (fyi -- this does not appear to be the version filmed in PR with residente, but you can hear the track just fine.)


Blogger gregzinho said...

If Sambacana is any judge (which I think it is), Bo is certainly the authority.

but my quick two cents, at least from my preliminary introduction to brazilian music, is as follows:

if it's the percussion you're most interested in deciphering -- and it's certainly perplexing . . . I can't imagine something called reggaeton without the sharply snapping snares! -- then I would say "la jifara" is looking more in samba's direction. the big drum with that softer, deeper sound definitely matches what I've seen & heard at the few escola de samba practices I've visited. It could also be looking toward pagode, a more recent subgenre of samba. I don't know much about it, but I do know I'm going to a baile funk in Rocinha tonight and then the crowd spills over into the pagode party up the hill afterwards, so maybe I'll take a gander.

the accordion, meanwhile, is definitely something you can find in forró -- although it doesn't have much to do with samba, as far as I know, being a northeastern style of music.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Maga Bo said...


10:57 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

thanks for weighing in guys!

but, whoa, mr.bo -- you hear "jirafa" as cumbia?! interesting. you mean the colombian style? (and perhaps a more rural/trad version of it?) that's not evident to my admittedly non-expert ears, at all. curious -- what makes you say so?

seems most likely to me that it's an imagined/invented brazilian-ish style, but i'm definitely curious to know how it would be heard in a brazilian context.

3:35 PM  
Blogger The Incredible Kid said...


Thanks again for the reggaeton post. I have greatly enjoyed all you have written on the subject. You make me feel damn near anti-intellectual in my appreciation of the genre by comparison.
Thanks again.

6:58 PM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

as i've been singing the song in my head, i realize that i can start to hear some cumbia in it (and surely i need to listen to more cumbia to get a better sense of its range). in partic, i hear similarities in the bass pattern, where the 1 .. 3 4 emphasis seems consistent with lots of cumbia i've heard.

thanks to all for the comments.

5:44 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

just for the record, me and mr.bo had the following exchange over email:

bo: "yeah, that's cumbia. cool stuff. I tried to post to the blog, but for some reason had to log in and couldn't remember my login name etc.....anyway, one time I was in buenos aires and I was standing on a bridge looking out over some canals and railroad tracks and I noticed scratched into the paint of the railing, 'sex, drugs and
cumbia.' uhuh, yep."

me: "down in buenos aires even? i guess i usually hear cumbia as colombian, though i'm sure it's diffused across the continent (and, then, of course, there's manu chao, who seems to borrow heavily). as i listen to the calle 13 song now i think i can hear what you mean -- at least in the bass, where the 1 .. 3 4 pattern seems consistent with lots of the cumbia i've heard."

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol you guys got to get a clue, it does have that brazilian theme drum pattern but is more than a dembow than you think, is still reggaeton, dont you hear los timbales repicando, it has that kind of son de rumba song tan tan ta tan tan ta.

3:24 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

i hear you, nes. just trying to be precise here (and maybe your comment would be more precise if spoken/sung instead of written -- and more persuasive if less derogatory) -- and to note that calle 13 are doing some innovative stuff. that's all. i wouldn't call it a dembow all the same. but that's splitting hairs, i suppose. meanings change, no doubt.

5:28 AM  

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