| || || | Reggaeton first emerged in Latin American countries in the late 1990s and combines a series of Latin musical genres and dance styles, from salsa to merengue, as well as modern hip hop. With lyrics as sensual as its dance moves, reggaeton is quickly gaining popularity in the United States. The basic step touch is a classic reggaeton dance move that you can begin practicing today.
- Practice your reggaeton dance moves, such as the step touch, one movement at a time in order to perfect your fluidity. Reggaeton is characterized by smooth, elastic-like movements, so begin working on speed only once you have mastered the steps.
- Begin with your feet together and to the beat of the music, step your right foot out about one foot. Once your foot has landed, bring your left foot in to touch your right. Continue the movement by lifting your left foot, stepping out to the side and bringing your right foot in to touch.
- Repeat, alternating sides.
Add your own personal style to the movement by pushing your arms out in front of you. As you step with the left foot, push out with your right arm, as you step with your right foot, push out with your left arm. You can make small circles or even push your arms to the side. Use this step to show your own unique style.
- Allow your arm and leg movements to move your shoulders, hips and even your head. Get into the music, letting the beat move you. The step touch is one of the most basic beginning reggaeton moves, and it is highly versatile, so use it to move your stuff on the dance floor.
A sound of their own
No longer marooned in the islands, reggaeton music is hitting the mainstream, giving Hispanic fans their own saucy version of hip-hop.
A drums-on-amphetamines beat pounds into your chest and swirls around with tobacco smoke as sultry brown and black people wind their waistlines, throw their hands up and spit lyrics as if chanting in some ancient native tongue.
The intoxicating mixture commands you to get on the dance floor and sweat.
This is Gasolina.
"It means to be on fire, to be hot, to light things up and get them going," says a thin Puerto Rican girl whose gold nameplate reads Lola and whose auburn curls have gone frizzy on a recent Saturday night at Club Fuel in Ybor City.
She is describing Daddy Yankee's hit Gasolina, a song partially responsible for the mainstream emergence of one of the most watched music genres of late.
In the last year, reggaeton (pronounced reggae-tone), a hybrid of reggae, salsa and hip-hop, has catapulted from the mix tapes of Puerto Rico to the mainstream radio charts of the United States - and now to the clubs of Tampa.
On last week's MTV Top 20 Downloads chart, two of the titles, including Gasolina, which stayed at No. 1 for two straight weeks, are reggaeton songs.
And Daddy Yankee's latest album, Barrio Fino, which means "fine district," was the Billboard Top 100 Hip-Hop chart's pacesetter the week of April 16, rising from No. 51 to No. 26 in one week.
Yet, even with its chart prowess, the reggaeton movement remains a bit obscure to the average listener.
Walk up to people on the street and ask them what their favorite reggaeton song is, and they'd probably shrug their shoulders. But ask them if they like that infectious cut with the Cuban kid rhyming about "culo," featuring crunk rapper-producer Lil' John, and they'll probably nod yes.
There is no one explanation for the sound's recent ascension.
Some say with hip-hop's secured place in the mainstream, it's only natural for various cultures to take the music and make it their own.
Others point to a correlation between the popularity and an increase in the Hispanic population in the United States. About one in every 10 Tampa Bay area residents is Hispanic. Those numbers affect what music gets played on the radio and in clubs, said DJ Vaya, who promotes Club Fuel's reggaeton night and is the president of Vaya Group Inc., an entertainment company in Tampa.
"As these Puerto Rican kids who came here with their parents get older, they become consumers and they are going to want to hear their type of music when they go out," Vaya said. "Six or seven years ago, the club promoters would close the door in your face if you tried to play reggaeton; now everyone is trying to get in on it."
Right now, Club Fuel is the only club hosting an all-reggaeton night in the Tampa Bay area. But you'd be hard-pressed to find an urban club that doesn't play at least a few reggaeton records on any given night.
Daddy Yankee's Gasolina was up to 80 to 90 spins a week last month on Tampa Bay's Wild 98.7 FM, making it one of the most played songs in the past four months.
"We're basically playing the songs that people get on the dance floor for," said Orlando, WLLD-FM 98.7's program director and host of Orlando and the Freak Show. "Now what we're seeing is kids that don't even know Spanish are calling up and requesting a Spanish song, so it's really a cultural explosion."
There may be a newfound appreciation for the music, but its roots are a sketchy tale that began more than two decades ago.
In the early 1980s, as hip-hop freestyle battles (in which a crowd of lyricists takes turns rapping off the top of their heads) peppered street corners from Brooklyn to the Tampa Bay area, the same thing was happening in Panama.
The difference was the lyrics were in Spanish and the beats were reggae-inspired, sparking a sound coined "ragga."
It was only natural that the two sounds, separated by 750 miles of Caribbean waters, would mesh.
The same portraits of poverty that Panamanian ragga stars painted with their lyrics existed in Puerto Rican raps. On the lighter side, both worlds shared a common love and pride for island culture.
"Puerto Rico is very island, the people, the food. . . . So anything coming from there will be heavily influenced with the sounds of the island," Vaya said. "It's only natural that their version of hip-hop would be reggae-heavy."
The reggaeton sound can vary geographically, with some songs having a more Cuban influence and others more Puerto Rican. Most reggaeton songs are in Spanish, but rappers like the Cuban-American MC Pittbull, based in Miami, perform in Spanglish.
There are constants that connect the sound.
At its core is usually a steady drum machine beat, often a hollow steel sound or repetitive congolike bap, giving the sound an undeniable reggae dance hall sway. Snares and horns sprinkled throughout give it that salsa kick. And gritty lyrics coupled with catchy choruses flesh out the hip-hop sound.
"It's basically underground Spanish hip-hop coming up," said Club Fuel DJ Speedy Jr., one of Florida's best-known reggaeton DJs. "For so long, young Spanish kids have been wanting their music to be heard, and now it is."
About six years ago, before you could simply go to MTV.com and download a reggaeton song, there was nothing but the bodegas, Speedy recalls.
Those were the early days, when a fuzzy radio show that aired on WRMD-AM 680 was about the only way local fans could get their reggaeton fix.
"We would go to the small bodegas in Tampa and have to order the CDs from Puerto Rico out of a catalog," Speedy said. "Still, on Sundays the request lines would blow up. It seemed like they were just waiting for that day of the week."
Songs like Oye Mi Canto by Puerto Rican and black rapper Noreaga and Puerto Rican star Tego Calderon, which translates to a Latina pride song, and MC Pittbull's Culo, which glorifies voluptuous women, are to young Latinos what Boogie Down Production's South Bronx and LL Cool J's Around the Way Girl were for black youth in the '80s and '90s. The music provides a place all their own to vent, celebrate and explode about life, love and society as they see it, straight with no chaser.
In Oye Mi Canto, which translates to "listen to my song," rapper Noreaga shouts out myriad nationalities:
What U Say?
Boriqua (HA!) Morena (HA!) Dominicano (HA!) Colombiano (HA!)/
Boriqua (HA!) Morena (HA!) Cubano (HA!) Mexicano (HA!)/
Oye Mi Canto/
You see this is what they want, they want reggaeton/
They want reggaeton . . ./
"It's an ownership thing, because a lot of Latino kids aren't able to go out and hear a rapper representing LaPerla or San Juan," said Paco, an on-air personality for 98.7's Orlando and the Freak Show. "These are places they grew up or heard their cousins talk about.
"I love it now, because now we see it in the mainstream, you don't have to go to the mom-and-pops and you don't have to have a cousin in Puerto Rico send it to you."
Despite the nationalistic pride incited by many of the songs, critics say reggaeton lyrics are not the best representation of the culture. Further, they contend that the sexually charged reggaeton dance-style la perreo, which translates to "female dog," is degrading to women.
Still, on this Saturday night at Club Fuel, it's impossible to analyze when a monster amplifier vibrates all four dark, sweaty walls.
It's about feeling it.
Bartenders work double time popping tops on Heinekens the same color as the laser light show beaming above the dance floor. The crowd goes bonkers as Speedy booms something in Spanglish from his DJ booth, prompting even the tough guys who have played the wall all night in crisp white T-shirts to do a two-step.
"Reggaeton," Speedy explains. "This is our own."
Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at MetroSexual LA