How Latin America’s Most Controversial Music Genre Rose to Fame in America


Before 2017, reggaeton music was only known among Latinos, and listening to it was considered a “guilty pleasure” due to its controversy. Now in 2020, three years after 2017, reggaeton is the most popular subgenre of pop latino in Latin America, and is beginning to become as popular, if not more, than American music. Today, the Coachella Music Festival would not be complete without reggaeton singers like Ozuna or J Balvin. As reggaeton starts to gain fame across the world, there are two questions that rise in people’s heads: First, where did reggaeton originate? Second, how did it become so popular so fast?

The Spark

The Island of Puerto Rico in the colors of the island’s flag.

Reggaeton originated in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 1990s, with inspiration from Jamaica and Panamá . Reggaeton evolved from dance hall reggae and it’s beat is a fusion of dancehall reggae and dembow, and has a snare drum rhythm. It was considered an “underground” music due to its circulation through clubs, informal networks, and performances at unofficial venues. DJ Playero and DJ Nelson were inspired by other Latin American music, pop, and hip hop to produce “riddims”, which became known as the first reggaeton beats. It sounded like this. 

Then, Panamanian music artist El General began to take dancehall reggae hits and translate them into Spanish. These translated reggae songs were popular in Puerto Rican clubs and were known to be popular songs to dance to. As Caribbean and African Americans music gained popularity in Puerto Rico so did reggae rap in Spanish. These two genres marked the beginning of the “Boricua underground era”, it became a creative outlet among the youth, and rappers and hip hop artists such as  Vico C were the main stars. This music heavily influenced and inspired the youth, especially one person: Ramón Luis Ayala. 

Known by his stage name Daddy Yankee, and nicknamed the “King Of Reggaeton”, he imitated the rapping style of Vico C and went on to emulate other artist such as DJs Playero and Nelson and Tempo and mix their styles to develop an original style with the dembow rhythm. He eventually abandoned his plans of the traditional model of rap and became one of the first artists to perform reggaeton. He was one of the first music artists to make reggaeton, along with Nicky Jam (who he made songs and music videos with) and Don Chezina, and make the genre go big Island wide. As their music gained popularity in the Caribbeans, it started to become popular in other Latin American countries, and became prominent in middle to poor neighborhoods and the clubs in these neighborhoods. However, when reggaeton first rose to the bigger stages, it received more backlash, criticism, and controversy than it did fame and joy. 


Reggaeton as a genre began to receive heavy backlash when it began to be played on radio stations. Reggaeton is historically known for it’s rapping and singing vocals that often talk about drinking, drugs, dating, sex, partying, and life in poor areas. Reggaeton as a genre especially sparked outrage and backlash among the Puerto Rican government and upper class for its machismo (sexist) lyrics that degrade women and talk about perreo (dirty dancing). 

In 1995, the Puerto Rican government began to take actions against reggaeton. Authorities began to confiscate reggaeton albums, and record stores were raided in order to confiscate albums. People caught playing reggaeton or caught with an album were fined and their music was confiscated as well. And clubs went from “This is my song” mentality to “Don’t play that s***”. In response, reggaeton artists began to make “non-explicit songs” so that they were not as dirty, still had the classic, nice-to-dance-to beat, and were allowed to be played on the radio and in clubs. Reggaeton began to slowly seep back into the mainstream music industry. Despite the killer beat, and the establishment of non-explicit songs, reggaeton as a genre still remains dirty with some of its lyrics, and the reggaeton controversy is still present today.

Maycol Letra - La Jeepeta Remix - Anuel AA, Nio Garcia, Brray, Myke Towers,  Juanka (Video Lyrics) | Facebook

One song that is an example of reggaeton’s popularity and controversy is “La Jeepeta” by Myke Towers, Nio García, Anuel AA, Brray, and Juanka. The song has a good beat and it’s a beat that you can totally dance to, but the lyrics are very degrading towards women.

Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina”

Daddy Yankee performing live at a music event 

In November 2004, Daddy Yankee released his song “Gasolina”, which was one of the songs in his newest album at the time “Barrio Fino”. It became a huge hit the following year, and was the first reggaeton song to be nominated for the Latin Grammy Award for Record of the Year. He became known as the “King Of Reggaeton”. It was a song that went big across Latin America, and it changed the way people viewed reggaeton. People began to shift from “That music is disgusting” to “With the exception of a few songs, we don’t like it. However, we will tolerate it.” For the urban youth, it became as popular as it was when it was “underground” music, and it slowly became prominent in clubs again. However, it was nowhere near as big as pop latino and songs written by artists such as Shakira or Juanes. So for the next several years, reggaeton remained controversial but tolerable, and popular among youth in the middle to poor class in cities.

The Despacito Effect

Despacito is the most watched YouTube video, ever | The Independent | The  Independent

Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi in the music video for their new song “Despacito”.

In January 2017, pop latino artist Luis Fonsi released his new music video for the song “Despacito” which he worked with Daddy Yankee on. The beat was a perfect combo of a dembow and pop beat, and its lyrics were great. This song became a MEGA HIT among the youth and clubs, and went big in just about every Hispanic and Spanish speaking community in the world. As this song got big in the U.S. and Canada’s latino communities, Despacito began to be played on radio stations in both countries. The song caught the attention of a little someone named Justin Bieber, and thought that he could make a Spanish/English remix of the song in hopes that it will appeal to the English speaking community because they can now understand the lyrics. 

Although this song was nowhere near as popular as the original in Latin American countries, it was still a big hit in America. The Justin Bieber remix of Descpacito, sparked the American reggaeton movement. Within the next two years, American music artists like Cardi B, Selena Gomez, an Tyga began to collaborate with reggaeton artists like J Balvin and Ozuna to make reggaeton songs that had vocals in both Spanish and English, later becoming known as Spanglish reggaeton songs. 

Download I Can't Get Enough (with Benny Blanco, Tainy & J B

Album cover for Spanglish reggaeton song “I Can’t Get Enough”, which came out in 2019

However, like in Puerto Rico, these Spanglish reggaeton songs such as DJ Snake’s “Taki Taki” also became a huge controversy for its dirty lyrics. But unlike in Puerto Rico, the backlash and controversy did not stop the music from being played on the radio stations, and despite being frowned upon, Spanglish reggaeton songs like “Taki Taki” still remain popular in the U.S. 

“This Is The Remix!”

Te Bote Remix feat. Darell, Nicky Jam Ozuna - Single by Nio Garcia, Casper  Magico Bad Bunny Digital Art by Music N Film Prints

Album Cover for “Te Boté (Remix)”. 

Another big idea that led to reggaeton being so popular today are the remixes, which began to rise in the mainstream in the 2016. Even though the original song(s) were amazing, some artists believed their songs could be made even better than their originals. They did this by adding more verses and lyrics to their songs and collaborating with different artists. One example of a reggaeton remix was the song “Te Boté”. Originally written and sung by Casper, Darell, and Nio García, the three artists decided to try and make the song better by collaborating with Ozuna, Bad Bunny, and Nicky Jam, and giving them verses to perform in the song. The remix was absolute fire, and the music video went viral. As of today, the music video for the remix of “Te Boté” has over 2 billion views and is one of the most popular songs in reggaeton. Other big reggaeton songs that artists made remixes of include and not limited to: DJ No Pare, Pa Mi, Mírame, Si Se Da, and Loco Contigo. All these remixes have gotten millions of views, and are now prominent in clubs. 

Pin on sheila

Album cover for the remix of “DJ No Pare” ft. Farruko, Dalex, Zion, Lenny Tavarez, and Natti Natasha.

Controversy over the genre’s lyrics and popularity is still present today. Critics are beginning to worry that not only is reggaeton becoming a bad influence on the youth, but that the genre is getting too popular, and that Latin America is heading towards the path of musical monoculturalism. Despite the lyric controversy, and fears of musical monoculturalism, reggaeton songs and music videos continue to get big ratings, views and music awards. Now in 2020, reggaeton has grown to be the most popular Spanish music genre, and is beginning to become popular in countries that heavily criticised it, like Spain and México, and has also become popular in countries that normally didn’t listen to it and may have never heard of reggaeton before Despacito came out, like the English speaking U.S.. As of now, it looks like reggaeton is here to stay in the mainstream music industry. 

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