Reggaeton’s History Is Complex. A New Podcast Helps Us Listen That Way.

In the first episode, the project firmly highlights the genre’s Afro-Caribbean provenance and defiant beginnings: “For some people, reggaeton is just party music. But the real story of reggaeton is about la resistencia. Resistance,” Ivy Queen states with piercing clarity. “About how kids who were young or poor, Black or […]

In the first episode, the project firmly highlights the genre’s Afro-Caribbean provenance and defiant beginnings: “For some people, reggaeton is just party music. But the real story of reggaeton is about la resistencia. Resistance,” Ivy Queen states with piercing clarity. “About how kids who were young or poor, Black or dark-skinned — kids who were discriminated against in every way — how we refused to be quiet.” As the episode comes to a close, she puts an exclamation point on the show’s larger argument, stating that reggaeton is a “Black sound with roots from the English-speaking world.”

It’s a position statement about the music’s creators, ethos and identity that holds throughout the series’s run. There’s no shortage of rebellion in “Loud.” This is a project that immerses listeners in dissent.

It tells of how underground artists fought back against the criminalization they faced in the ’90s and early ’00s in Puerto Rico, when the police raided public housing projects and confiscated cassettes from record stores under the guise of curbing drugs and violence. It describes the fearlessness of Tego Calderón, who made pro-Black reggaeton anthems and scorched the public consciousness with his condemnations of colonial thinking. It reminds us how Anglo major labels and radio stations stumbled as they tried to cash in on a movement that they didn’t understand, and that couldn’t be tamed. For an industry that often renders arrival in the United States as evidence of ultimate career triumph, this narrative pivot is as curative as it is urgent.

“Loud” has rights to most of the music it analyzes, and knows it holds a gold mine. In one chapter, the show demonstrates how the game-changing producers Luny Tunes infused reggaeton with melody and strings through the lens of Ivy Queen’s virtuosic “Te He Querido Te He Llorado.” Listening to the episode, as the song’s bachata guitar and dembow drums slashed through each other under Ivy’s guttural wail, I was moved to stand up and belted her requiem of resentment and heartbreak to no one in particular.

But “Loud” tackles the difficult parts of this music’s history, too: the homophobia embedded in Shabba Ranks’s “Dem Bow,” which serves as the genre’s percussive foundation; the vilification of the music, which led to government censorship campaigns in Puerto Rico; and the racist and classist bias of traditional Latino media, which did not book reggaeton acts at the outset of its mainstream ascent. A few moments that surround the genre’s history would benefit from further reflection here; a discussion of the racial ideology of mestizaje, for example, is a little too brief to treat the subject with enough depth.

Of course, it is impossible to sketch a complete portrait of any popular music genre over the course of a podcast. And reggaeton is a genre of transformation, a movement that has refused stasis and undergone constant reinvention over the course of its existence. “Loud” asks us to reconsider the collective stories we heard about the music at the marquesina parties that shaped some of our early understanding of its contours. It chips away at reggaeton’s canon, urging us to take a closer look at the depth and the insurgency it has promised all along. It forces us to listen to reggaeton with complexity — as much complexity as the music and its history hold in the first place.

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