If you Google “reggaeton”, how many female artists will you see on your results page? Not a lot. To understand how and when the reggaeton genre began to make room for female artists, we have to start at the beginning, even before Ivy Queen, the queen of reggaeton. The origin story of reggaeton is a complex and intricate one: a male-dominated genre that is now gaining traction for female artists, all over the world. Nevertheless, his story was ignored by the general public. Or is it just unknown to many? Thanks to resources like Spotify’s “Loud” podcast, narrated by Ivy Queen, and the work of academics, it doesn’t have to be. Let’s dive into how this Latin music genre has pushed the boundaries of gender and sexuality inclusion.
Before reggaeton, there was rap in Spanish
Many fans consider the beginning of reggaeton to begin with the era of Daddy Yankee and Ivy Queen, in the late 90s and early 2000s. Yet it was in the 80s with Vico C, El General , Francheska and Lisa M that the genre began to make noise. Specifically, it was Lisa M who had a ripple effect on women in the movement. In 1989 in Puerto Rico, a 14-year-old girl named Marlisa Marrero Vázquez was the backup dancer for Vico C. Motivated by women rapping in the United States, she was inspired to do it in Spanish. One day, Vico C gave her a chance on stage, where she sang her first song, “Trampa”. And so, Lisa M the rapper was born.
The following year, Lisa’s team of writers and producers sampled El General’s “Tu Pum Pum” in a meringue rap about controlling her body and her sexuality. Originally the song was about a woman’s private parts, but in Lisa’s version it calls out a man’s small private parts. In the fourth verse of the chorus, she sings “Ay bendito, ay bendito, soy chiquito, ay bendito” (“Oh my god, oh my god, I am small, oh my god”). She also embraced women’s sexuality in the 1991 merengue rap song “Everybody Dancing Now”, with lyrics such as “Me excita la forma de tus movimientos, me hierve por dentro el deseo sexual” (“The way you moves excites me, sexuality the desire burns in me”). However, instead of having access to the world of rap, the market only opened the doors of pop to Lisa. As Raquel Z. Rivera, Wayne Marshall and Deborah Pacini Hernandez explained in the book “Reggaetón”, “Meren-rap was a studio experiment rather than a popular cultural phenomenon like the Puerto Rican underground, and it was short-lived. duration.” Not just rap meren, but the context of society was not ready for Lisa’s direct and sexual lyrics.
“It was a (societal) context that was not ready to talk about these topics like women as sexual beings, that we have equal rights to enjoy our sexuality, to have complete power over our body,” says Dr. Carla Santamaria, an expert in reggaeton studies. She is a professor at Brooklyn College with specialties in Puerto Rican urban music, decolonial theory, and popular culture. Being a young adult in Puerto Rico at the peak of reggaeton, Dr. Santamaria’s love for the genre itself became a pursuit to study it academically.
Rated “R” by the Senate of Puerto Rico
In 2002, the older generation viewed reggaeton as music detrimental to the younger generation. Dr. Petra Rivera-Rideau, associate professor of American studies at Wellesley College, focuses her research on race and popular Latin music, particularly reggaeton. Dr. Rivera-Rideau sat down with POPSUGAR and broke down the two key elements of the 2002 Puerto Rican anti-pornography campaign: its effect on young girls, but not boys; and race and class. In his book “Remixing Reggaetón: The Cultural Politics of Race in Puerto Rico”, Rivera-Rideau recounts how this campaign aimed to remove pornographic content from the media (radio and television). To assess the amount of pornographic content, the Senate would conduct hearings on reggaeton music videos. The main concern was the effect of reggaeton on the sexuality and self-esteem of young girls, exclusively.
“Gender and racial discrimination against black women is a historical and systemic problem, and that the anti-pornography campaign has reinforced it with the idea that upper-class, predominantly white girls deserve to be protected and deemed respectable, while working class and mostly black or non-white girls were not.”
Determining what type of woman in society is considered respectable has become an additional layer of conversation. Dr. Rivera-Rideau shares, “Gender and racial discrimination against black women is a historical and systemic problem, and that the anti-pornography campaign has reinforced it with the idea that upper-class girls, predominantly white, deserved to be protected and considered respectable, while the working class and especially black or non-white girls were not.” Dr. Rivera-Rideau explains how the blame was placed on dancers in music videos, deemed “mean” by the public as producers justified their depiction as strippers. “There was this constant understanding or talk that there are women who dance the perreo, and they are not respectable. And there are women who don’t, and we have to protect those who don’t. not one of those ill-reputed women,” she says.
Asked about the criticisms against reggaeton from older generations, Dr. Santamaria shares that, like other forms of expression in popular culture, it’s a matter of context. “If we want our young people from marginalized ‘barrios’ (neighborhoods) to sing about violins and angels, and about the beauty of everything, then we have to build an equitable society, which we don’t have,” she says. . “Popular culture simply reflects our social reality.”
Make way for Ivy Queen
In 1991, The Noise, a club in El Viejo San Juan, was a place where Puerto Rican rappers and MCs went to freestyle. But it was also a place where no woman had ever been welcomed to perform. Ivy Queen of Añasco, Puerto Rico changed that. As mentioned on Spotify’s “Loud” podcast, people were commenting on her baggy jeans and her bold voice which was deeper than most women’s. But what set her apart was what would make her an unforgettable icon. None of the criticism or sarcastic remarks stopped her from rapping.
Ivy’s debut was with “Muchos Quieren Tumbarme” on DJ Negro’s stage in The Noise. In a 2020 interview with Chente Ydrach, she recalls this moment in her career. Although she wasn’t facing DJ Negro and singing towards the wall, she didn’t hear “Y Fuera” (“Get off the stage!”) from her megaphone. With that, the song became an anthem and Ivy carved out a place for herself in the rap industry. In 2003, Ivy released another hit called “Quiero Bailar”, which focuses on women owning their sexuality and their bodies. The chorus translates to: just because she’s “perreando” (doggystyle dancing) with a guy doesn’t mean she’s going to have sex with him. It was a controversial claim then and still is today, given the proliferation of female artists rapping sex-positive lyrics. In rap battles with men, Ivy would throw shade at their little soldiers, like Lisa M, to claim her presence on the rap scene. Since then, Ivy has proven the presence of women in the genre, and her contributions are unparalleled; however, the reggaeton landscape has evolved.
The new feminine era of reggaeton
The qualities of a reggaetonera today differ greatly from those of the pioneers of the genre. We’ve seen many female rappers follow in the footsteps of Ivy Queen, including Karol G, Tokischa, Becky G, Natti Natasha and others who have diversified the “música urbana”, or genre of urban music. Many tributes have been paid to the pioneers of reggaeton in the music industry. Karol G’s 2021 song “Leyendas” begins with “Quiero Bailar” and features legends such as Wisin y Yandel, Nicky Jam, Zion, Alberto Stylee and Ivy Queen. That same year, Villana (also known as Villano Antillano) was invited to be part of Banco Popular’s annual show in Puerto Rico. The promising trans trap artist performed “Muchos Quieren Tumbarme”, the anthem of Ivy Queen.
In recognition of Lisa M, Karol G and Shaggy released “Tu Pum Pum” (2018) with El Capitaan and Sekuence. In the song, Karol G refers to El General with “Si no sabes hacerlo no, no sientas pena. Llama al General a que te enseñe a mover la cadera” (“If you don’t know how to do it, don’t feel sorry. Just call El General so he can show you how to move your hips”). Lisa M was also recognized in Banco Popular’s 2021 special with Melina León performing “Everybody Dancing Now”. These recognitions demonstrate how far reggaeton has come from an underground movement in the early 2000s to part of mainstream media today.
The Latin music industry, including reggaeton, has paid dust to dark-skinned female artists like Amara La Negra and Tokischa. In fact, there’s a reason we have less of them in the female sector of Latin music. Dr. Rivera-Rideau explains how systemic racism and patriarchy are intertwined, thus perpetuating anti-darkness by selectively choosing artists with a “Latin look”, defined by a lighter complexion, straight or wavy hair and European features . Even though the roots of the genre come from black communities, Latinx through white people have the advantage.
On the last weekend of July 2022, Bad Bunny gave three performances of his latest album, “Un Verano Sin Ti”, at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot, or “El Choli”, as the locals call it. This celebratory concert welcomed 18,749 people on the first night in the main venue, while 52 bars and 13 town squares across the island held viewing parties for the show. It was an opportunity to share the spotlight with rising Puerto Rican artists in the urban music genre, such as Young Miko, Villana, RaiNao, etc. From the same city as Ivy Queen, Young Miko releases trap songs like “Puerto Rican Mami” and slow dembow like “Bi”. In the latter, she has iconic lines such as “Que todas quieren ser bi, desde que salí”. The verse is particularly ambiguous since it can be interpreted to mean both “everyone wants to be bi[sexual] since my music came out and everybody wanna be bi[sexual] since I came out.” She is an openly lesbian rapper who is authentic in her lyrics and has been greatly supported by the LGBTQ+ community and the rest of the island.
As the momentum of reggaeton continues to spread across the world, hope remains for the music to create a more inclusive industry and society. A society that includes the LGBTQ+ community and women as equals and normalizes women (and others) who claim autonomy over their sexuality. If society continues to promote and reward misogyny, thereby supporting a patriarchal structure, then the only material that can thrive is one that follows said social norms. Yet the growing success of artists like Bad Bunny, Karol G and Tokischa, who respectively break down barriers and stereotypes in the Latin music industry, could represent significant cracks in the fabric of social prejudice and discrimination and to lay new foundations for the place of women in reggaeton. .