Reggaeton is not a Colombian musical genre. Although the South American country is responsible for many exciting genres, including champeta, cumbia, vallenato and palenque, reggaeton was actually born in Puerto Rico. Although there is some debate as to its exact origins, most people agree that it began in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, in the early 90s, when DJs like DJ Playero and DJ Nelson began fusing hip-hop with Latin American music. It was known back then as ‘underground’ music and really began to grow in popularity in Puerto Rico in the early 2000s, by which time it had become part of Puerto Rican culture, in spite of efforts to ban it for obscenity in the mid-90s.
In 2004, reggaeton began the slow process of crossing over into global culture. Artists like Tego Calderon and Daddy Yankee received US airplay, and a broadening range of artists began to fuse reggaeton with other genres to create fusion tracks which helped to cement its growing appeal in Europe and North America. However, it wasn’t until last year that reggaeton truly crashed the mainstream music party, spurred on by the monstrous chart-topping success of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s ‘Despacito’, a track which has sold over three million copies and is already one of the bestselling Latin singles in the United States.
So where does Colombia come into the story? For many years, fans and aficionados of reggaeton had quietly been calling Colombia, and particularly Medellín, one of the most important places for the reggaeton movement. However, it wasn’t until 2017, with the global success of the genre, that people truly started to realise that Colombia was now producing some of the best reggaeton artists and songs out there.
This was spurred on by the huge success of J Balvin, whose mega chart-topping hit ‘Mi Gente’ was the song that finally knocked ‘Despacito’ off its perch. The track topped Spotify’s global chart in August, and went on to remain in that spot for a further 14 weeks. The video has since racked up over 1.6 billion views on YouTube. At the same time, another of Balvin’s Colombian reggaeton contemporaries, Maluma, was celebrating over a billion views of his track ‘Felices los 4’. Colombian reggaeton had truly taken over.
It’s no surprise that reggaeton would find a natural home in Colombia: it’s a country of myriad tropical music genres, whose biggest artists have often experimented with diverse musical forms and fusions to create exciting and modern music. Puerto Rico may have been the birthplace of reggaeton, but it is Colombia where the genre has moved forward to exciting new places, fusing diverse genres to create something like the Latin American version of dancehall.
For that, and many more reasons, Colombia is clearly the world reggaeton capital right now, and we can only sit back and wait for what surprises Colombia’s creative exponents of the genre have in store for us in 2018.