I understand only enough Spanish to half-follow 100 Mexicanos Dijeron, and know of Puerto Rico not much outside the realm of 36-24-34. So when I decided it was time to tackle The Profecy, the 1996 track with Nas and Daddy Yankee, I figured I was ready to see what's behind a little something called Reggaeton. Oh, I've heard that sound blaring out of two-doors and four-doors alike the past couple years but, for the most part, kept driving past. Because of this, I got in contact with Richard Cruz for some help. Cruz contributes to the urban Latino publication, Bridgez, and even Vibe Online, where he has interviewed the likes of the aforementioned Daddy Yankee. Engaging in a sort of interview myself, here's what I found out.
RTA: All right, break down the basics. Reggaeton?
RC: Reggaeton. You either love it (as I do) or hate it (as I once did). Either way, thanks to good ol' marketing and promotion, it's emerged as a global phenomenon. And although some speculators say its popularity has reached its peak here in the mainland, it really doesn't need the mainstream support. It can survive on its own, and really should be left to do so. There are millions of 18-24 year old Latinos in the United States to whom the genre appeals. We did our little songs with Ja Rule and G-Unit to get attention, but now it is time to evolve.
RTA: Okay, let's address the hate first.
RC: Back then it was viewed as "fake dancehall", real dirty and not marketed right.
RTA: But you don't seem too thrilled about the Ja Rule / G-Unit concoctions now either?
RC: As a fan of good music, it sucks. As a marketer or A&R, it makes sense.
RTA: You see it as the Ja Rule's of the world trying to ride the Reggaeton wave? Or Reggaeton trying to assimilate?
RC: A combination of both. Nothing wrong with collaborating with Hip-Hop artists outside of the genre, but continuing to do so for shock value demeans the genre and the people it represents.
RTA: So then what's on the love side?
RC: Although content-wise it hasn't changed much, for myself, there is now more so a connect between mainland Puerto Ricans and island Puerto Ricans.
RTA: Did this connection change the music stylistically?
RC: I wouldn't say that the connection changed it stylistically, but vice versa: the new wave of Reggaeton attracted mainland US fan base, as well as those who had encountered Reggaeton before, but shunned it consequently. Tego Calderon was really the one to break down that barrier: he flows with a heavy Hip-Hop influence, but his production is rooted in reggae, bomba y plena, as well as the typical synth-heavy contemporary style. Gradually, the genre also began marketing itself better.
RTA: How so?
RC: Same tactics used by US rappers, producer and artist shoutouts over tracks. From there, the clubs began bringing these acts in for performances, and all together helped establish faces with names. Then when dancehall blew up in 2002, that really opened the doors for Reggaeton.
RTA: With those doors open, one of the most prominent voices seemed to be NORE. How much credit do you give him?
RC: Mr. Hang Hang Sangria? NORE?
RC: Mr. I Woke Up and Turned Boricua, NORE?
RTA: Him too.
RC: NORE has been quoted as saying he was responsible for the music's newfound popularity, and with Oye Mi Canto being an inescapable hit, that's true, but only partially. You have to remember that Mr. Santiago was far from the first one collaborating with artists like, oh, let's say, Daddy Yankee.
RTA: You mean the Nas collabo?
RC: The Profecy, right. And while that song didn't really have the impact of Oye Mi Canto, Hip-Hop hadn't totally established itself as the tremendous multi-platinum entertainment machine it would soon become.
RTA: Okay, so when I hear The Profecy, I hear Nas and then a minute and a half of something else. What is that something else?
RC: That's Daddy Yankee, then under the moniker of "Winchester Yankee." Beyond the name, from then till now, you should also note a change away from a more distinct, darker lyrical content. It stands a far cry from his modern hits, but interesting nonetheless.
RTA: Is that the most noticeable change?
RC: Not even close. That "something else" you heard, that's speed. It's that rapid fire delivery which was characteristic of most mid-90s Reggaeton. But his flow has changed since then. Most acts have changed really.
RTA: Slowed down?
RC: Significantly. The artists are rapping on the beat as opposed to rambling like many mid-90's artists did. The music is way more accessible now.
RTA: Has that mid-90s flow been completely abandoned?
RC: No, someone like Calle 13, who's tomorrow's next big thing, still utilizes the older style. Just look at his track Cabeceo. There you can probably ID a flow quite similar to Yankee's on The Profecy.
RTA: With all this mind, back to The Profecy for a second, not that Nas pioneered or predicted it, but, as he said, "much love to Puerto Rico, we rolling with you", it seems undeniable that this connection between mainland Hip-Hop and Latinos has only grown in the decade since.
RC: And will only keep growing. With the work we're doing at Bridgez, we're simply looking to give that connection its due coverage.
RTA: Talk about Bridgez.
RC: There are so many Hip-Hop publications out right now, but not a single one that caters directly to Latinos, so that's where we come in. The Latino contribution to Hip-Hop goes unrecognized too often. From Crazy Legs to Tony Touch to Big Pun to a Daddy Yankee, we've been here since the start.
RTA: Then what about your work with the Union of the State Project?
RC: Top Secret.
RC: Well, it's an event in August that is acknowledging the future of New York City Hip-Hop, alongside other lifestyle elements, art and fashion namely.
RTA: Who's that future?
RC: We have four rappers now, but I don't want to disclose any of the performers as of yet . . . they're all well known, signed to majors, and set to make an impact. However, we're creating that platform for them first, helping them get a marketing push, and just bringing together various tastemakers in the city to recognize it first. That's the future.
Daddy Yankee, Nas: The Profecy
BONUS: Calle 13: Cabeceo
BONUS: Daddy Yankee: Machucando
BONUS: Tego Calderon: Cambumbo