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Kinky reggaeton

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DJ Papote heats up the dance floor at Club Insomnia. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

DJ Papote brings his Puerto Rican hip-hop melange to the local dance scene

Ever since hip-hop conquered the planet, proponents of African-American music have been waiting for the next big thing. Neo-soul, two-step, and ghettoteck have come and gone and the supposed new black-rock movement never really materialized. By turning back to the Caribbean from whence it truly emerged, hip-hop has recently developed a Spanish accent and reinvented itself as reggaeton, and Marcial Jose Rodriguez - a native Puerto Rican who goes by the name of DJ Papote - is its local champion.

Papote, 34, began spinning records in Rio Grande, P.R. when he was 15 years old. Like most DJs, he started by lugging records and equipment for a more established musician, and was exposed to myriad sounds. "It was real good back in the day," he recalls. "It was oldies, always salsa and merengue, calypso, all kinds of Caribbean rhythms over there in Puerto Rico, all the rap from New York and the hip-hop." Sixteen years ago, Papote moved to San Antonio and luckily for the city's burgeoning Puerto Rican community, he packed his records.

In many respects, the migration of reggaeton mirrors that of hip-hop. In the late '60s, Kool Herc emigrated from Jamaica to the United States, to live in the Bronx. In his classic text, Cut 'n' Mix: Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music, Dick Hebdige describes the early blending of the cultures this way: "The connections between rap and Caribbean music didn't have to be forced. A high proportion of the black population in the Bronx came originally from the West Indies. The area has its Puerto Rican and Cuban communities too. And when these people came from the Caribbean, they brought their own music with them."

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Club Insomnia
Another key to the music's development was its presentation, which also owed much to the islands. Author Nelson George captures the scene in his American Book Award-winner Hip Hop America: "Very significant, but little appreciated outside New York's Caribbean community at the time, was the introduction of the Jamaican 'sound system' style to the city's party-going mix. Using their own versions of mixing boards, since the '60s DJs around Jamaica had given 'back-a-yard' parties where the bass and drum pounded like jackhammers. The 'dub' style of these mobile DJs stripped away melody to give reggae's deep, dark grooves throbbing prominence."

During the mid-'80s, musicians in Panama began covering reggae standards in Spanish, and by the early '90s, the influence of American hip-hop entered the mix. The new hybrid quickly spread to Puerto Rico. "The reggaeton started in Puerto Rico," explains Papote. "We are the pioneers of reggaeton over there. It's a mezcla of rap from New York, the hip-hop, and the rap from Puerto Rico. We put the Latin flavor into the rap and we turn that into reggaeton. That rap from New York is just there, but you jump it with the rap from Puerto Rico and the Latin rhythms and people get addicted to it. You have to move your hips. You gotta dance to it. It's real good flavor."

Much of reggaeton's success can be attributed to its bass, bomba, and slackness. The music is a defiant polyglot that explores themes of sex, racism, and urban crime without getting bogged down in the gloomy posturing usually associated with Latino rap, particularly the work of Chicano emcees. By taking the best elements of dancehall, salsa, and freestyle, reggaeton artists have succeeded in creating electronic music with soul, where voices carry both melody and percussion. A reggaeton jam is somewhat akin to a Raza Cosmica house party where you wake up to find Lil' Jon sleeping on your coach, which is why it speaks so directly to the youth of Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico, and barrios across the U.S., including San Anto.

   DJ Papote

10pm
Wed-Sat
Club Insomnia
10127 Coachlight
846-9525


Papote is currently selling tons of copies of his latest mix CD and pulling in about 500 heads every Saturday night at Club Insomnia, which he sees as a sign that there is a cultural shift happening. "The Tejano awards used to be downtown and right now they're doing it at Graham Central Station because there's not too many people going to that right now," says Papote. "Tejano is here in San Antonio and I love that music too, but the reggaeton is getting the people onto the dance floor. They're bringing new stuff, new beats. They have something to attract the people."

For Papote, the music represents the latest evolution in hip-hop by reverting to its original tenet, which is to move the crowd. "It's going with the hip-hop and it's going over the hip-hop also," Papote explains. "I've been in some clubs where they play hip-hop only and you throw some reggaeton in there and people go into the flavor. Reggaeton is the kind of music that you can't be listening to it; you gotta be out there on the floor and dance to it. That's what it is."

By M. Solis


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