Ivy Queen performing onstage (Photo credits: akinbostanci/Getty Images, Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images for Univision)
Before Bad Bunny became Spotify’s most-streamed artist globally (twice), the genre of reggaeton—the music that he’s mastered, remixed, and transcended—began some 30 years ago, born out of dance halls, living rooms, and makeshift studios in the Caribbean. The rhythmic and hypnotic soundtrack of marginalized Black Panamanians and Black Puerto Ricans, with roots in reggae, Afrobeats, hip-hop, rap, and more, marked the beginning of a movement that has since revolutionized Latin and pop. Reggaeton has had many lives, but despite its current position as an international juggernaut, its full history and impact remained mostly under-examined—until recently.
A stand-out podcast of 2021, “Loud
,” hosted by the legendary rapera Ivy Queen and produced by Spotify and Futuro Media, aims to clean up the whitewashed story of reggaeton, amplifying the genre’s often-erased Black pioneers and establishing a long-overdue, definitive history guide for OG and new fans alike. Ivy Queen (a.k.a. La Diva, La Potra, La Caballota) leads listeners through the compelling 10-episode audio adventure with expertise and humor. She takes us back to reggaeton’s origins in 1980s Panama, where Spanish-language reggae became popular within dance hall music, and then to Puerto Rico, where the sound met rap/hip-hop and took off. Now, it’s an undeniable voice of the Caribbean diaspora.
What was once dismissed as vulgar and uninspired, reggaeton has led to major spikes in Latin music listenership in recent years, with Bad Bunny in particular topping charts and challenging anyone who questioned if all-Spanish songs could be hits. But reggaeton’s journey to becoming a global phenomenon started long before Benito could say “Bad Bunny, BEBÉ.”
Reggaeton hasn’t always been praised. In its early years, the music was viewed as hypersexual and violent
, often condemned for its explicit language, glorification of gang- and drug-related violence, blunt political criticism, and sexual objectification of women. (Cuba outlawed the music
in 2011 and reggaetoneros have been banned from performing in other countries.) Music elitists have often looked down at the genre. Just a couple months ago, classical pianist James Rhodes questioned the validity
of reggaeton, implying that it would be irrelevant in music discourse and popularity in the next few decades. There have been scores of white people like Rhodes—as well as people of color who lean towards respectability politics—who have belittled reggaeton since its inception. Despite its global success, there are still critics who refuse to understand reggaeton’s subversive role.
For detractors like Rhodes, “Loud” can offer a necessary education. The podcast addresses reggaeton’s shortcomings truthfully while also recognizing the ways in which the music continues to speak to millions. Each episode examines the sociopolitical issues—such as police brutality, drug violence, and censorship—affecting marginalized communities that inspired some of the biggest stars to date, while also confronting the industry’s Black erasure, hypersexuality, homophobia, and gang culture.
Ivy Queen’s involvement provides an authentic and expert perspective to “Loud.” She was there as it happened, witnessing the revelation, the excitement, and, at times, the obscenity. She recognizes and names the hard-to-swallow parts of reggaeton’s complex history while providing context on the issues in Latin America—specifically colorism, sexism, and classism—that are typically ignored.
As the podcast explains, reggaeton is not just sexual party music. It is a movement that represents the Black and Brown people who grew up en la calle and felt like the world was not listening to them. It is the sonic middle finger to a systemically racist, sexist, classist, elitist society. Black reggaetoneros like Tego Calderón are revered for spreading the message of Black pride to the world through their Afrocentric style, clever lyricism and flow—a fusion of dancehall, hip-hop, and the ancestral, percussive folk music bomba and plena. Calderón challenged racism with songs like “Loíza” where he calls out Puerto Rican artists who think they are superior to Black artists because of their proximity to whiteness.
“[Reggaeton is] more than music, it’s more than words, it’s more than sex—it’s literally like how people lived,” says Katelina “Gata” Eccleston, a Panamanian American reggaeton historian, lecturer, podcaster, and associate producer for “Loud.” Eccleston is the founder of “Reggaeton Con La Gata
,” the first femme-centered media platform dedicated to the intersectional analysis of reggaeton history. Through her website, Eccleston introduces reggaeton fans to overlooked pioneers of the genre while offering social commentary on the racial disparities in the Black-led music, especially when it comes to Black reggaetoneras. In October, Eccleston held a lecture at Harvard University
where she spoke about the evolution of reggaeton and its cultural significance.
For Eccleston, reggaeton saved her life. Her father, who was her best friend, passed away when she was only 12 years old. Coping with his death was difficult, but listening to reggaeton lifted her spirits. “You can’t be sad listening to this music!” Eccleston says. “I’d be lying if I said music didn’t keep me alive the way it did. This music is very personal to me on different levels.”
The party scenes featured in music videos were a reality for Eccleston, who regularly hosted perreo parties as a teen at her house in Boston, under the supervision of her religious mother who wanted to make sure her daughter was not getting into trouble. Every weekend, it was perreo on Saturday followed by church on Sunday.
From a cultural standpoint, reggaeton also connected Eccleston to her own roots as she saw the parallels between the genre’s history and her family’s experience with displacement and political strife. “Reggaeton came up in the ‘80s, and this is when my parents got their house taken away,” Eccleston says. “My parents went to school —doctorates, MBA, professor at La Universidad de Panama and others—they were educated, brought good money and bought a house. One day a soldier came up to their house and said that from today forward this house is under the administration of the dictatorship of [Manuel Antonio] Noriega.”
However, the soldier was lying and claimed the house for himself. Instead of buying another house that would eventually be seized by other soldiers, Eccleston’s family decided to move to the United States. “There was a lot of displacement,” Eccleston says. “People did not trust their country. This was not a happy time.”
Happening simultaneously in Panama: Afro-Panamanians were expressing themselves in a new sound. This is where “Loud” begins its story, highlighting how Afro-Panamanians like Renato, one of reggaeton’s founding fathers, found joy and power during these pressing times through music—translating Jamaican dancehall songs into Spanish, performing them at block parties, and selling cassettes to commuters in decked-out buses called diablos rojos.
“It’s important to know its roots, it’s important to know where reggaeton came from,” says Jeanne Montalvo, a New York-based Grammy-nominated audio engineer and “Loud’s” sound producer and designer. “It’s important for the pioneers to have their names out there and give respect to the people who really [poured] blood, sweat, and tears, lived through that, and got the genre to where it is today.”
Montalvo recalls the time her roommate played a DJ Playero CD followed by The Noise in college. She immediately fell in love. As a sound designer, she found fulfillment in storytelling through unique sounds and music, so when she was introduced to the “Loud” project in 2019, she was on board. To her, music is not a background but rather the main character.
“It was important to tell the story with music as part of it so that you could really immerse yourself in the podcast,” Montalvo says. Every sound—from crowd cheers and gunshots to reenactments to the musical breakdowns of iconic anthems—was created with intention. Listeners can feel like they’re witnessing the events firsthand.
“Spotify has a strong audio initiative, but within the Latino space within the bilingual space, it’s still—just like podcasting across the entire landscape—figuring out its footing and where this audience lives,” says Jessica Molina, Spotify Senior Creative Producer. “We knew from a platform perspective, but also just from being Latinos who love the genre that reggaeton is popping. There was a story to be told.”
During the process of pitching “Loud” nearly three years ago, Molina found it important to educate younger and OG audiences with a definitive history. To her, the history of reggaeton prior to the podcast was “mythological by nature.” It was filled with back-and-forth stories about the genre’s origins, beefs and victories, but those stories often only touched the surface, and the Spotify and Futuro team wanted more.
“If we’re going to be speaking to this population as a music platform, as an audio company, we’ve got to continue to do that in a way that is super authentic and engaged with what is currently [trendy] but also what people want to know more about,” says Molina. “There was a lot of trust that went into this project, and we’re fortunate to have that.”
The erasure of Black reggaeton artists and Black music in the industry provides a glimpse of the discrimination, colorism, and anti-Blackness that occurs every single day not only in Latin America but in the rest of the world.
By documenting the history of reggaeton—the good, the bad and the downright ugly—“Loud” also airs out the drama surrounding the industry. One episode sheds light on the racism that Tego Calderón experienced, clearly outlining how Daddy Yankee, a white Puerto Rican, received more promotion and attention in the mainstream music industry for his breakout hit “Gasolina” than Calderón ever received. Colorism persists in the industry. Looking at today’s breakout reggaeton stars like J Balvin, Maluma, and Anuel AA, it’s still clear that whiteness plays a major role in their success.
Many would argue that the music scene has diversified since Tego’s debut, paving the way for Black reggaeton artists like Sech and Ozuna. However, Black artists are still snubbed from major music award nominations in favor of white artists. In September, Billie Eilish and Rosalía faced backlash for winning MTV’s Best Latin Video Music Award
for their Spanish-language duet “Lo Vas A Olvidar” because neither woman is Latina.
The erasure of Black reggaeton artists and Black music in the industry provides a glimpse of the discrimination, colorism, and anti-Blackness that occurs every single day not only in Latin America but in the rest of the world. A person’s proximity to whiteness allows them to open doors that are often closed for Black people.
Another major criticism of reggaeton pertains to the hypersexualization of women and how some songs encourage misogynistic behavior. During reggaeton’s rise to prominence in the 2000s, politicians like former Puerto Rican senator Velda González publicly condemned the genre for its portrayal of scantily clad and submissive women in music videos, which “Loud” chronicles in its fifth episode “Intenso Perreo.” While it’s easy for critics of the genre to simplify Reggaeton as sexual twerking music that objectifies women, the podcast reminds listeners of the trailblazing reggaetoneras like La Atrevida (and Ivy Queen herself).
In the first episode of “Loud,” Ivy Queen shares how important it was for her to be taken seriously for her undeniable talent, and how she would wear long shirts, baggy pants and sneakers with braids to appear more masculine. When it was time to step up to the mic, she never smiled so all the men around her would know she meant business. Her breakout hit “Yo Quiero Bailar” is frequently referenced as a Latina feminist anthem that spreads a clear message that women are sexual and empowered beings. Reggaetoneras pushed back on machismo in Latin America and proved that women are top contenders in a male-dominated genre, paving the way for a new generation of female artists like Chilean neoperreo artist Tomasa del Real
, Argentinian rapper Cazzu
, and Dominican rapper Tokischa.
Reggaeton continues to evolve and take over the world, so it’s impossible for one podcast to address every single story in its entirety, but “Loud” does a phenomenal job at deconstructing the genre’s history, challenging its listeners to unlearn the whitewashed narrative of reggaeton, and pushing up-and-coming reggaetoneros to remember their musical roots and check their privilege at the door.
Its creators are optimistic that there’s more to tell. “The way that reggaeton moves into our lives and for us to find meaning in it is a liberation, and that speaks to not only the boundaries, but it also speaks to longevity of the genre, and what can continue to happen in this space,” Molina says. “I hope that there’s another sequel that picks up where we left off. There’s so much more to make clear.”