Crate Digging is a recurring feature in which we take a deep dive into a genre and turn up several albums all music fans should know about. We take our first dive into reggaeton this week as Bad Bunny and J Balvin drop albums and climb the charts.
On the all-genre Billboard 200 chart, there’s a reggaeton album by Puerto Rican superstar Bad Bunny sitting at No. 2. That’s a historic feat for a Latin music genre that’s come a long way since another pioneer from the island, Daddy Yankee, set the movement ablaze with the hit “Gasolina” in 2004.
Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG album technically falls under the música urbana category, which comprises “urban” categories like reggaeton, Latin trap, and the emerging dembow genre. The first one to really flourish on a global scale was reggaeton in the mid-2000s when Daddy Yankee and fellow Puerto Rican acts Tego Calderón and Don Omar captivated audiences with their perreo– (a twerk-like dance associated with the genre) ready hits. The representation of reggaeton was at an all-time high when the trio were invited to perform a medley at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards.
With a genre that was created by Afro-Latinx artists, Calderón and Omar were a few of the Black reggaetoneros to breakthrough in a sea of lighter-complexion acts who took it over the top like Daddy Yankee. Puerto Rico is a home for reggaeton music, and it played an important part in cultivating and steering the sound toward global prominence. What’s often forgotten in the history of the genre are its roots in Panama.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Black artists in Panama — like El General, Nando Boom, and Renato — were creating reggae en Español, a precursor to what we now know as reggaeton music. That was gradually embraced by Puerto Rico and a blanqueamiento, or a whitewashing of the genre, followed with the contributions of Afro-Latinx acts getting overlooked. Daddy Yankee was leading the reggaeton movement that was pretty much a men’s-only space, though a few women were able to break through like the genre’s first lady, Ivy Queen. Toward the end of the 2000s, reggaeton’s global popularity waned.
The start of the last decade saw the beginning of a reggaeton music movement brewing in Colombia with artists like J Balvin, Maluma, and Karol G. This was even more of a blanqueamiento with the genre’s rough-around-the-edges sound becoming more polished and pop-influenced. Reggaeton-pop reached critical mass in 2017 thanks to the worldwide hit “Despacito” by Daddy Yankee and his compatriot Luis Fonsi. This second wind has seen the genre reach new heights with the involvement of more artists (especially women and Afro-Latinx acts) from throughout Latin America and the US.
In between the astonishing chart success of Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG and J Balvin’s upcoming Colores album, música urbana is in its best moment. With reggaeton season in full swing, here are 10 essential albums in the genre to check out.