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.
Daddy Yankee — Barrio Fino (2004)
The album that put reggaeton music on the map was Daddy Yankee’s breakthrough release, Barrio Fino. Puerto Rico’s finest rapper hustled through the ’90s with self-released albums and mixtapes before lighting a flame under the música urbana movement with his dembow-riding smash, “Gasolina”. The vanguard was already keeping the genre interesting and fresh with his salsa-influenced “Lo Que Pasó, Pasó” and the Spanglish “Like You” with a tropical twist. Daddy Yankee’s duets with local singer Glory, the female voice heard on most of the album, made for a playful and irresistible dynamic. She wasn’t properly credited as a featured artist, so we’ll honor Glory alongside D.Y. as a duo who helped the music from the streets reach the mainstream.
Buy: On Amazon
Best Track: “Gasolina”
Ivy Queen — Flashback (2005)
In a time when reggaeton music was more like a boys’ club, Puerto Rico’s Ivy Queen was one of the few women who was able to rise to the level of the kings Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Tego Calderón. She became a queen in her own right — the Queen of Reggaeton to be exact. Her breakthrough years were perfectly summed up on the compilation album Flashback. Included on the collection is the scorching “Quiero Bailar”, where Ivy has her fun in the club while drawing boundaries with the guys. She seemingly channeled her divorce in 2005 into the vengeful banger “Te He Querido, Te He Llorado”. That was just the start to the queen’s fierce and fabulous rule.
Buy: On Amazon
Best Track: “Quiero Bailar”
Wisin y Yandel — Pa’l Mundo (2005)
After dropping a few albums at the start of the new millennium, Puerto Rican duo Wisin y Yandel finally hit a home run in 2005 with the Luny Tunes-produced P’al Mundo. Yandel was the singer and Wisin was the rapper, and together they gave reggaeton’s hard edge a sensual touch. The club bangers on this album could have you perreo onto another planet from the freaky “Llamé Pa’ Verte (Bailando Sexy)” to the electronic romp “Rakata”. The guys also turned up the heat with bachata group Aventura (led by the “so nasty” Romeo Santos) on the steamy “Noche de Sexo”. The self-proclaimed dúo dinámico delivered dynamite with this red-hot release.
Buy: On Amazon
Best Track: “Noche de Sexo”
Luny Tunes & Tainy — Mas Flow: Los Benjamins (2006)
During reggaeton music’s first global takeover in the mid-2000s, the producers du jour were duo Luny Tunes. They were behind the biggest hits at the time and their Rolodex included all the heavy-hitters. All those guys returned the favor on Luny Tunes’ 2006 album, Mas Flow: Los Benjamins, with their apprentice Tainy, who is currently one of the most in-demand producers. Among the knockouts on Mas Flow is “Royal Rumble (Se Van)”, a six-minute freestyle where artists like Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Hector “El Father,” and more go head-to-head. Luny Tunes and Tainy even had Mexico’s telenovela pop group RBD doing reggaeton music on “Lento”. That gifted trio found the flow in everyone.
Buy: On Amazon
Best Track: “Royal Rumble (Se Van)”
J Balvin — Energía (2016)
Colombian superstar J Balvin became the leader in reggaeton music’s second wind moment with his breakthrough album, 2016’s Energía. Reflecting the future of the genre, he gave it a synth-driven edge on the slinky hit “Ginza” and the sexy “Solitario”. Not only was the sound of Energia fresh and sleek, but Balvin was in full smooth-operator mode. On the dreamy “Snapchat”, he slides into the DMs while on the hypnotic “Bobo”, he fends off the clowns that often fill those DMs. Beneath the gleam of the album, there’s still a whole lot of heart, especially on the emotional “Sigo Extrañándote”. Balvin’s Energía remains one of the genre’s most electric releases.
Buy: On Amazon
Best Track: “Ginza”
Click ahead for more essential Reggaeton albums…