Riddims by the Reggaetón

Puerto Rico's hip-hop hybrid takes over New York

The rowdy rapper N.O.R.E. often notes his "half-Spanish" roots (he was born to an African American mother and Boricuan father). The overwhelming response to "Oye Mi Canto," which features Nina Sky, Daddy Yankee, and N.O.R.E., has made him an important component of the reggaetón movement in the States. The video for the song was the first to expose the music to MTV and BET television audiences. "This is the first time in my career and in my life where I feel like I am representing both sides of me," he says. "Even if I don't benefit from this 100 percent, per se, I am setting off a whole culture that I had nothing to do with creating, but I have something to do with helping promote."

The day after the MSG extravaganza, Tego finds himself in midtown Manhattan's Ameritania Hotel, where he's just back after shooting a scene for his forthcoming "Voltio" video. His dozy eyes are hidden behind his trademark dark shades (he wears them even at night). And a black-on-black Yankee cap barely crowns his massive Afro, which swells out from every side. When he speaks, he lisps in Spanglish. He's since grown to respect the power of what the genre has evolved into. And on the way to seizing the masses in his homeland of Puerto Rico, he says, "it caught on" in the States.

Tego Calderón (above) has steered his country’s youth culture into the American pop consciousness
photo: El Cangri/APR Media Group
Tego Calderón (above) has steered his country’s youth culture into the American pop consciousness


To say that reggaetón—an approximately 20-year-old fusion of dancehall, born in the poorest neighborhoods in Puerto Rico, with mostly Spanish-language rap and tropical rhythms—"caught on" is a modest assessment coming from Tego. "I didn't know I did anything for reggaetón until I came to New York City," he says with a laugh. "In Puerto Rico, they might like you but they won't give it up. Believe me, you do not get gassed up."

While Ivy Queen, Daddy Yankee, and Don Omar have the power of record sales, Tego Calderón remains perhaps the most respected—though even he didn't realize it until recently. His upper lip curls up on the left side to form a wry smile, revealing a rather engaging gap parting his front teeth. "The way I see it, calling me the king of reggaetón is almost like calling me the king of pop," says the Latin Grammy-nominated Hennessy pitchman. "In Puerto Rico there is a school of hip-hop, of purists that consider me a sellout because I'm commercial and I have success. But I used to be the same way, so I'm not trying to dis them. I used to hate reggaetón too." But now, it's all love.

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