Why Música Urbana Is the Most Important Wave In Pop Right Now

Anuel AA
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Anuel AA performs live on stage during Anuel AA & Karol G In Concert at United Palace Theater on Nov. 17, 2018 in New York City. 

Seemingly overnight, the once-niche genres of Latin trap and reggaetón have moved to the forefront of pop, with reggaetón’s driving, Jamaican dembow-influenced riddim and Latin trap’s Southern hip-hop-derived beats taking over both the Latin and mainstream charts. But música urbana’s arrival in the American mainstream has actually been decades in the making. 


1985: Rap En Español And The Foundations Of Música Urbana

DJ Negro and rapper Vico C meet and popularize rap en español, a Puerto Rican-based version of rap in Spanish. Their collaboration lays the groundwork for the genres that will define música urbana -- particularly reggaetón, and eventually Latin trap. When the two later split, DJ Negro goes on to found San Juan nightclub The Noise, a seminal space in the creation of reggaetón.

1992: DJ Negro, DJ Playero And Early Reggaetón

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The Noise in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

DJ Negro recruits local artists to The Noise, where they emulate the Panamanian reggae en español records then gaining popularity. At the same time, DJ Playero launches his Playero mixtapes, showcasing the budding sounds of proto-reggaetón or “underground,” featuring young talent like Daddy Yankee. DJ Negro soon releases his own mixtapes, and the friendly competition fuels the early sounds of reggaetón, sending it to the Walkmans, nightclubs and hatchbacks of Puerto Rican youth.

1997-2005: Reggaetón’s Latinization And Subsequent Explosion

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The Noise alum DJ Nelson incorporates Dominican bachata and other so-called “Latin” sounds into his style of reggaetón and discovers two young producers whom he nicknames Luny Tunes. They help shape the sound of reggaetón’s first mass commercial period, in which albums like Daddy Yankee’s Barrio Fino reach platinum status in the United States, and go on to produce massive hits by reggaetoneros such as Daddy Yankee, Don OmarTego Calderon and Wisin & Yandel.

2006-2014: Latin Trap's Birth And Rise

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De La Ghetto

A new sound combining reggaetón vocals with the American South’s trap beats starts to surface in music by artists like De La Ghetto and Arcangel. (A foundational track: Yaga & Mackie’s 2006 hit “El Pistolon” featuring De La Ghetto, Arcangel and Randy.) Later, groups such as Füete Billete strengthen the genre with their raw sound, and a movement is born.

2008-2019: Colombia and Reggaetón’s Reglobalization

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Nicky Jam

After a few seemingly quiet years for reggaetón, Medellín-based producers like Syk Sense and Sky Rompiendo el Bajo craft a lighter, more radio-friendly sound. Puerto Rican reggaetonero Nicky Jam searches for a way back into the genre that he helped popularize in the early 2000s, and relaunches his career in Medellín. Luis Fonsi recruits Daddy Yankee for an infectious single called “Despacito,” and a certain Canadian pop star jumps on the remix.

2016-PresentThe Latin Trap Explosion

“La Ocasión,” by DJ Luian and Mambo Kingz featuring Ozuna, De La Ghetto and Arcangel, becomes a smash, giving Latin trap a new global stage. Artists like Bad Bunny -- whose single “Solo de Mi” blends Latin trap and reggaetón seamlessly -- Farruko, Karol G and Anuel AA follow and mold the sound, pushing the possibilities of what Latin trap, música urbana and pop music can be. The next stage of música urbana’s evolution begins as artists like Paloma Mami and Alex Rose begin incorporating elements of R&B into Latin trap.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 16 issue of Billboard.