Lean Latin, Go Global

Emerging Latin Music Styles: Six Genres You Should Know

Farruko
Farruko Leo Arguello*

While reggaetón still dominates the global charts, Gen Z artists are now generating hits by putting new spins on traditional music and fusing disparate styles — flamenco pop and urbano with Dominican dembow, for example — to create updated sounds.

In the past few years, as the explosion of reggaetón has helped sweep Latin music from the fringes of pop culture firmly into the music mainstream, a bubbling undercurrent of emerging genres, cross-collaborative styles and new spins on traditional music has risen to the surface. And now, for the first time, some of those genres are beginning to break into the top regions of the pop music charts. 

“Without reggaetón, we wouldn’t be where we are, culturally or sonically — but this has also been building throughout the years,” says Antonio Vázquez, U.S. Latin editorial lead at Spotify. “Right now, there’s a big shift in Latin music in general, where artists want to create new forms of art.” 

At the center of this shift is cross-genre collaboration, with artists from different regions and genres mixing and matching styles to create entirely new movements. There are records that mix R&B with dancehall and Afrobeats, update classic cumbia with a reggaetón feel or infuse electronic elements into reggaetón, as well as regional Mexican records that borrow from American country and blend Argentinian trap and freestyle, all making waves — and climbing charts — in different countries. And then there are artists like Rauw Alejandro, whose first two albums that seem to borrow something from everywhere have made him one of Latin’s fastest-growing superstars. 

“I think pop artists in general for the last five years have had a tough time charting with songs that weren’t reggaetón-influenced, and I know it frustrates them a lot,” says Jerry Pulles, Latin music programmer at Apple Music. “But some of them have been able to figure out how to make pop songs that have reggaetón elements in them, and it’s really worked out for them.” 

Here is a rundown of six genres that are rising in the Latin world, from new twists on classic ideas to fusions of disparate styles. 

 Corridos Tumbados 

Recommended Natanael Cano, Junior H, Eslabón Armado, DannyLux 

A group of Generation Z artists have given rise to the “sad boy movement” of corridos tumbados that have put a different spin on the classic regional Mexican sound. Leading the charge is Cano, a 20-year-old Mexican singer whose album Corridos Tumbados has helped define the trend. “It’s not about how they sound. It’s about the lyrics in them — different tales, or who they are, or aspirational lyrics,” says Vázquez. “Artists from all over are doing corridos, which is a very Mexican genre.” Recently, that has included Colombian reggaetón sensation Karol G and Chilean singer Mon Laferte. “It’s more international now.”

Dembow 

Recommended El Alfa, Tokischa 

“Dominican dembow can be the new version or sound of reggaetón,” says AJ Ramos, artist relations manager at YouTube Music. Citing pioneers like El Alfa and emerging artists like Tokischa, Ramos points to the Dominican Republic-centered genre — named after a 1990 track by Jamaican dancehall superstar Shabba Ranks and characterized by songs that are relentless, repetitive and fast — as one of the more dynamic styles that’s attracting some of the Latin world’s biggest stars. “Artists like J Balvin and Rosalía are flying to DR and going to one of the toughest hoods to record with Tokischa in dembow,” he says. “You’re seeing that bridge between different cultures extending to a culture like dembow.”

Guaracha 

Recommended Farruko’s “Pepas,” Rauw Alejandro’s “Química,” Dayvi, Victor Cárdenas & Kelly Ruíz’s “Baila Conmigo” 

Guaracha is a more traditional style of music with roots in Cuba and Puerto Rico that’s being given a 21st-century update with electronic and dance elements — Farruko’s soaring singalong “Pepas,” with its festival-ready electronic horn blasts, is the most successful example of the genre’s renovation. “There’s something happening there, especially in Colombia,” says Pulles. “There are a lot of DJ/producers who are coming out that are playing that type of music or remixing reggaetón songs into that style.” Ramos predicts more electronic dance and urban fusions coming out of the Caribbean, saying, “Latin culture has always been a fan of electronic music, but I just love how now, from reggaetón, you’re seeing it fuse.” 

 Cumbia 

Recommended Camilo’s “Vida de Rico,” Sofía Reyes and Becky G’s “Mal de Amores,” Thalía, Chiquis, Becky G and Play-N-Skillz’s “Baila Así” 

A folkloric genre with roots in Colombia, cumbia is getting an update that involves different elements, depending on which country is doing the refurbishing, with Colombian, Peruvian, Argentinian and Mexican cumbia all on the rise. “I have noticed cumbia cross-pollinating with Latin pop stuff that’s happening right now,” says Pulles. Colombia pop artist Camilo’s 2020 hit “Vida de Rico” was “a straight-ahead cumbia record, but he was singing a pop melody over it. It’s finding its way into pop music.” Or pop is finding its way into cumbia — Reyes and Becky G’s “Mal de Amores” leans toward reggaetón. Ramos compares it to the pop updates of bachata wrought by Antony Santos, as well as Romeo Santos and Aventura. “Younger generations being born in the States or just having younger influences, that revolutionized bachata,” he says. “We’re seeing that now in cumbia and in regional Mexican.” 

Argentinian Trap 

Recommended Bizarrap, L-Gante 

Producer Bizarrap has put the spotlight on this combination of trap atmospherics, Argentinian freestyle and Caribbean beats, recording with rising acts like Nathy Peluso and Nicki Nicole, established stars like Nicky Jam and French Afro trap rapper MHD for Bzrp Music Sessions, his series of one-off tracks now numbering more than 40. “We have this middle circle in between where either you’re a freestyler or a trapper — Bizarrap took over that space, and it’s become an A&R platform,” says Ramos. A similar genre is cumbia cuatro veinte — “cumbia 4/20” — that Vázquez describes as a mix of “cumbia, reggaetón and marijuana.” He adds: “The point of that music is to have a good time, chill, sit back, relax and forget about everything … I think it’s just a matter of time before other countries to realize that.”

R&B Fusion 

Recommended Kali Uchis’ “telepatía,” Rvssian, Chris Brown and Rauw Alejandro, “Nostálgico” 

When Uchis’ “telepatía” broke through to reach No. 10 on both of Billboard’s global charts and No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this year, it signaled the major opportunities for Spanglish music that refuses to accept boundaries between languages or pop, R&B and Latin music. She is one of many artists mixing and matching genres, with Sech, Paloma Mami and emerging younger acts like Chicocurlyhead fusing R&B with reggaetón, bilingual lyrics and an urban feel. Uchis “can go from R&B to bolero to pop and then something with more rock guitars, and it just flows and feels natural,” says Vázquez. “Authenticity is the key word of what Gen Z is looking for when they try to find a musical experience: If it feels authentic, they’ll vibe to it.” Ramos loves what he calls “collaborations without borders.” “More music has become genre-free, like these regional pop, Dominican dembow, urban-tropical fusions. We’re at a beautiful moment in our culture where other cultures are understanding the importance and the impact of Latin music and are now coming into this world.” 

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