Daddy Yankee rose to prominence a decade ago, along with fellow superstars and trailblazers Don Omar, Tito el Bambino and Wisin & Yandel, among many others. Today, these acts maintain reggaeton’s beat alive on the charts with big, uptempo hits that blur the lines between pop, tropical and urban.
But a new generation of reggaeton acts — from Puerto Rico and beyond — is quickly catching on. While their essence is the rough, sometimes gangsta street reggaeton, they’ve learned to be commercially savvy and are increasingly making chart inroads with catchy tracks that range from danceable to romantic, but still preserve reggaeton’s street beat and street creed. Billboard spoke with 10 new hitmakers to watch who owe a debt of gratitude to Daddy Yankee and “Gasolina.”
1. Danay Suarez
Danay Suarez first attracted international attention on Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura albums, and with her buzzing upcoming solo release Palabras Manuales, she is sure to draw comparisons to female MCs Ana Tijoux and Mala Rodriguez. But Suarez’s vocal reach and versatility transcend that comparison. A veteran of Havana’s rap movement, Suarez fuses hip-hop with jazz and Cuban music, and, as heard on “Flores,” fronts a reggae track with a whole lot of soul.
Farruko’s “Passion Whine” (feat. Sean Paul) is sitting pretty atop Billboard’s Rhythm Airplay chart. The mix of Spanish and English, reggaeton and reggae has a fresh pop appeal that characterizes the 23-year-old pUerto Rican singer’s sound (think “6 AM,” his track with J Balvin).
“Mine is a fresh, more romantic reggaeton,” he says. “The music I do reflects what I see and what I hear. More than a song where people recognize the chorus, I want my fans to indentify with what I sing, and to sing it back to me.”
As for Daddy Yankee, Farruko says, he was a mentor, letting him use his studio for free, lending him concert production equipment and featuring in his tracks.
“He once told me, ‘This is the legacy. This is what helps the genre grow,’” Farruko says.
3. Gente de Zona
Gente de Zona came out of the Havana projects’ hip-hop scene, and they’ve kept on going. The duo is featured with fellow Cuban Descemer Bueno on Enrique Iglesias’ summer smash “Bailando,” a worldwide hit that marks its 12th week at No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs. Gente de Zona founder Alexander Delgado and his current collaborator, former timba group Charanga Habanera singer Randy Malcom, infuse reggaeton’s typical dancehall roots with Cuban sabor, performing with a live band. They’ve seduced other big name Latin artists like Pitbull, who join Gente de Zona on their latest single “Yo Quiero,” which rises to no. 19 on the Tropical Airplay chart this week. After playing some opening dates with Enrique Iglesias, Gente de Zona is off on a solo tour in Europe. “We’re proof that music has no borders,” Delgado says.
4. J Alvarez
The two J’s — Balvin and Alvarez — are buds who’ve worked hard together to scale the charts. And like Balvin, Alvarez evolved from street hip-hop to more romantic fare.
But Alvarez’s sound leans more pure reggaeton, albeit with a more marked, Jamaican influence that lends an easy fresh swing to his music, as evidenced in his breakaway 2013 single “La Pregunta.”
“I never used to do love songs,” says the 30-year-old, who currently has multiple tracks simultaneously on the Billboard charts. “And then I found this niche that no one was occupying. And reaction to my songs was more positive when I went for a more melodic sound rather than straight-ahead reggaeton.”
Yankee was key, says Alvarez, featuring him in early songs and inviting him to open up shows for him.
“He’s the face of the movement,” Alvarez says.
5. J Balvin
Colombia’s J Balvin rose to stardom throughout Latin America and is now poised to do the same here. His runaway hit, “6AM” (featuring Farruko) has spent 16 weeks on the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. And his new single, “Ay Vamo,” is quickly rising.
A reggaetonero who’s finessed his sound to achieve what he calls “elegant street,” Balvin has a good ear for catchy hooks and is a dynamic performer who will open up the Enrique Iglesias/Pitbull tour that launches in September.
“Yankee influenced me 100 percent,” he says. “He showed that you could have a global hit and cross over with this music. [When I started], urban music was very underground and there were very few of us doing it in Colombia. And [‘Gasolina’] I thought, was very commercial. It inspired me to keep on working. I don’t think I changed rap for reggaeton, but it was the best way to get out of the underground.”
6. Justin Quiles
With his designer casual style, sense of humor and soft touch with the girls, Justin Quiles is the boy next door of reggaeton. The video for his latest single, “Maria,” screens more like an episode of “Glee” than a scene from “Fast and Furious.” The Connecticut-born, Puerto Rico-raised 24-year-old was previously known as J Quiles. He returned to his given name after confronting a reggaeton revival curiously full of Js (J Balvin and J Alvarez). Justin just might be a better choice for Quiles, whose teen-friendly sound slides easily from reggaeton into romantic tropipop territory.
Colombia’s Maluma may be a newcomer to U.S. airwaves, but in Colombia he’s very much the star, boasting 1.2 million Twitter followers and seven million likes on Facebook.
Originally a straight-ahead urban/reggaeton act, Maluma has been morphing his sound into more pop-leaning urban, collaborating with the likes of Elvis Crespo and Jorge Villamizar while his own single — the very uptempo “La Temperatura” (featuring Eli Palacios) — reached No. 4 on Latin Rhythm Airplay.
“I want to take a more international direction with my career,” says Maluma, who is handled by Carlos Vives’ manager, Walter Kolm. “I’m an urban act. But my new album will include merengue, ballads, electronica. It’s fun music, music for parties.”
Only 12 years old when “Gasolina” was released, Maluma was too young to measure its impact back in the day. However, he says, “I don’t think a reggaeton song will break again like ‘Gasolina’ did.”
Maluma, about to start a stint as a judge on La Voz Kids in Colombia, will release his next album, Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy, in the fall.
8. Nicky Jam
Puerto Rico’s Nicky Jam is no newcomer to the reggaeton scene: the Daddy Yankee collaborator was there when it all began. But his strong solo comeback deserves mention. After a career setback in Puerto Rico, where his star faded as Yankee’s spectacularly rose, Jam moved to Medellin in 2010. He won over Colombian crowds and has made his way back to popularity on United States urban Latino radio with a string of singles. His latest, “Travesuras,” is at No. 6 on the Latin Rhythm Airplay chart. The track’s old school reggaeton beat and Jam’s gold chains and crotch grabbing recall the days when reggaeton first came up from Puerto Rico’s streets. With eight million views on Youtube, it’s clear that Nicky Jam — and reggaeton — are really back.
9. Poeta Callejero
Gerardo Gabriel Santana wears his stage name — Poeta Callejero (Street Poet) — with pride.
A rapper whose first tracks were underground hits that spoke about injustice and disenfranchisement, he’s continued to espouse his brand of “Street poetry,” as he calls it, even as he’s sought to mix it up with more commercial fare. The blend of cred with mass appeal landed him a deal with Meccalani, the new Universal Music Latino imprint, which will release his first album this fall.
Pivotal to his development, says the 25-year-old, was listening to Daddy Yankee’s music — he spent months analyzing the songs in Barrio Fino — and actually meeting the star.
“He gave me advice,” Poeta says. “He said, ‘Keep doing your social music, but remember your music has other facets. He was very inspiring.”
Poeta’s debut album, Tigre Decente, is due out this year, and his social standing is rising, with 544,000 Twitter followers and 742,000 Facebook likes.
10. Los Rakas
Los Rakas describe their sound as “a little bit of dancehall, a little bit of hip hop, a little bit of soul music, a little bit of Latin house, a little bit of R&B.” The Oakland, Calif.-based Panamanian cousins released their first major label album, El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo (Universal), earlier this year, which has brought their music with a message to a wider audience. “Music can help start a conversation,” says Raka Dun, who shares his experiences of being undocumented in America in the songs “Chica de Mi Corazon” and “Sueno Americano.” Los Rakas bring a conscious message all too rare among urban Latin artists to the dance floor.