Lo Que Me Tiene Loca: Gettin' Low on Latin Time

    Pardon my insensitivity in saying that there was, after all, something sweet to come of the looting, pillaging and raping of Central and Southern America at the gray dawn of the 16th century; that is to say, somewhere in the unpleasant collision of Spanish conquistadors, African slave ships and Native Americans, an impeccable constellation of the bombest DNA in the universe aligned — the most streamlined evolution since natural selection — and from within all that painful readjustment transpired the most impeccably formed backside yet known to man. The ripest damn ass-gourd that ever did grow. And — to the brand-new Afro-Latin beat — it shook. Like nothing before it, nothing since; until now, half a millennium later, when the shake-stuffs of Earth’s most bangin’ population can finally thrive as intended: in the crests and dips of motherfucking reggaeton.

    Yeah, it’s like that. Some keyboards peel through for suspense. A rubber-band bass drum slingshots the first beat, and our heart is pulled from our throat down to the very pit of our stomach and — bum, ba dup-bup — it’s now being pumped for us, hooked to the dangerously catchy life support of Dem Bow (named after the first dancehall tune to carve that groove). The beat pops some popcorn, fires some crackers and, in an exhausting series of climaxes, folds inward on its own thunder for a thump so round we can’t help but bounce off. Just like that.

    Reggaeton’s web of origins is far too tangled to trace, but I’ll safely say its key trademarks sprang up most officially in 1990s Central America, where Jamaica’s stoned Rasta sway got the chill pulled out from under it by furious torrents of United States hip-hop — cuing rappers like the Panamanian El General to try their luck at Spanish spoken-word. (Of course, New York-style soul samples were substituted with remixed Latin-dance traditions on the beat machine, until there was no feasible way to turn that shit up any hotter.)

    I have made an almost full-blown career of playing devil’s advocate for shitty music that makes people happy: As the saying goes, fuck art — let’s dance. But by the end of my junior year of college, sick to death of “Umbrella” and “What You Know” — sure, they were ill, but synths that raw can only sit out for so long without growing some mold — I was hungry and desperate on the trail for something to sweep me off my fucking feet already, to recapture that first hit, to make me wild without a choice in the matter. So yeah, you might say I was an easy target when the permeating stench of “Gasolina” — the first reggaeton track to spin on a real global axis, a lucky break for the rattly, slightly subpar Daddy Yankee — finally came to my full attention, snarey blips tripping all over each other so gratingly I sort of couldn’t hide my hard-on anymore. What left to do but trace it to the source?

    Technically, Puerto Rico is the core of reggaeton’s heat, but Valparaíso, Chile, did me just fine. Not every lost little white girl on a spiritual quest to reignite her dance party can be so fortunate as I, stumbling upon — albeit after a few slow months of more Pablo Neruda digs than my quirky-nautical-art reflex could realistically handle — a group of Chilean nightcrawlers with uncanny radar for every last cheap, dirty, beery reggaeton bar in every last cranny of the Catholic port town in which I was “studying.” And oh, we raped and we pillaged.

    It’s difficult to comprehend how a base-beat so simple — ridden by lyrics that unfailingly address the hotness of dancing with each other, pretty dirty, right here right now — could so avoid my greedy attempts to grasp its source of power, which would of course cue my fade to disinterest, as with so many fascinations I’d held before it.

    But I’m still glued — even emotionally so. All-time-favorite “Nadie Como Tu,” by Wisin y Yandel, oozes in bass farts, footnoting every pick-up line with an irresistible shout-out referencing Don Omar’s guest appearance or how goddamn royal they all are; then there are the horny hydrogen screeches slid sharp between layers of violin on Calle 13’s “Tocarte Toda,” or Hector El Bambino’s stuffy-then-airy growl on the psychotic zip of “El Telefono.” Someone will start banging on some other surface or impulsively switch the pitch or, why not, heap on some more snare as a little gift for our long-blown-out speakers. It’s sensory overload — that state of excitement in which our chests are unclear as to whether we should scream or cry, or maybe we just need to burp or something — and then, in this helpless state, we’re positively pummeled through the brain by a bass-pedaled fist — BUM, ba dup-bup — that could probably kill a small cow. It’s enough to make even the humblest booty double in size right then and there, or at least prompt us to air-slap a similarly fat one while also air-holding said invisible victim in place with the other hand. You should try it sometime — when you get really good, you can even start embellishing on the anticipated dup-bup. And if that isn’t art, I don’t know what is.

    Up next week: motherfucking cumbia.

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