With the release of N.O.R.E.’s album, Student of the Game, this past Tuesday we got a bit nostalgic. We longed for the days when N.O.R.E. waved the Puerto Rican flag with pride and rapped in broken Spanish. Almost a decade ago, N.O.R.E. embraced his Puerto Rican roots and released one of reggaeton’s biggest hits ever—“Oye Mi Canto” in 2004. The fact is reggaeton’s golden era in the States, 2003-2007, produced the genre’s biggest superstars and biggest songs. Let’s take a trip down the blinged out, eyebrow threaded memory lane of reggaeton yesteryear. Rakata! Dale! Güasa! You get the idea.
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Best Song of the Era: “Oye Mi Canto”
Then: The hardcore MC, one half of the Queens rap duo Capone-n-Noreaga, let his boricua pride out on 2004’s “Oye Mi Canto” featuring Daddy Yankee and Nina Sky. A bilingual reggaeton/rap album, N.O.R.E. y la Familia…Ya Tu Sabe in 2006, followed the one-off single. The album received lukewarm reviews and sales…and N.O.R.E. lost interest in the genre.
Now: Today the Puerto Rican and African American artist goes by P.A.P.I. (Power Always Proves Intelligence) and released his sixth studio album, Student of the Game this week. The album is a return to the gritty production (Pete Rock, Large Professor) and street anthems, which made N.O.R.E. a household name in hip-hop.
Best Song of the Era: “Gasolina (Remix)”
Then: The Cuban American MC was never a reggaeton artist. Since he was Latino and an urban artist, mainstream media lumped him into the reggaeton boom. Subsequently, he had a slew of guest appearances on remixes for a bunch of reggaeton’s biggest hits. Pit admitted to leaving the genre behind because the reggaetoneros he helped never reciprocated the love.
Now: Smart move, Pit. Today, he’s unquestionably one of the brightest artists in any genre.
Best Song of the Era: “Gasolina”
Then: In 2004, for the average consumer, reggaeton started and ended with Daddy Yankee. Why? Because the Puerto Rican reggaetonero scored the genre’s biggest song ever—“Gasolina.” It flooded the clubs, the charts and the streets.
Now: El Cangri has continued topping the charts but none of his songs have reached “Gasolina” status. Also, recently Yankee has been falsely accused of being gay but he has been quick to dispel these rumors. Regardless of the rumors, Yankee is one of reggaeton’s major ambassadors to the world.
Best Song of the Era: “Reggaeton Latino”
Then: He was a chubby former churchgoing singer-turned-reggaetonero. Omar’s “Dale Don Dale” and “Dile” were club mainstays and with “Reggaeton Latino” he became one of the genre’s most innovative artists. Heck, he even got Fat Joe to speak Spanish.
Now: Don Omar is truly reggaeton royalty. The self-proclaimed King of Kings is the only reggaetonero who’s been able to evolve—physically and musically. “Danza Kudura” anyone?
Best Song of the Era: "Te He Querido, Te He Llorado"
Then: The Queen Bee became the biggest female of the genre with hit (“Chika Ideal”) after hit (“Papi Te Querio”) after hit (“Cuentale”). The 2003 release, Diva, is widely regarded as one of the albums to open the mainstream door for reggaeton.
Now: Sadly, she continues to be the only significant woman in reggaeton. Last year she released her eighth album, Musa, which peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Latin Charts.
Wisin y Yandel
Best Song of the Era: “Rakata”
Then: Before their breakout hit, “Rakata,” the duo were relatively unknown outside of their native Puerto Rico. The Luny Tunes and Nely produced track gave WYY the proper introduction to the world.
Now: WYY is the most successful reggaeton duo ever. Winners of various Latin Grammys and Latin Billboard awards, Wisin y Yandel have taken the dem bow beat to places it never thought it would rock. Thanks in large part to WYY, R. Kelly rocked a dem bow beat. Yeah, that R. Kelly.
Best Song of the Era: “Güasa Güasa”
Then: Tego is a rapper not a reggaetonero. Yet, Calderon’s 2003 El Abayarde was one of the first albums (to be pegged reggaeton) to be successful stateside. With his gruff voice and thought-provoking raps, Tego became a favorite among reggaeton fans and novices.
Now: Last summer, Tego released, El Original Gallo del País—O.G. El Mixtape, which eventually topped iTune's Latin Urban charts. The mixtape included Tego’s trademark of covering sociopolitical themes—on “Robin Hood” he focuses on the obstacles Dominican immigrants have faced in Puerto Rico. He is currently working on his next studio album, El Que Sabe Sabe.
Hector & Tito
Best Song of the Era: “Gata Salvaje”
Then: The Puerto Rican duo enjoyed success with the Victor Manuelle-assisted “Ay Amor” and “Gata Salvaje” featuring Daddy Yankee. Unfortunately, they disbanded in 2003 just around the time the U.S. reggaeton boom hit.
Now: Both have enjoyed solo success, but only one of them is still making music. Tito El Bambino has transformed himself into your mom’s favorite reggaetonero with songs like the ballad, “El Amor.” On the other side of the blinged out coin, Hector El Father found God and retired from the scene in 2008. But because of the “Harlem Shake” Internet sensation, millions have heard El Father. Hector’s vocals ("con los terroristas”) are sampled in the beginning of the song. Where’s his royalty check?
Best Song of the Era: "Atrévete-te-te"
Then: Residente and Visitante were the hipster urban artists that turned the Latin music industry on its head. Residente’s rhymes brought humor and heft to a genre often only focused on bumping and grinding. The media darlings won countless Latin Grammys and Grammys.
Now: Even though the Puerto Rican duo continues to dominate award shows, their sales have gone down with each subsequent album release. In 2011, the group received the Medalla Ramón Emeterio Betances from the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, the oldest cultural institution in Puerto Rico, for their work in the arts. Substance over money.