The true origins of reggaeton shift from place to place, depending on who you ask. Wayne Marshall, noted musicologist and professor, wrote a series of essays along with other experts in 2009 about the history of the genre, tracing its beginnings from cultural hotbeds like Jamaica, Panama, and of course, Puerto Rico. We know for certain, though, that the music would not be where it is today without the pioneering efforts of DJ Playero. One of the first DJs in the world to blend reggae and hip hop rhythms with freestyle rapping en español, Playero set a precedent for producers and other DJs to manipulate and ultimately create reggaeton as we know it today.
DJ Playero is set to headline Que Bajo?! Barrioteca Tropical this Saturday in Brooklyn. Red Bull Music Academy and the Que Bajo?! team have curated one of their largest lineups to date, which includes other pioneers of latin electronic music such as DJ Laz, Erick Rincon of 3BALL MTY, & DJ Guaguis. This all goes down at Verboten, one of the biggest and most sonically advanced clubs in New York City. Geko Jones, the co-founder of Que Bajo?!, had a chance to talk to DJ Playero and ask him some questions about his most memorable moments in his career, how many famous people he’s put on, and his favorite productions of all time.
Where did the name Playero come from?
There was a store called Playero that sold surfer gear. Swim trunks, T-shirts, tank-tops. The shirts said Playero on the front and had a design on the back. I used to wear a different Playero shirt almost every day, plus on nights when I was deejaying. After a while people started calling me Playero.
When did you realize music was what you’d be doing?
I started learning to play percussion at 6 years old. My father was a musician. It was in the blood.
What were you deejaying before the reggaeton thing took off?
We did fiestas de marquesina and school events. I played House, disco, freestyle, hip hop, reggae, club music. I used to cut reels and do my own special edition edits. The first Playero cassette was all freestyle. Later, I started mixing in house and reggae. Because they were limited edition people would be hungry for the next one. On 34 I started throwing in recordings from the local guys.
Tell us about some of your earliest projects.
I helped produce on Vico-C’s first release, an EP called La Recta Final. I also worked Brewly MC’s first 2 albums. The Dancehall Reggaespañol compilation. Then we did Lisa M’s first album, No Lo Derumbes and that project took off! Tu Pum Pum, Everybody Dancing Now, Menealo! You had to see that tour, 30-40 thousand people. and sold out shows all over Latin America. She was the Queen of Latin Rap. Nobody could touch her.
What kind of gear were you using?
We recorded a lot of the early stuff in the living room of my apartment with a Shure 58 and a 4-track Tascam recorder. By 1992, I was playing at New York Music Club, a venue in Old San Juan. I used to try out the tracks there and it was the place where the sound came together for me. I remember Rey Pirin, the first couple times we recorded him ended up getting cut out of the tunes then one day he came in and recorded (insert song) and nailed it in like 4 minutes and just.
Did you play at The Noise nightclub?
DJ Negro and I did a lot of shows together. The Noise and the Playero Mixtapes happened simultaneously. He had his crew of MC’s and I had my dream team.
Name a few of the artists that got their start on DJ Playero mixtapes.
Daddy Yankee, Tempo, Nicky Jam, Alberto Stylee, Mexicano, Franky Boy, Master Joe, Yaga y Mackie, Maicol y Manuel, muchos.
Why do you think the mixtapes took off the way they did?
The streets needed it. The kids needed an outlet to express their frustration with the lives they were living. Living in Puerto Rico is hard and we gave the kids a chance to express that musically. I started getting calls that the mixes were being pirated and that’s when I was approached by Don Pedro Merced (QEPD) from BM Records. He was the godfather to almost all the major players in the genre. He believed in what we were doing, took my masters for Playero 37 and re-issued the record and that’s when things really got hot up north.
Originally, the music was called underground, dembow or melaza, where did the word reggaeton come around?
It was a media thing. It would be hard to say who really coined the phrase but I think, Daddy Yankee said it on 36. Baby J. on Playero 37. Before it was reggaeton though, we called it perreo.
You were there when Puerto Rico tried to ban perreo for vulgarity.
There was a sting operation where authorities and distribution raided stores and took our cds off the shelves. Arrests where made. Having a reggaeton CD in your car could get you in trouble. The labels got together a legal team and we won. That’s when everyone started going crazy about it because they tried to take it away.
Cuando fue la primera vez que escuchastes algo tuyo en la radio?
With Vico-C y Lisa M. There was a radio station called I-96 on the island and they were the first station that you could here the underground on.
What about the hip hop elements of the genre?
For Boricua Guerrero we brought down Nas, Busta Rhymes, Big Pun (QEPD), Fat Joe. It was a big deal having them collaborate with the local talent. Nico Canada had a heavy hand on that project as well.
Was that your first time in New York?
The first time was with Tempo. I don’t really remember if it was the Bronx or Brooklyn but people knew the words and we were doing some pretty big shows. The first place we played outside of Puerto Rico was the Dominican Republic though!
And dembow is still the hotness out there.
For them not a lot was coming in so it took off there really early. The root is still strong.
What happened after the mixtapes?
I started producing more studio albums. Rey Pirin, Tempo, 3-2 Get Funky. Then we started the Diamond Music label where we released Kilates 1 and 2, Majestic 1, 2. Eventually I moved up to Miami and started mixing for Universal Records. Eventually, came back home, met my wife and now I’m working toward the next Playero Album.