Almost 25 years after its inception, reggaeton continues to spark controversy surrounding its complicated racial and gender politics. The jury’s still out on whether the genre is an exploitative or empowering space for women – critics, fans, and artists alike seem to debate perreo with the same fervor they did decades ago. But characterizing reggaeton as purely oppressive would not do justice to the women who have made their voices heard in the genre since Day 1.
Popular imagination has figured women in reggaeton as sidekicks, reducing them to whispered “ay papis” and bikini-clad video girls. While I can’t deny the pernicious sexualization reggaetoneras have experienced, there’s a coterie of women who have fought these acts of injustice in their music for years. Ivy Queen, a true monarch of the genre, pioneered visibility for reggaetoneras in the early 00s, thanks to tracks like “Te He Querido, Te He Llorado” and “Yo Quiero Bailar,” a sex positive anthem that contends with the tangled politics of consent on the dance floor. Though Ivy Queen faded out of the spotlight in the late 2000s after declines in reggaeton sales, she carved a space for women in the mainstream. To honor that legacy, we’ve gathered some tracks by reggaetoneras old and new. It’s worth thinking about the ways these women have challenged (and upheld) respectability politics, and how many of them benefit from the colorism that deters darker-skinned reggaetoneras from the visibility and success some of their white peers have achieved. From the tough-talk anthems of Ms Nina to the political sendups of Planta Carnívora, here’s a look at the reggaetoneras still hustling online, and those who were written out of the genre’s history altogether. –Isabelia Herrera
Listen to our playlist with these women and more on Apple Music:
I’m going to lobby for a little re-ordering of reggaetón history here. Early precursors to the birth of the genre place us in Panamá, with notorious covers-en-español of Jamaican riddims like Nando Boom’s “Dembow” and Pocho Pan’s “Pantalón Caliente,” or even plena innovation from El General on “Te Ves Buena” and “Muevelo Muevelo.” Somehow, however, La Atrevida has gone missing from most retellings of this history. The artist also known as Rude Girl was hopping on early 90s riddims for tracks like “Estás Dulce,” taking on a remake of Shabba Ranks’ “Pay Down Pon It” for “Si El Hombre Quiere Pedazo,” and even sharing releases with El General and Little Lenny, yet somehow she is little-discussed in the history of our dear reggaeton. La Atrevida for Boss Status, please. –Sara Skolnick
Lisa M’s career is a story of versatility, starting out on the cassette circuit with the nickname “La Reina del Rap” before moving on to more commercially-friendly ventures, and eventually ending up where all roads lead: reggaeton. After late 80s tracks with boricua legends Vico C and Rubén DJ, Lisa M’s grasp of the marketing limitations and stigma of releasing music under the rap, hip-hop, or urban categories led her to experiment more closely with the breaks/merengue/electro sounds of the moment, like on her best-known singles “Tu Pum Pum,” “Everybody Dancing Now,” and “Menealo.” Thanks to the commercialization work of many, reggaeton and other Latin urban sounds are no longer on the margins, which made the space for singles like the 2009 reggaeton track “Hey Ladies,” where Lisa M could flex her rapping skills again. –Sara Skolnick
Chances are you’re already familiar with Glory, even if you weren’t aware of whom to give thanks to for the “Gasolina” hook. After appearances on some of reggaeton’s earliest cassettes that made their way around Puerto Rico, like Street Style 1 & 2 or DJ Eric Industry Volumes 1-5, Santurce-bred Glory recorded key moments in the genre, creating the hooks for some of the biggest tracks of the early 2000s wave. La Gata Gangster (aka La Dueña de los Coros, aka Glou) is the voice behind the ultra-recognizable chorus on tracks like Don Omar’s “Dale Don Dale” and “Traicionera,” and of course Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina,” while also stepping out more prominently for tracks like “La Gata Suelta” on Luny Tones y Noriega: Más Flow. Her lead single “La Popola” from her 2005 solo album Glou was released on Machete Music, where Toy Selectah was formerly the label’s A&R. The track was subsequently – and perhaps understandably – banned from the radio in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. –Sara Skolnick
According to the Latinernet, it’s rumored that Panameña singer Lorna won a talent competition at the age of 13 that landed her the resources to record the airwave-dominating “Papi Chulo.” The 2002 single, which samples Herbie Hancock’s “Bringing Down the Byrds,” eventually reached no. 1 in the charts in France, and top slots in Pakistan, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Mexico, and Spain.
Though it was difficult for subsequent singles to match the impact of her debut moment, Lorna continued releasing singles with fellow panameño producers like El Chombo (who produced “Papi Chulo”), DJ Crazy, DJ Chino, and K4G. Lorna dropped her solo album La Mami Chula, Más Sexy Que Nunca in 2008, leaving behind her reggaetonera roots for a not-super-memorable electro/pop/house single “Como Bailas.” Not long after, she launched her own label, Valerie Music, also home to Panamanian artists R-K and Big Ice, where she released her subdued single “Llueve” in memorial tribute format. –Sara Skolnick
Tomasa del Real
Tomasa del Real is a tattoo artist-turned-reggaetonera from Iquique, Chile, where she brings together traditional dembow rhythms and trap beats. Tomasa champions future reggaeton, honoring Arcangel and Jowell y Randy as two of her main influences, while working with new artists in the genre like La Mafia del Amor and Mini. Badass tattoos and song features aside, the best part about La Tomasa might be her lyrics – hard-hitting, nasty, and witty, delivered with unapologetic seduction. She shamelessly raps about her love of perreo and dancehall, flipping the script on more male-centered themes in reggaeton. Her track “Bonnie and Clyde” became a viral hit last year, thanks to her debaucherous verses and production and vocal support from Spanish Internet rappers La Mafia del Amor. –Luna Olvarría Gallegos
Photographer and reggaetonera Ms. Nina Los Santos is a modern style icon, mashing together different genres and looks to create her surreal digital world. As a visual artist, the Argentine-born creator makes collages and gifs that layer pop culture icons from Snoop Dogg to Sailor Moon with Lisa Frank stickers, glitter, and weed leaves. As a musician, she makes pure perreo, describing her music style on SoundCloud as “musica pa’ bailar” – think bubbly reggaeton beats and raunchy lyrics. In August 2015, she dropped her single “Chupa Chupa,” produced by Chico Sonido, and recently uploaded a music video for the single. The clip showcases her hypnotic and raw style, set in what can only be described as a Tumblr reggaeton vortex. Along with her huge online following, Ms. Nina has also been interviewed about her artwork in i-D Magazine, Frische Magazine and La Moda and has exhibited in Los Angeles and Madrid. –Luna Olvarría Gallegos
Fabiola Alarcón isn’t coy about the meaning behind her stage name, Planta Carnívora. A euphemism for vagina dentata (a toothed vagina), “planta carnívora” is an antiquated, sexist symbol that supported the taboo of having sex with strange women. The Chilean artist is reclaiming that image, rapping over 90s hip-hop meets reggaeton beats, a genre she describes as “rapón.” Her music is raw and unfiltered, with songs like “Vagina Dentada” and “Puedo Escribir Los Versos Más Cochinos Ésta Noche,” which reveal her witty critiques of social hypocrisy, corruption, and misogyny. To contrast her fearless, noisy flow, there’s her singular production style: stripped-down, experimental 8-beat sounds created with a Casio. Her bizarre yet bold style has recently led her to emerge from the underground Chilean reggaeton scene, doing interviews on national television and having the honor of recording at Outkast’s Stankonia Studios in Atlanta last September. –Luna Olvarría Gallegos
DJ Rosa Pistola
DJs are just as important to the evolution of a genre as artists are. Curating the perfect playlist and knowing who to give some shine to in a music-hungry club is a talent that not many have mastered, especially if you’re a DJ and a woman in reggaeton. Meet DJ Rosa Pistola, the self-proclaimed ambassador of perreo in Mexico. If you follow our music section closely, you’ll notice that she recently held us down when we brought Perreo NYC to Mexico City for the first time. Known for blending both mainstream and underground artists in her sets, Rosa Pistola has the power to bring international artists to a fresh set of ears. On top of keeping the bass blasting through your veins, she also runs the clothing boutique R†P in Colonia Juárez. –Janice Llamoca
I’m going to break this down into a 2000s rap analogy. If reggaeton morphed into a rap clique and became Murder Inc., Natti Natasha would be a bilingual, sweeter-sounding Ashanti. Natti kicked off her rise with a breakthrough performance on “Dutty Love” by Don Omar. Through her features, she’s added a woman’s voice and perspective to mainstream reggaeton tracks. Born and raised in Santiago, Dominican Republic, Natti Natasha, born Natalia Alexandra Gutiérrez Batista, left home to pursue her passion for music in NYC. After a chance encounter with Don Omar, she signed to his label Orfanato Music Group and released her first solo single, “Makoosa.” Don’t let that sweet voice fool you though. A Spanish rendition of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” showcased a different artistic side to her. Her latest single, “Grind,” is an explosive blend of Spanglish pop-reggaeton attitude. It seems like she’s finding balance in her artistic identity and stepping out of the shadows of guest verses on male artists’ songs. –Janice Llamoca
If La Insuperable isn’t the author of the Dominican Bad Bitch Bible, then I don’t know who is. Her tough-talk tracks are the dembow equivalent of a “Flawless” or a “Feelin’ Myself” – bulldozing feminist anthems, but in the language of perreo. The self-proclaimed Mami del Swagger left the Dominican Republic for Madrid at the age of 14, and recently returned to Quisqueya pursue her career full-time. After debuting a guest verse on Toxic Crow’s “Contigo Quiero Estar,” a fellow urbano artist who also happens to be her husband, Indhira Ircania Luna fired up the Dominican Internet with razor-sharp heaters like “Cero Goga” and “Dime Linda Te Llenaste de Odio.” She’s better known for her rapid-fire dembow flow, but La Insuperable has teased a full-length reggaeton project in interviews over the past year. What’s perhaps the most important about La Insuperable is her total disregard for respectability politics; she’s not afraid to cut down you and your man and celebrate her surgery-sculpted body in the process. –Isabelia Herrera