The question of when underground transitioned to reggaetón is a debate long held by fans and purists of the genre alike. The term “reggaetón” itself was coined in 1994, during the heyday of “underground,” so-called because of its informal circulation of bootleg mixtapes that skipped brick and mortar stores. Reggaetón didn’t become the de facto name for the genre until years later when it evolved away from the use of riddim loops and producers modernized their sound by incorporating American hip-hop tempos, instrumental recordings, and popular music production software.
A title that consistently comes up in the conversation of the genre’s evolution, and coincidentally celebrates its 23rd anniversary this month, is Playero 41—an album headlined by the man that’s come to be known as the Father of Reggaetón.
Appropriately subtitled “Past, Present & Future,” the album is an eclectic compilation of songs that harken the underground roots that the “Playero” series itself birthed; it also experiments with sound in ways that listeners had hardly been exposed to before. A double-disc album, DJ Playero has fun in the first half of the project by incorporating house, drum and bass, marrying their fast breakbeats with the reggae and dancehall samples that were then typical. The resulting music cracked open the door to what would become a common occurrence: the club-ization of “underground”, which itself laid the groundwork for reggaetón’s rise. In the second disc, he settles into familiar territory crafting gloomy boom bap beats with a dream team of street rappers spitting furious tales of hometown crime and violence.
Here are five standout tracks from “Playero 41: Past, Present & Future” that best capture its essence:
“Todas Las Yales” by Daddy Yankee
It’s fitting that the man who used the word reggaetón on record in Playero 36, would appear in an album that set the marching orders for that genre’s rise. In this song, you can hear Daddy Yankee settle into the cadence that would eventually transform him into its first and perhaps biggest crossover star.
“Descontrol” by Nicky Jam
The undisputedly most popular track of the album, “Descontrol,” admittedly owes a lot of its longevity to the “Rhythm Is a Dancer” sample that makes up its backbone. But if you came for the beat, you stayed for Nicky’s infectious lyrics that he even paid homage to in his Bad Bunny collab “Bad Con Nicky” from last year’s Las Que No Iban a Salir mixtape.
“Bailando Quiero Verlas” by Tempo
Here it’s Reel 2 Reel’s “I Like to Move It” that flexes on the track but it was also one of the first instances in which Tempo waded into perreo, a respite from his usual gruff rap songs that leaned towards darker themes. The end result was so well-received he produced a remix for his future greatest hits compilation where he was joined by fellow Buddha’s Family member Getto.
“Representación Completa” by B.F. Yaviah & Maestro
This ode to Puerto Rican hip-hop aims to bridge the gap between local rappers and nuyoricans; the latter is represented by Yaviah from 2020’s “Bichiyal” and Maestro who went on to produce some of Tego Calderón’s first albums and recently appeared as Nicky Jam’s uncle in the Netflix show “El Ganador”—two OGs who have stuck around.
“Leyenda” by Vico C & Mexicano
To fans of Puerto Rican rap, it might’ve struck them odd to see Vico C and the late Mexicano together, as the former is known for his old school, wholesome style and eschewing curse words, while the latter is infamous for being as aggressive with his delivery and storytelling as his voice and violent past. Nevertheless, both are inarguably legends of the format and their union works like gangbusters, in no small part due to Playero’s beats that adapt to each one’s distinct flow.