Throwback Thursdays: Wayne Marshall on ‘The Noise 6’ feat. Ivy Queen + Friends

Words by Wayne Marshall

Not to be confused with the dancehall singjay (and Tami Chynn spouse) of the same name, Wayne Marshall is a renowned ethnomusicologist who has taught at Brandeis and Harvard, where he is a faculty associate at Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the brains behind oft-cited music thinkpiece blog WayneAndWax. Reggaeton and its roots are a particular area of expertise—he’s the editor of the 2009 anthology Reggaeton, along with Raquel Rivera and Deborah Pacini Hernandez—so we asked him to break down a selection from the early days of what was then known as “underground” music in Puerto Rico. His choice? Bebe, Ivy Queen, Baby Rasta & Gringo and Point Breakers’ contribution to 1996’s seminal The Noise 6 mixtape/compilation. Read on and, after you’re done, be sure to read Wayne’s recent essay on Boston’s Caribbean pirate radio underground over at Cluster Mag.

Before reggaeton was reggaeton, back when a sassy and singular singjay could simply demand that “reggae respect Ivy Queen” — back in 1996 to be exact — San Juan’s The Noise selected a telling site for the video promoting their latest maratón mixtape. Opening with scenes of turnstile hopping raperos (later shown accompanied by a cop playing spoiler), a bubble-goose sporting Bebe quickly assumes the foreground, flip-tongue spitting double-time triplets worthy of many a dancehall deejay. Meantime, a montage of backdrops offers proof of pilgrimage to Shea Stadium, the Unisphere, Times Square, and Central Park, where a snowball fight announces as clearly as anything that we’re not in Puerto Rico anymore.

These may seem like far-flung signposts to some, but the iconic images mirror the mongrel sounds propelling Bebe’s and Ivy’s raggafied raps. Like their proto-reggaeton rival, DJ Playero, The Noise mobilize a set of rap and reggae referents that contemporary listeners in NYC, or any of its sister cities — not least San Juan — would instantly recognize. Sometimes in the same measure, more often in marked alternation, The Noise’s DJ Negro, DJ Nelson, and other in-house producers layer dusty breaks and wailing sirens, Dembow drums and Stalag horns, Cypress Hill-style tea-kettle loops and basslines for jazzed-up jeeps.

This mid-90s melaza, a densely intertextual mix of hip-hop and dancehall sometimes called “musica negra” but mostly known simply as underground — supported a youth- and class-inflected cultural politics of blackness precisely by embracing, if not amplifying, the Nuyorican dimensions of Puerto Rican culture. In this sense, the wintry New York backdrop for The Noise 6 offers a vivid illustration of what scholar Juan Flores describes as a “notable reverse” in the “the translocal Puerto Rican sensibility.” Instead of an “emigrant longing for the beauties of the long-lost island,” we witness a shift, at least among some, toward the Bronx and El Barrio as primary “places of fascination and nostalgia.” It might seem a little much to saddle an obscure video with no less than carrying what Flores calls the “cultural remittances” of “transnationalism from below,” but the whole point is that little things — a sampled snare, a snowball — can make a big difference.

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  • Wow. Watching that video makes me feel that at the time reggaeton was full of possibilities. Not sure if I have a point but it could be interesting to watch it back to back with this video (that comes with lots of bling, huge mansions and a fully blonde Ivy Queen):

    Wonder if the referents of “whiteness” and “succes” that I think can be seen here could be understood as new places of fascination and nostalgia for people getting into reggaeton right now.

    Anyway, thanks for the article, awesome stuff!

  • Thanks for the comment, Juan. That video definitely offers a marked contrast to an earlier moment in reggaeton’s cultural politics. It’s sort of a classic case of upward mobility & blanqueamiento. But I also think it’s important to examine how Ivy Queen and the genre got from here to there.

    My chapter in the reggaeton book attempts to make sense of this shift by focusing on the move from “música negra” to “reggaeton latino,” and though it’s easy to see the whole thing in terms of cynical marketing, I think there’s also something to be said for the ways the genre responded to a genuinely expanding, grassroots, pan-Latino audience.

    Producers like Luny Tunes and Nelson actively responded to this shift, and perhaps anticipated/cultivated it, by moving away from the obvious hip-hop and reggae samples we hear above toward bachata, merengue, salsa and other putatively “Latin” sounds. in this regard, it’s especially telling that Ivy plays bachatera at the 2:00 minute mark.

    All that said, while I agree that reggaeton *was* full of possibilities back in 96, I might argue that it remains full of possibilities — some of which are being explored elsewhere, say in the DR or Colombia.