Words by Geko Jones
Together with Uproot Andy, Geko Jones is the co-founder of the long-running, New York-based party and musical movement known as Que Bajo?! Known for their blending of cumbia, reggaeton, salsa, bachata, dancehall, baile funk, merengue, mambo, kuduro, kwaito, funana, tribal guarachero and countless other styles, Que Bajo?! have been carrying the torch when it comes to the mixing of international cultures in NYC since their inception in 2008. With their upcoming Barrioteca Tropical bashment featuring DJ Playero, DJ Laz, Notch and more set for May 9th, as part of this year’s Red Bull Music Academy NYC, we asked Geko to pull out a favorite blast from the past for this week’s Throwback Thursdays.
Baby Rasta y Gringo riding medley over dembow to a turnout massive, baggy fit in full effect… This clip captures the mid 90’s moment when reggaeton hit critical mass in Puerto Rico. When a crowd knows every word from street mixtapes, you’re doing it right. When those cassettes are being bootlegged in Chinatown and in dancehall reggae shops from Miami to Toronto, you build a brand.
Baby Rasta y Gringo have, from long time, been one of the most celebrated pairings in reggaeton. Together, they have made some of the most memorable anthems to have ever bumped in an obnoxiously loud hoo-rider with a box of 12″s in the back.
The call-and-response style of this pioneer duo, blending singjay and chat-style flows, goes back to The Noise, the sound system, party, venue and and mixtape DJ collective responsible for some of the earliest reggaeton and Puerto Rican hip-hop recordings. DJ Negro and DJ Playero of The Noise began working with Baby Rasta y Gringo when the duo were something like 14 years old, helping to set their career in motion. A few years later, and still quite young, the pair found themselves on a huge stage in front of thousands, as part of an event recorded for The Noise Live Vol. 1.
Baby Rasta’s slightly nasal, young voice cuts lovely over the track in the way of, say, a Red Rat or Lil Vicious. You can see the communication between him and Gringo onstage as to when to drop in and take over, creating the kind of tag-team dynamic you see in acts like T.O.K, Ward 21 or Camp Lo.
We’ve watched them grow. When the government decided to go after the reggaeton scene, trying to ban it from radio and stores for obscenity, they wrote songs against the government and were on the front lines, defending the music they were creating. They’ve had a fair bit of commercial success but I think there’s still room for new fans to get to know their catalog. With the competitiveness of true MC’s, they’ve not only been involved in more rap beefs than probably any duo in music, they’ve also had blowouts on stage, broken up, had solo careers and mended fences to rock the biggest arenas in Latin America.
This show was a live interpretation of the mixtapes that were running Puerto Rico at the time, and it featured a slew of other artists, including Ivy Queen. It’s sound man business, en español. These mixtapes were a bridge to stateside Boricua communities and they spread quickly, inspiring conversation between cousins visiting Puerto Rico, or those coming up to the States to visit family. This became the thing we bonded over. It was our dancehall and our hip-hop. It connected Puerto Ricans to the yardie community and drew card on Latin hip-hop. The Puerto Rican community has always been present in the same neighborhoods where hip-hop developed, from the South Bronx to Brooklyn, and it earned us our own street cred. You couldn’t look at a blanket of bootleg cassettes in early 90’s NYC without seeing Selecta Bambam and DJ Playero mixes next to Wu-Tang, Bushwick Bill and The Chronic. Nuyoricans started waving that flag a lil’ harder because we had our own ting, and our parties were the shit.
May 9th, things will come full circle as the one and only DJ Playero from The Noise will lay down a foundation reggaeton set at Verboten in Williamsburg for Que Bajo?!: Barrioteca Tropical. Large up to RBMA for helping us put together a wicked line up.