The Story of Mexican Reggaeton and 8 Artists You Need to Know About

Photo Illustration: Michelle Alfonso
Getty | Medios y Media
Photo Illustration: Michelle Alfonso

Perreo and reggaeton have come a long way from the clubs of Puerto Rico and even further from the Jamaican workers who brought reggae and dancehall to Panama. Today, perreo has become a globally recognized method of artistic expression. Artists like Bad Bunny are pushing the boundaries of what was once a tightly guarded, macho genre. But reggaeton has proven that it can adapt wherever it lands and to whoever is on the mic. "Reggaeton is a unique genre," reggaetonero Dímelo Flow tells POPSUGAR. "From the lyrics to the beat to its sandungueo. This genre represents many countries and cultures, and each artist has the possibility to make it unique to their own personality and style, creating a versatile genre for all Latinos. Over time, reggaeton has evolved to incorporate new mixes, influences, and themes. From dancehall to salsa and cumbia and now even electronic. The genre lends itself to different fusions that showcase the best of Latino culture."

Perreo, which is the music from which reggaeton is derived, has been developing in Veracruz, Mexico, since the early '90s, but historically, this state is no stranger to African or Caribbean influence.

Perreo, which is the music from which reggaeton is derived, has been developing in Veracruz, Mexico, since the early '90s, but historically, this state is no stranger to African or Caribbean influence. At the height of the Spanish occupation of New Spain (modern-day Mexico), people from all over the world passed through the port city of Veracruz. With the sharp decline in the Indigenous population due to genocide, overworking, and disease, Spaniards had an increased need for laborers. Between 1519-1650, New Spain received at least 120,000 enslaved Africans, or two-thirds of all the Africans enslaved in the Spanish colonies. Veracruz in particular became a state with one of the highest African populations (second to Mexico City) because of its sugar plantations and silver mines. It also had high mixed-race populations as a result of criollo, Black, and Indigenous intermixing that was at times sanctioned by Spanish law to promote the spread of Spanish culture and hopefully quell slave revolts.

Today, the enduring history of Mexico's colonial period is reflected in Veracruz's distinctive perreo sound that's attributed to the rebellious "jarocho" culture, which is the convergence of Indigenous and African cultures in the region. Although jarocho culture is typically associated with fandangos and zapateo, "son jarocho" is the folk music style that emerged from jarocho. Its most recognizable song is "La Bamba," which went all over the world via Ritchie Valens.

The perreo that came out of Veracruz is directly tied to DJ Marcelo and the Capezzio Nightclub in Puerto de Veracruz, where he would play reggaeton from Puerto Rico and Panama. Unsurprisingly, a new generation of local musicians were inspired by the working-class themes and began battling and crafting their own sound. Mr. Grillo, La Dinastia, and Da Family are some of the more well-known artists to come out of Veracruz. Nightclubs in Mexico City also became scenes for new sounds and artists who made the genre their own by mixing perreo with regional music like cumbias and other Caribbean music like dembows. This dembow-cumbia fusion became known as cumbiaton and was founded by Panamanian producer El Chombo. It has since turned into a signature mark of Mexican reggaeton, where artists like Uzielito Mix, DJ Beckman, and El Habano have developed the sound.

Today, perreo and reggaeton, along with Mexico's distinctive urbano music scene, represent a turning tide in the country's rigid social order. Younger artists seem much less concerned with preserving and promoting machismo or worrying about gender constructs. Mexico's perreo and urbano artists are combining the influence of trap, grime, electrocumbia, R&B, dembow, and so many more genres culminating in two distinct sounds: the more traditional-sounding reggaeton crossed with cumbation and the experimental electronic lo-fi-esque sound called neoperreo.

With hubs in Mexico City, Chile, Spain, Sweden, and Veracruz, neoperreo promotes an early 2000s Tumblr-y aesthetic while being a women- and queer-friendly space that is just as sexual and raunchy as the cis-hetero men — but with a more sensitive bravado. The term neoperreo was coined by Chilean tattoo-artist-turned-reggeatonera Tomasa del Real, who continues to be one of the most popular artists in the genre. Neoperreo can be described as futuristic and incorporates throwback perreo rhythms with ambient synth and electronica. There is also plenty of collaboration between underground artists like Bad Gyal, La Zowi, La Goony Chonga, Kaydy Cain, Ms Nina, Bea Fight, Mi$$il, Florentino, and Lizz.

Here are eight artists who showcase the wide range of Mexican reggaeton and perreo sounds.

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Uzielito Mix

Uzielito Mix is a CDMX-born rapper and producer. He is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in Mexican reggaeton; he's the founder of the music label Candela Music and in part responsible for giving singers like Chino el Gorila and Michael G their start.

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DJ Milf

Scarlett Marín, aka DJ Milf, is a reggaeton and perreo DJ from Mexico City. She is an artist who explores sexuality and women empowerment with her dark electronic sounds and sexy onstage persona. DJ Milf has shared the stage with artists such as Bad Gyal, La Goony Chonga, Tomasa del Real and has played festivals such as Carnaval Bahidorá and EDC México.

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El Habano

El Habano was born in Cuba but was raised in a small town called Tláhuac east of CDMX. He is a part of the Candela Music crew and has been establishing himself in the genre since 2008, citing some of his musical influences to be everything from salsa music to reggaeton OG Tego Calderón. He's done collaborations with Rosa Pistola and Uzielito Mix.

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Anna Bellaka

Anna Bellaka is an underground artist who dropped her LP, "Queen of the Underground," two years ago in 2020. Her sound features lo-fi auto-tuned vocals. She's also the bassist for the punk band Anémona Asesina, as well as a member of La Chingadera crew.

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Pako Villasana

Pako Villasana is a rapper, singer, and producer from Villahermosa, Tabasco. He's worked with independent producers from Latin America and Europe. His latest album, "Neoperreísmo," was inspired by the underground neoperreo music scene, as well as moombahton, alternative reggaeton, Latin pop, and dembow. Like Bad Bunny's "Las Que No Iban Salir," "Neoperreismo" was recorded in a home studio during the COVID-19 lockdown, and it's pretty great.

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Rosa Pistola

Rosa Pistola is a Colombian transplant who has made CDMX her home and created and contributed to some of its definitive fast-paced and eclectic sounds. She brings Latin music and Mexican reggaeton to the international stage, playing shows like EDC Mexico. She's also a part of the trio Perreo Pesado, whose mission statement is to "expand the sound frequencies of the Ghetto."

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La Dinastia

La Dinastia is one of Veracruz's OGs that have perfected and promoted the jarocho reggaeton sound. The group formed in 2005, and their biggest hit to date is "Vaquero," which became a national hit and made them hometown heroes. The Sangre Pirata label was actually started by Rambon, the son of DJ Marcello.

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Ghetto Kids

The Ghetto Kids are probably the most well-known mainstream Mexican reggaetoneros. These CDMX musicians formed in 2012 and are especially known for their combination of electronic music and dembow. They have collaborated with artists like Guaynaa and Major Lazer and were the first Mexican artists to be nominated for a Latin Grammy in the urbano category.