Beyond Reggaeton: Artists share how the genre shaped new sounds and styles

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Having emerged from Puerto Rico’s underground scene, reggaeton is easily among today’s most influential genres, topping pop charts and sparking the development of entirely new styles.

We spoke to some of the leading artists who incorporate foundational reggaeton elements into their music spanning pop, trap, R&B, hip hop, electronic, and beyond. Below, they tell us about the role reggaeton has played throughout their personal and creative lives, how they experiment with its key characteristics, how they see the genre evolving, and ideas for using their sounds in your productions.

About the creators

Lao Ra (Laura Carvajalino Avila) makes subversive pop music drawing influences from the punk attitude of London (where she lived for over ten years) and the power of the tropics in her home country of Colombia. Through reggaeton beats and untamable wild animals, her vibrant storytelling is a nod to the female artists who’ve inspired her journey so far, including Debbie Harry, FKA Twigs, Frida Kahlo, and Madonna.

Leading a new wave of Latin music for over a decade, notorious producer Tainy (Marco Masís Fernández) has been the mastermind behind some of the most iconic reggaeton hits. A repeated GRAMMY and BMI Award winner, he has lent his talents to career-defining hits for countless artists, including Bad Bunny, Daddy Yanky, and Don Omar, among others.

Born in Buin, Santiago de Chile, GRAMMY-nominated music producer Taiko (Nicolás Jaña) started making beats at the age of 15 and later joined Sky Rompiendo’s label, Black Koi Ent. His sounds now appear on Bad Bunny and Mora’s “Una Vez,” Jhay Cortez’ “Easy,” and J Balvin’s “Rojo.”

Erick Bardales is a Honduran-American music producer and audio engineer based in Los Angeles. In addition to producing several Splice Originals releases, he has produced, recorded, and mixed records for artists such Ambré, G Eazy, Lil Wayne, Mannie Fresh, Mos Def, and many more.

Growing up with reggaeton in all corners of Latin America

Although they’re from different corners of Latin America and have lived all around the world, all four artists we spoke to have grown up around reggaeton music, soaking up its influence intentionally and atmospherically. As a result, they’ve all incorporated elements of reggaeton while defining their own unique and genre-bending styles.

Growing up in Puerto Rico with a Dominican mom, Tainy heard a lot of merengue, salsa, bomba, and other Latin music alongside the rock, pop, and hip hop coming from the States. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s underground and emerging musicians were developing reggaeton. All of those influences merged and informed him as he started making music.

“I was introduced to reggaeton at a young age in Honduras, when it was called cómputo,” Erick Bardales shares. “I became a fan when my older cousins played DJ Playero tapes and El Chombo’s Cuentos de la Cripta around me. I began producing at the age of 15 years old when I was living in New Orleans.” Naturally, those tapes and CDs influenced the sounds a young Bardales was developing.

Born and raised in Bogata, Colombia, Lao Ra was introduced to reggaeton in her early teens. It was “the music we danced to at parties when we were growing up, along with salsa, merengue, and other Latin genres,” she reflects. “Colombian reggaeton, which really means Medellin’s reggaeton, is a bit softer both in sound and content compared to the old-school sound. Some people might say it’s more pop, which might be true—it’s definitely more melodic. Sonically, it has great production and tends to be quite subtle.”

Taiko shared that reggaeton is immensely popular in Chile and has always been a presence in his life. “The genre was always in the streets, on the radio, and on television; I practically grew up with it,” he says. “This motivated me to start mixing in Virtual DJ at about 11 years old. Two years later I downloaded FL Studio, and that’s when I made my first beats.”

Incorporating and experimenting with reggaeton elements

The most foundational element of reggaeton is the dembow. “The biggest influence reggaeton has had on my music is its rhythmic base,” Lao Ra shares. “I’ve used the dembow, which is the typical reggaeton drum pattern, in a lot of my songs. I also like the minimal production most reggaeton tracks have—just one or maybe two leading sounds through the whole track.”

She has also successfully blended multiple genres, something many artists who are influenced by reggaeton do. “I’ve always loved punk; it was the first genre I started playing,” she tells us. “However, it always felt a bit foreign to me. I had a big desire to do something more authentic, more me, more Latin—so I tried to incorporate that rebellious punk attitude with some musical aspects of Colombia.”

Erick Bardales takes a different approach. He starts with a melody when he’s working on a new production because of reggaeton. He tells us, “Reggaeton patterns, rhythms, and melodies are embedded into my production, even when I’m producing other styles of music. It helps me approach different styles from a different perspective.”

Taiko says he also starts with a melody. “From there, I flow to where the vibe takes me; it all depends on the day and how I feel,” he shares. However, his basslines are often inspired by reggaeton, which carries the whole rhythm of the song. He continues, “I mainly focus on three foundational factors when producing music: minimalism, texture, and atmosphere. Everything is based on simplicity—on the essential. I try not to saturate a production with so many arrangements. Instead, I focus on making different layers of a sound to create an interesting texture that ends up being the central axis of the production.”

When Tainy first started producing, he approached music with a curious mind. “Reggaeton has a really specific set of samples, like four to five types of kick drums and snares,” he explains. “Little by little, I started to mess around with that, using a hip hop kick or dance-type of kick or figuring out how to use a different type of sample for the snare. It turns into something different. The result is the same groove or tempo as a reggaeton track, but the sounds are not the same, so the result changes your idea of it.”

The future of reggaeton and its lasting influence

There’s no debating the fact that reggaeton music is forever ingrained in the fabric of contemporary music. Its influence is wide, and its pull is strong. Its potential for experimentation and evolution is deep. Bardales reflects, “The sky is the limit at this point. I’ve watched it change so much and evolve to so many genres that I feel like it’ll be part of music forever.”

Taiko adds, “Reggaeton is one of the most-listened-to and popular genres worldwide. Because of that, we’re seeing artists from other genres seeking to reinvent themselves in it. Songs such as ‘Despacito’ and collaborations with English-speaking artists like ‘Tusa’ by Karol G and Nicki Minaj brought reggaeton very close to pop, therefore making it part of pop culture. It’s interesting to me how the evolution of reggaeton is going to follow this pattern—mixing with other genres and experimenting with new sounds will achieve very different colors of the genre.”

Taiko also told us that although reggaeton was popular in Chile, there weren’t many internationally-renowned Chilean reggaeton players historically. Rather, it was always was very underground or local. It has always been a country very rich in musicians and composers, but more folk and rock than anything. However, he adds, “A huge wave of trap emerged a few years ago and brought many artists and producers who’ve been proposing new ideas for a long time. We all grew up with reggaeton and are fans of the genre. We saw Pablo Chill-E on the Bad Bunny album and Polimá Westcoast collab with Ñengo Flow, as well as Paloma Mami talking a lot about internationality. It’s only a matter of time for the reggaeton scene in Chile to explode.”

Ideas for using these creators’ sounds

Erick Bardales, Taiko, Lao Ra, and Tainy all have sample packs on Splice Sounds. They want you to get the most out of them—here’s what they said about using their sounds.

“I envision fellow producers using my packs as song starters to spark creativity, and then they can develop their own sound from there, Erick Bardales shares. “I’d suggest starting with the guitar melodies from my packs and then building their own drum patterns from the one-shots. They can also recreate the drum loops since I’ve included the one-shots for all of them.” He adds, “Let your imagination run wild; try it all! There’s no right or wrong way of doing it. What matters is the final product. For example, don’t be afraid to use a plugin made for guitars on vocals, drums, etc. Experiment as much as possible. Also, educate yourself on the culture behind reggaeton so that you can do it with integrity.”

Lao Ra says, “Just have fun with the elements reggaeton brings, but don’t get too attached to the form. Experiment with it and push the limits of the genre.” Taiko echoes this sentiment. “Dare to propose new concepts and different sounds to break the monotony that the genre can sometimes have,” he adds. “I think there is still a lot to experiment with and merge in reggaeton.”

Tainy points out, “So many artists want to play it safe. Try to surround yourself with people who want to experiment and stay true to what sounds good to them, even if people don’t get it at the time. When you put your ideas out there and go with what feels amazing to you—that’s the special part of it.”


Explore the world of reggaeton and beyond in your own productions:

October 8, 2021

Shannon Byrne Shannon Lee Byrne is a freelance writer focused on the music industry, creativity, entrepreneurship, culture, and mental health. She's also a copywriter, marketing strategist, and podcaster.