There’s no denying it: Latin music has never been as popular as it is at this very moment. So when the Recording Academy announced its nominees for the 2019 Grammy Awards, feelings of confusion, frustration, and indignation abound among Latin music’s top-charting artists — the vast majority of whom make urban music. Relegated to the hodgepodge category that was Best Latin Rock/Alternative/Urban Album — one of just five Latin categories — not a single reggaeton or Latin trap artist was nominated. The genres got but a wink of recognition when “I Like It,” starring Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin, was nominated for Record of the Year. The pop urbano crossover hit, which sat at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 last summer, lost to Childish Gambino, who was notably absent.
“Why isn’t there a Latin urban category, all by itself?” says Rebeca León, manager of J Balvin and member of the Academy’s diversity and inclusion task force. “Without it, we’d be talking about Zoé versus Balvin. That’s like Panic! At The Disco versus Travis Scott. That’s crazy!”
Outside its designated urban categories, reggaeton didn’t fare much better at the 2018 Latin Grammys. Founded in 1997, the Latin Recording Academy sought to accommodate the region’s growing number of genres and subgenres with their annual Latin Grammy Awards show; but much like its anglophone counterpart, the odds tend to favor much more seasoned veterans. The Album of the Year award, for which Balvin was also a nominee, ultimately went to Luis Miguel, who had famously ghosted the show altogether. (Representatives of both Recording Academy and Latin Recording Academy could not be reached for comment.)
Enter Premios Tu Música Urbano: a brand new awards show dedicated to celebrating the success of urban music. Aired on Telemundo 51 on Thursday night, the awards honored an all-star roster of nominees and performers, including Daddy Yankee, Ozuna, Natti Natasha and more. According to a representative from Telemundo Puerto Rico, the international broadcast, which reached 52 countries and nearly 80% of all televisions in Puerto Rico, attracted an audience of 80 million viewers. (In comparison, the Grammys broadcast in February counted 22 million viewers; representatives of the Recording Academy could not be reached for comment.)
“We are doing justice to a musical movement which has earned its respect with the top sales positions not only in music, but also in performances from the top artist worldwide,” says co-producer Shirley Rodríguez, who runs the Puerto Rican management firm Mr. & Mrs. Entertainment with her husband, Jose Pompi Vallejo. “After working for over 17 years in the genre, our business partner and producer for Telemundo Puerto Rico, Soraya Sánchez, reached out to us to partner for this new project [and] made our dreams come true.”
According to Rodríguez, discrimination against urbano music is all but new — and much of it from within Latin America. “Since its beginning, they tried to ban it [throughout] Latin America, including Puerto Rico,” she adds, noting the island’s historic ban on reggaeton in the Nineties. This makes it all the more noteworthy that the awards took place in San Juan’s Coliseo de Puerto Rico — not far from where local police once raided record stores and confiscated CDs with the outlawed rhythm. Yet twenty years later, even the Puerto Rican government agrees: reggaeton is one of Puerto Rico’s finest and most famous of its exports.
The awards show was organized in conjunction with the island’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce and the Puerto Rico Tourism Company; and sitting front row at the year’s most prestigious perreo party was none other than Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló. “The fact that the awards show can take place in Puerto Rico, the island that undeniably propelled [reggaeton] to worldwide level, fills us with joy,” says Rodríguez, “but it also comes with many production challenges.” Organizers were tasked with bringing 500 tons of stage equipment to the island, in order to rival the production quality of awards shows in the United States.
Much like the Grammys, voting is not open to the public; instead the pool of voters is comprised by 200 industry professionals, including producers, influencers, radio directors and programmers, all whose specialty is urban music. To be considered, says Rodríguez, an artist’s project must have been released between February 2018 and February 2019. “Sales, downloads and streaming are all taken in consideration to make the final decision,” she explains.
This system would bode quite well for Ozuna — the best-selling and most prominent reggaeton artist omitted at the 2019 Grammys — who got his dues at Thursday night’s ceremony, where he was voted Artist of the Year. Ozuna won five other awards that night, including one for the smash hit “Te Boté (Remix),” which he performed live with the song’s originators, Nio García, Darell and Casper Mágico. Daddy Yankee came in second place, yet with three awards and the highest honor of the night: the Premios Tu Música Urbano’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Every year, we will choose an icon to whom we dedicate this ceremony,” says Rodríguez. “This year, for the first ceremony, we selected Daddy Yankee.” This marks Daddy Yankee’s second Lifetime Achievement award in 2019 alone; he was previously recognized at the Univision awards show Premio Lo Nuestro, in February. The Puerto Rican rapper who propelled reggaeton’s international crossover with his 2004 LP, Barrio Fino — and on a more global level with 2017 hit, “Despacito” — Daddy Yankee dazzled audiences on Thursday night with his more recent output, including his 2018 hit song, “Dura,” followed by his most recent viral hit, “Con Calma” featuring Snow.
But according to the genre’s most famous ambassador, he’s most proud of how his music has helped grow a much more tolerant and multilingual audience around the world. “I think the biggest achievement, besides making our music global, is that we have people who don’t speak our language singing in Spanish,” said Daddy Yankee in a backstage interview. “People are learning Spanish through our music. Back in the day, it used to be the only way [to sell music] was to sing in English, or in languages from Asia.”
Additional Lifetime Achievement Awards, known as Premios de la Trayectoria, were granted to several other artists who help grow the genre from the grassroots. Honorees included longtime hitmakers Don Omar, Zion y Lennox, Vico C, Wisin y Yandel, Tito El Bambino and Ivy Queen. As reggaeton’s first lady, Ivy Queen couldn’t help but remark on the sheer girl power exhibited that night: Dominican singer Natti Natasha boasted three awards, including Best Female Urban Artist, and Best Urban Song and Video of the Year — two categories in which she bested male contenders like Maluma, J Balvin and Bad Bunny. The show also featured electrifying performances by Brazilian superstar Anitta and the island’s own merengue star, Olga Tañón.
“I am grateful that there is a feminine presence in the urban genre today,” said Ivy Queen during her acceptance speech — with a special shout out to Natasha, who in turn thanked her idol from the audience. Ivy Queen also gave additional thanks to nominee Karol G [Giraldo] and Best Urban Song and Video winner Becky G [Gomez].
“I want to take this opportunity to clarify,” she added, “that at this point, instead of competing, [women] must share.”
The show culminated in a dynamite all-star tribute to The Noise — the Puerto Rican hip-hop collective that first spawned the reggaeton sound. Featuring original members DJ Playero, DJ Nelson, DJ Negro and Don Chezina, the old school crew regaled the crowd with some of their classic songs, featuring cameos by Yaviah, Alberto Stylee and MC Ceja. With his hair dyed a shocking cherry red, Nelson sprung forth from behind his post at the DJ booth to bust some of his own rhymes onstage — ending in a heartfelt, full circle moment for a genre once scorned.
“Puerto Rico is the capital of Latin urban music,” said Daddy Yankee. “There’s no bigger honor than to be recognized where you’re from. It means a lot to have our own awards show.”
Correction: A previous headline stated that Telemundo Network launched the show; the headline has been amended to reflect that the show was launched in partnership with Telemundo Puerto Rico, which is a separate entity.
A two-hour Telemundo Network special recap of Premios Tu Musica Urbano will air in the United States at 7:00pm EST on Saturday, March 23rd.