dem bow: an introduction to dominican hip hop
When I was in the Dominican Republic over the holidays, I learned that the term Dem Bow was how the locals referred to their street music. Upon first exposure, it sounded exactly like reggaeton–the Puerto Rican take on rap, reggae and dance music. But the more I learned about life in the D.R., the more I understood how the music represents something distinctly Dominican. Right now, Dem Bow offers more relevance and originality than anything mainstream rap or reggaeton is putting out…
Now, I haven’t spent a ton of time in the Dominican. I’ve never even been to Santo Domingo–the Dem Bow capital of the world. But after consulting with a few friends and more than a few YouTube videos, there are some big themes that stand out.
- Many of these artists are quite young. Like, teenagers. This, despite the adult-themed lyrical content.
- They speak in a dialect that makes many Spanish speakers (including Dominicans) have difficulty understanding wtf they are taking about.
- Like reggaeton artists, these guys take their musical and stylistic cues from the big name American rappers.
- Despite how huge Dem Bow is in the Dominican and parts of Florida, it is not an international phenomenon yet. YouTube and MySpace hits are still pretty low, considering the potential following they could garner with American and Latin American support.
To that last point, one of the most prominent Dem Bow groups are Doble T y El Crok, a couple of peachfuzz teens who know how to write simple, catchy hooks. They were recently featured on Don Francisco Presenta on Univision, the Mexican TV channel. This was a significant achievement, as reggaeton garnered a lot of support in Mexico and South America after catching fire in Mexico City. The duo were there promoting their biggest single Pepe, a song they wrote about their uncle.
I can’t tell you why that song is so huge over there, or why it made it onto Mexican television. But it did. La Vaca is similar, but this time with a metaphorical theme is about “cows” and the “milk” they produce. Juvenile? Perhaps. But it’s fire on the dance floor.
These guys have HUGE hits nationally, but not enough money for music videos. Other Dem Bow artists have managed to make hits and have ridden that success to somewhat professional looking vids. One of my personal favorites is El Sapito by Villano Sam. This track now has over 1 million YouTube hits, seemingly out of nowhere. Is this an indication of Dem Bow gaining some eMomentum? Mayhap. In the chorus, he is saying he wants a little frog, not a toad, or something like that. It’s a naughty sort of reference, I’m told. Notice how in the vid the camera zooms in on the videos girls’ butts for an uncomfortable amount of time. Hilarious.
Yes, that guy in the video is doing the arm/shirt thing from elementary school. That’s what I love about Dem Bow videos. There is always a bootleg sort of amateurism that conveys how uncommon it is for Dominicans to be in the hip hop spotlight. Also notice how, no matter what, the artists and their entourages are just having fun and not giving a fuck. This love for life, this type of celebration is something that is purely Carribean and a refreshing break from all the mean-mugging and tough guy posturing synonymous with American hip hoppers. I mean check out Vakero’s video for LaLaLa. They are so excited to have a video for this song that they didn’t bother editing out an obvious nipple slip. Lucky for you pervs, YouTube has not caught it, either.
I’m told LaLaLa is a remix of an old lambada song. Either way, that song is ridiculously catchy, even if you don’t understand the lyrics. I get the sense that these Dem Bow artists are just really enjoying themselves and making party music. I suppose if you don’t understand Spanish, it might make you less interested in checking out Dem Bow. I dunno. I’ve always been interested in hip hop from around the world, and often times it is the spirit of the music that is more important than the meaning of the lyrics. That’s what intrigues me about the Dem Bow universe: the spirit of the Carribean.
Here are some more of the most popular Dem Bow songs in the Dominican public right now.
and the Americanized remix featuring Pitbull and Lil’ Jon
and here is a video of my boy Joaquin putting me onto Dem Bow the first time I heard it: in the street in front of a liquor store in the Dominican Republic.