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|Song by Shabba Ranks|
|from the album Just Reality|
|Songwriter(s)||Steely & Clevie|
"Dem Bow" is a song performed by Jamaican reggae artiste Shabba Ranks, produced by Bobby Digital who helped popularize and spread the reggaeton genre in the 1990s. This song used the "Kukunkun"/"Poco Man Jam" riddim (based on the title of the 1990 Gregory Peck song and Red Dragon) created by Jamaican producers Steely & Clevie in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Elements of the song’s riddim has been incorporated into over 80% of all reggaeton productions. Evidently, “Dem Bow” has shaped and informed transnational flows and shifts within the genre overtime. Reggaeton articulates a particular “audible thread” that weaves together various flows of music, people, and ideologies. In examining this musical evolution, aspects of race, class, and culture are inextricably linked to sociocultural elements surrounding the genre. In harnessing “Dem Bow” as a point of centrality, this song speaks to various patterns of migration, commercialization, branding, and reforming within the context of reggaeton.
The History of Dem Bow Remixes
After its release, "Dem Bow" was then transnationally remixed and covered, and it is in these slight sonic alterations that the pan-Latin cultural metamorphosis is revealed. In 1991, Nando Boom and El General released their covers of "Dem Bow", "Ellos Benia" and "Son Bow", which translated Shabba’s original lyrics from English to Spanish. Additionally, the word “bow” was transformed from a verb describing illicit sexuality to a noun used to label a gay person as a social pariah. Other Dem Bow remixes of the mid-'90s originated from Puerto Rico and New York in the form of long, 30-minute mixtapes that fused digital samples of hip-hop, dancehall and the riddim of reggaeton hits. These chopped up mixes of reggaeton and hip-hop created a new intercultural space of blackness within the urban diaspora of New York and San Juan. Additionally, while the introduction of accessible digital production tools widened the inter-diasporic sonic conversation across genres, it also provided a mechanism for the widespread commercialization of reggaeton into reggaeton pop. As seen in Wisin & Yandel’s 2003 version of Dem Bow, while there is a remnant of the original riddim, Ranks' political message of anti-colonialism and homophobia is completely erased and transformed into a song about sensuality and masculinity.
In considering these transnational exchanges, there were a variety of factors that fed into the shaping and popularization of reggaeton. The 1990’s to early 2000’s marked a key shift within the genre. There was an evident erasure of black diasporic roots. For example, in the mid 1990’s, the genre was often referred to as “musica negra” or just hip-hop/reggae, however, as the genre grew and popularized, it became more widely known as “reggaeton Latino.” This shift in branding during the early 2000’s was coined as “blanqueamiento” or whitening. Thus, the sanitization of reggaeton was marked by this intentional movement away from blackness.
There are various influences that produce this genre as they extend across Jamaican, Panamanian, Puerto Rican, and US culture. While there is existing controversy over which artists/groups can claim ownership over reggaeton, “Dem Bow” embodied the base culture that centered and informed the shaping of reggaeton. The history of this musical evolution starts with transnational exchanges between Jamaica and Panama. Many were influenced by Anglo-Caribbean migrant workers who resided in Panama in the late 1970’s, and in turn Panamanian artists were the first to perform reggae in Spanish. Often earlier covers of “Dem Bow” were lyrically very exact in meaning and translation. Evidently, there was a clear audible engagement with Jamaican riddims, narratives, and socio-political life. These translations and connections were further complicated by expressions of anti-colonial resistance and anti-gay sentiment in the genre. In turn, this speaks to persisting assertions and disidentifications of cultural narratives and histories surrounding black sexual and gender identities. In looking beyond Panama, Puerto Rico is often recognized as the place where reggaeton was “crystallized." Puerto Rican artists in New York specifically reformed the genre as a hybrid site of hip-hop and reggae––grounding the music in “reference” rather than “reverence” to “Dem Bow." This soundscape cultivated a musical fusion that recontextualized reggaeton in the space of the Bronx/ El Barrio.
All in all, the “mezcla” of reggaeton is produced by a fusion that is rooted in black diasporic musical exchange. As evidenced by the transnational flow and influence stemming from “Dem Bow,” reggaeton provides a unique soundscape that amalgamates a multitude of identities, histories, and cultures.
- "Shabba Ranks: Dem Bow". Allmusic. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- Wayne, Marshall (2008). Dem Bow: Translation and Transnation in Reggaeton (PDF).
- Marshall, Wayne (2008). "Dem Bow, Dembow, Dembo: Translation and Transnation in Reggaeton on JSTOR". Lied und Populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture. 53: 131–151. JSTOR 20685604.
- Ellis, Nadia (2011-07-01). "Out and Bad: Toward a Queer Performance Hermeneutic in Jamaican Dancehall". Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism. 15 (2 (35)): 7–23. doi:10.1215/07990537-1334212. ISSN 0799-0537.
- La Clave, retrieved 2018-12-13
- Marshall, Wayne. "Dem Bow, Dembow, Dembo: Translation and Transnation in Reggaeton" Lied und populäre Kultur/Song and Popular Culture 53 (2008): 131-51.