The Rise Of Dominican Dembow
In the early 2000s, just as reggaetoneros pushed for mainstream recognition, a movement in the Dominican Republic using fast-paced “fever pitch” Jamaican riddims was slowly gaining popularity. Dominican dembow has evolved since then, incorporating Brazilian funk and hip-hop’s synthesized sounds.
Dembow’s organic rise towards international airwaves is significant—considering the obstacles set up against the movement. From the lack of resources to the little support received from urbano outlets and rap pioneers.
Inspired by the rise of reggae en español and the riddims popularized by Jamaican artists like Shabba Ranks, the young generation in the ‘90s growing up in the poorest neighborhoods of Santo Domingo became tastemakers using whatever they had to make music, learning programs like Fruity Loops with no guidance and finding alternatives to creating specific sounds.
“We come from an era that recorded with cassettes, we would put the instrumentals in another radio while rapping because there was no money or resources—nor did they sell it in our country,” says producer/composer KNS, who currently works educating dembowseros in Spain on the industry and publishing. Established rappers avoided being associated with dembowseros and their producers throughout the early ‘90s and ‘00s— also known as the “messy era” of dembow. The velocity of the BPM range, which today rarely falls lower than 110 BPM, was not yet perfected. Among the marginalized was DJ Boyo, who created what is considered the first Dominican dembow, “Mujeres Andadoras,” in 1991.
When the Internet became popular and accessible, urban websites offered no support. This led to the creation of platforms like one created by DJ Topo, La Hora de DJ Topo, a TV show that started in 2005 which subsequently launched the careers of artists such as Secreto el Famoso Biberon, Mr. Menyao, El Mayor and most recently Rochy RD. In 2006, the dis track “Ando Loco” by Los Ando Locos, catapulted dembow into the frenzy it would soon become. For two straight years, with reggaeton dominating the club scene, the song was a hit nationwide in DR.
Shortly after, producers Bubloy and DJ Plano began to add new colors to the recycled fever pitch and bam bam riddims. Bubloy became known for adding voices and sharp elements in his beats—a style still incorporated today.
“Dembow was only known for loops,” Bubloy says, “As what happened with reggaeton, we began to add our own taste and styles.”
The self-taught producer created hits like the remix to El Alfa’s “Coche Bomba,” and “Gustoso.”
The 2010s brought in a new era for dembow. DJ Topo highlights the moment dembowseros begin to travel—like Doble Ty El Crok’s “Pepe” transcending Dominican media to becoming the first dembowseros to perform on the iconic variety show Sabado Gigante—as the moment urbano begins to take dembow more seriously.
“I remember people counted our days,” shared DJ Plano, producer to classics like Pablo Piddy’s “Golo Golo” and Monkey Black’s culture-defining anthem “De lo Mio.” “[Rappers] would tell us they gave us a month, then we were given a year,” DJ Plano added.
Rapper Pablo Piddy understood early on what rappers like El Lapiz Conciente would later realize, “There was an [unnecessary] division among [rap and dembow]. We had to unite to make it grow,” Pablo Piddy admitted. He transitioned to dembow in 2011 with “Si Tu Quiere Dembow.”
Among the shakers contributing to the genre was DJ Scuff. His mixes, separated in volumes that circulated the club-sphere, played a huge role in the distribution of dembow in those years. “There were records that weren’t being played. So what I did was cut the most famous part of a song over a beat,” says DJ Scuff, “That way they would play at clubs, cars, and colmados (bodegas).”
The rise of Latin trap eventually influenced dembow. Though producers were using 808s before this era, Nico Clinico, Chael Produciendo, and Light GM contributed to dembow with their styles. El Alfa’s “Tarzan,” commenced a new era in 2014 that expressed new snares, trap keys and flute sounds.
“When [producer] Light GM introduced me to his library and I saw all the 808s I told him, ‘Loco you have no idea what you just did,’” says producer Nico Clinico. He and Light both spawned from the rap scene and worked alongside on El Alfa’s “El Mañanero.” Coining the term “trap bow,” Chael later created his fusion of trap and dembow. The categorization was further pushed after El Alfa’s “Dema Ga Ge Gi Go Gu,” featuring Bad Bunny.
The success of trap bow made space for the rising generation that wanted both the danceable beats found in the sub-genre with underground rap. The current dembow scene has stronger rap and hip-hop influences than those in past eras. Producer of rising stars Rochy RD, Kiko El Crazy, and Los Pikilao, Leo RD, created his library specifically dedicated to the current “underground wave.”
“I’m one of the producers adding Brazilian styles with hip-hop libraries. My style is more hood and gritty,” he says.
“Dembow has grown so much that it has different ramifications,” says producer Draco Deville. “There’s a sound that’s more underground, another that’s more melodic.” Alongside Big Chriss they’ve produced mainstream dembow successes including Bulova and Yomel el Meloso’s “Pomposo”—the remix brought in El Alfa, Zion, Shadow Blow, and Jowell, garnering over 38 million views (and counting) on YouTube. Bulova is known as the artist that added the “saoco’’ or sauce to the genre.
“Dembow was born in Villa Maria and Guachupita with DJ Boyo . . . producers make sure to tell me to add the Villano sauce, because it’s in my roots,” says Bulova.
Greg Vinas, director of artist and label development at Symphonic Distribution works closely with dembowseros and producers on understanding publishing and navigating the industry. “The year of dembow is 2020,” he says. “It has the potential to blow up globally—and it already has with ‘La Romana.’”
The Bad Bunny and El Alfa collab was a pivotal moment for the subgenre. It highlighted El Alfa’s sound—he was the only Latinx artist of the three features on Bunny’s debut album, X100PRE. “As artists, we are grateful because [Alfa’s] opening the door for us,” says Yomel el Meloso, one of dembow’s rising stars who already counts an Alfa-featured track, “Ruleta” to his resume.
Recently, dembow received its official global introduction with Major Lazer’s “Que Calor” with El Alfa and J Balvin. As El Alfa continues to gain allyship within la música urbana, the movement is becoming more recognizable and palatable for the mainstream. The pride felt is best expressed by KNS: “We built the industry on our own independently. We built our own media, our own studios. Today, even Ibiza, known for EDM, includes dembow in their festivals.”
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