Monday, March 28, 2011

Latin Freestyle

I cannot believe how long it took me to get around to this one. I guess the timing is a little weird now (in light of a recent bit of Twitter drama wherein some clueless kids apparently hated on Diplo because "only Latinos and gay people are allowed to play Freestyle"). Kids these days...

Anyway, Freestyle was a genre of dance music that evolved out of the Latino communities in New York and Miami in the 1980s. But first, some backstory:
Part of the reason why disco did so well in New York was that it appealed to African-Americans, Italian-Americans, and Latinos. This meant that during the heyday of disco, a radio station could lock down all three of these huge demographics—something that you'd be hard-pressed to do today. After the "death" of disco, stations had to pick which of these audiences they wanted to retain. A lot of New York stations kept the Italians by switching to rock, and the rest hung on to the African-Americans by gradually shifting to hip-hop / R&B / "urban" music. This left New York's sizable Latino community without many options for radio stations, or for pop music that spoke to them.
Freestyle really emerged as a response to this conundrum--championed by Latino DJs like Jellybean Benitez and Tony Torres, Freestyle first popped up around 1983 as a mixture of pop melodies and hip-hop-electro production (think Afrika Bambaataa meets Celine Dion). 

The music found a second home in Miami, and these two cities produced the overwhelming majority of Freestyle records from the birth of the genre until it fizzled out in the mid-1990s. The New York stuff tends to be a little darker—male and female singers singing about heartbreak with a lot of minor chords in the background—whereas the Miami stuff is a little more on the cheerful side, and features mostly female vocalists singing about falling in love and what not.
Freestyle eventually went way beyond its Latino audience, and became one of the dominant sounds of Top 40 radio in the 1980s. I've focused more on the huge radio mega-hits in this mix (because they're more fun), but I've tried to balance it out with a chunk of underground club tunes as well. Hope you enjoy it!