From El Barrio to the World: The Socio-Economic Impacts of Reggaeton in Puerto Rico


By Natalia Ruiz Maeso

Puerto Rico’s economy has benefited greatly from the global success of reggaeton music, especially in the field of tourism, where it has improved revenue, increased cross-cultural exchange, and improved the island’s appeal as a popular travel destination. 

Puerto Rico’s economy and culture have been heavily influenced by reggaeton music in recent years. The genre’s impact extends far beyond the music scene, down to the roots of the island’s identity. The rise of reggaeton has sparked a radical cultural revolution among a diverse mixture of cultures, influencing not just the island’s musical landscape but also its social dynamics.

Reggaeton’s cultural roots

Music is one of the primary cultural assets of the entire Caribbean region. Puerto Rico’s international recognition as a center of Latin music dates back to the island’s Puerto Rican diaspora in New York City, which contributed to the creation and growth of salsa. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, Puerto Rico has also been the primary force behind the urban music movement known as reggaetón in the area

The colorful, less affluent districts of Puerto Rico gave rise to the reggaeton style that became popular there in the 1980s. This style of music combined the melodic qualities of Jamaican and Panamanian reggae with the lyrical flow of American rap to create a blend. 

The genre’s influence on tourism

Puerto Rico’s economy has benefited immensely from reggaeton music’s worldwide popularity, particularly in the tourism and travel industry. The genre has significantly increased the island’s tourism revenue by attracting tourists from all over the world. 

There has been a surge in airline travel and tourist arrivals to Puerto Rico as a result of the popularity of songs such as “Despacito.” Songs like this have increased curiosity and interest in the island. With artists such as Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam, Don Omar, Bad Bunny, and many more becoming global sensations, reggaeton has now expanded to a global level. 

Ever since the release of Despacito, a song that received over 4.6 billion streams, it has had a significant effect on Puerto Rico’s tourism sector, especially in the well-known La Perla district. La Perla’s popularity around the world changed the island’s landscape, drawing tourists from all over the country who wanted to see the iconic places from the music video up close. 

Tourists still came even though this neighborhood had the reputation of being the most dangerous neighborhood in San Juan, and they were told to visit only during the day. Despacito not only changed the image of La Perla, but it provoked worldwide attraction to the island. 

According to El Nuevo Dia, the Puerto Rican newspaper with the largest reach on the island, “the interest of foreign tourists in traveling to Puerto Rico has increased by 45% since the song began to be played on the world’s radio stations.” 

Additionally, as mentioned in a Billboard article published in 2017, when “Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, declared the country bankrupt in order to restructure a $70 billion debt…Reports reveal that the global smash “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee aroused the interest of foreign tourists to know the place where the superstars were born.This led to a significant boost in the island’s economy due to tourism

Cross-cultural connections

In addition to its financial advantages, reggaeton music has been essential in promoting cross-cultural connections in Puerto Rico, particularly in the field of ecotourism. Due to reggaeton’s popularity worldwide, people from many cultural backgrounds have traveled there and worked along with Puerto Rican artists, which has increased the flow of ideas, customs, and viewpoints. 

Ecotourism efforts have developed as a result of reggaeton’s influence on Puerto Rico’s cultural identity, aiming to bring attention to the island’s natural beauty and efforts to preserve it. 

Isaiah Edwin Green explains, “for Puerto Rico, “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee influences ecotourism to the island because it’s an example of highly circulated global sound, having garnered the most YouTube views in history.” As a result of this, Puerto Rican cross-cultural interactions have increased significantly due to reggaeton music. Reggaeton has encouraged collaboration, understanding, and appreciation for Puerto Rico’s rich traditions and natural landscapes through music festivals, ecotourism, and international partnerships. 

Puerto Rico has over 500 years of rich history and culture, influenced by a blend of native Indian, European, and African influences. The only walled city in the Caribbean, San Juan, displays sharp contrast with its old Spanish colonial past and contemporary architecture. 

Puerto Rico has a lot to offer outside of San Juan, such as tropical rainforests, caverns, and much more. The less populated outer islands of Puerto Rico, Culebra, Vieques, and Mona, provide long stretches of pristine beaches and untainted wildlife. However, none of these facts would’ve been seen by the rest of the world if it hadn’t been for reggaeton and the impact it had on people from all over the world. 

For instance, Puerto Rican trap and reggaeton musician Bad Bunny has recently established himself as a global icon for this genre of music. According to Green, “his songs, such as “Desde el Corazón,” bring a new way of viewing environment, identity, and environmentalism into the global spotlight of popular music.” 

As Melanie Pangol states, “American artists such as Drake, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Will Smith are collaborating with reggaeton artists such as J-Balvin, Bad Bunny, Ozuna, and others. Therefore, although most reggaeton artists come from Puerto Rico, reggaeton has established a visible presence in the Latino community in the United States, where it has become prominent in the pop culture mainstream, and as a result, reggaeton is attributed to Latino culture.”

In conclusion, Puerto Rico’s economy and tourism have been significantly impacted by the worldwide success of Reggaeton music. Reggaeton has greatly benefited the field of tourism, where it has improved revenue, increased cross-cultural exchange, and improved the island’s appeal as a popular travel destination. Overall, music has the ability to build narratives and contribute to the general growth and development of a community, as seen with reggaeton’s impact on the island’s economic and cultural image.

Cover image courtesy of EFE/Thais Llorca

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