Dembow is a music genre which originated in the Dominican Republic during the early 1990s. It is influenced by Dancehall, "Reggae en español" (the Afro-Panamanian version of Reggae and dancehall) and Hip Hop. Vocals are usually rapped in a fast-paced manner in urban Dominican vernacular, el barrio lingo.
|Cultural origins||1990s, Dominican Republic|
The sound was pioneered by DJ Boyo, often referred to as "el padre del dembow criollo", who was inspired by dancehall artists such as El General and Cutty Ranks. He sped up dancehall songs from 105 to 115 BPM to suit most Dominicans' music taste, due to their familiarity with fast-paced Merengue, and called the style "Dembow" after El General's employment of the "Dem Bow" riddim. This much higher BPM (sometimes up to 140), as well as the layering of different riddims in the same song, differentiate dembow music both from its Puerto Rican cousin, Reggaeton, and traditional dancehall. DJ Boyo's music was panned at first, but it gained increasingly more traction thanks to DJ Playero's reggaeton mixes - which were mainly based on the dembow riddim as well - becoming popular in the Dominican Republic. "El padre" played a significant role in the subsequently growing dembow music scene through 1990s and 2000s, paving the way for many popular dembowseros (Spanish for "dembow MCs").
During the early 2010s DJ Scuff and Chimbala led a wave of innovation, and producers started combining different dancehall riddims (e.g. "dembow", "fever pitch", "drum song"), adding zany samples and incorporating influences from Funk carioca, merengue, reggaeton and US hip hop. Notably, El Alfa and his producer Chael started adding Trap elements to dembow, pioneering the sound often called "Trap Bow".
Whereas early dembow featured catchy and repetitive phrases about money, women, machismo and consumer goods, its lyrics have evolved to also include sharp punchlines and witty wordplay. Through the late 2000s and 2010s, with the rise of "Dembowseras" such as Milka La Más Dura, La Materialista and La Insuperable, female sexuality and empowerment started appearing as a lyrical theme
The main element of dembow music is its rhythm, which is somewhat reminiscent of reggaeton and dancehall music, but with a more constant rhythm and faster than reggaeton. Rhythm and melodies in dembow tend to be simple and repetitive.
Another aspect of the Dembow Riddim and music is its virulent masculinity and connection to the anti-colonial invective that colors much of the rhythmic soundscape of the Caribbean. Intertwined with these often hypermasculine tones and styles also comes potential homophobic lyrics and narratives in order to shame those who ascribe to those lifestyles.