Ever wonder why Bobby Digital hasn’t sued the pants off Puerto Rico? If, as the story goes, the dembow rhythm that underpins the lion’s share of reggaeton tracks directly derives from Shabba Ranks's "Dem Bow," an early 1990s song produced by Digital using a riddim built by Steely and Clevie, he’d seem to have quite a case.
But what if the full story has yet to be told? It might help to explain why no cease and desist orders have silenced the sampled loop that lends reggaeton its trademark thump. Beyond questions of intellectual property, the untold history of dembow reveals why reggaeton is so widely embraced and deeply resonant. When we follow the path of the percussive pattern synonymous with reggaeton - for a while, Puerto Ricans referred to the genre itself as dembow - we trace a circuit connecting Kingston to Colón to New York to San Juan and eventually every other city in Latin America.