You’ll hear it all around Puerto Rico… but do you know what it means?
From your car ride to stores and even bars, someone will be blasting it on the radio — that undeniably catchy beat of the bass that makes you think of Puerto Rico. On the Island, you’ll hear it everywhere you go; you’ll feel the dembow. But do you even know what that means?
You’ve probably heard it in Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina,” Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito,” and even Bad Bunny’s and Cardi B’s “I like it like that,” but you probably don’t know that that specific drum and bass beat has a name. It is called dembow, and it serves as the base of every reggaetón song.
Reggaetón is the child of Jamaican reggae and hip-hop. Making its way on the Island since the late 1990s, it started as an outlet for local artists and evolved into a worldwide movement with the fusion of other genres such as salsa and bachata. Now, reggaetón is the iconic sound of urban Puerto Rico with international recognition, and it even has its own lingo associated with it.
We break down the most common terminology that started as reggaetón slang has evolved into everyday Puerto Rican lingo:
Dembow: One of the most important words to understand. It can refer to the basic rhythm or beat of a reggaetón song, but when someone says métele dembow, they can either tell you to “drop the beat” or put “swag” into it.
Perrear or perreo: The name of the dance associated with reggaetón is called perreo, and it is perceived as a game of seduction. Whether it is a slow or fast song, the dance consists of two people grinding to the beat.
Hasta abajo: Ever heard of the phrase “drop it like it’s hot”? Well, darle hasta abajo is a common expression to encourage the dancer to drop it low. It is usually chanted in a group or corillo in a repeated way.
Corillo: Common slang for a group of friends. Andar en corillo or is to be hanging out with your “squad” or “crew.”
Chambea: You’ll hear this word across Latin America, and it might reference “to go to work,” but in Puerto Rico, chambear indicates “locking and loading” for a lyric battle or tiraera.
Tiraera: In reaggatón, artists often use their songs to engage in lyric battles known as tiraera.
A fuego: A standard translation for “that’s lit,” someone will say a fuego to describe something as super cool.
Al garete: Loco, estás al garete is something you might hear around a lot. It means “you’re out of control” or references something or someone who’s gone wayward.
Gato or Gata: Although it literally means “cat,” in reggaetón slang is used to talk about one’s girlfriend or boyfriend.
Pichear or Pichaera: When you hear a Puerto Rican yell out oye, no me pichees, they are saying, “hey, don’t ignore me.”
Fantasmeo: You might hear it around as Él está fantasmeando, which translates to “He’s being shady” or Túmbame el fantasmeo, which would be someone calling out someone else for being shady.
Dura or Duro: It translates to “hard,” and you probably heard the word in Daddy Yankee’s song “Dura,” but what Yankee is really saying is “girl, you’re hot.”