The Canadian hip-hop rapper Drake and the Puerto Rican reggaeton rapper Bad Bunny teamed up Oct. 6 for “Gently,” a song of the rising Dominican genre known as dembow.
Full of references to the Dominican Republic, the song reflects a trend among artists from different backgrounds to collaborate and join the dembow movement.
Characterized by their fast and repetitive rhythm, dembow songs started gaining popularity in Latin America in 2018 thanks to artists like El Alfa. Today, the genre is a staple sound of Latin American music, and its fusion with trap, reggaeton and bachata has made the genre one of the most popular sounds globally.
In 2016 Bad Bunny rose to global fame, making trap one of the most popular Latin genres alongside reggaeton. Simultaneously, he released “Dema Ga Ge Gi Go Gu” with Dominican dembow artist, El Alfa.
This unique track gained popularity in some Latin American regions, but it has received only 80 million streams on Spotify, a relatively small number for Bad Bunny, who has been Spotify’s most-streamed artist for the past three years.
This collaboration was one of the first songs that brought international attention to El Alfa, who, by 2018, helped the genre gain popularity in all Latin America and earned the title of “The King of Dembow.”
Brianna Ortiz, known as DJ Bri, is a Miami DJ who plays all types of genres at events. She’s tracked the rise of dembow music.
“I noticed the entry of dembow worldwide around 2018 with the song “Suave” by El Alfa,” Ortiz said. “I think he helped a lot to globalize the genre.”
El Alfa is not alone in popularizing dembow.
In 2021, the Dominican dembow rapper Tokischa released “Linda” with Spanish Flamenco pop singer, Rosalía. This collaboration gave Tokischa her first double-platinum song, as well as global recognition.
While songs by El Alfa remain the most-requested, Ortiz likes to include different dembow artists when she DJs events.
“El Alfa has good reception from audiences of all ages,” Ortiz said. “I like to include him, Angel Dior, Bulin 47 and Rochy RD.”
Although dembow fusion songs have higher chances of becoming globally popular, the classical Dominican dembow sound is also finding its place in the urban umbrella thanks to artists like Jey One.
His biggest hit, “Onana,” released this May, has a stronger presence of the origin of the genre, which got inspiration from Jamaican dancehall in 1990.
Dembow music continues rising.
Last year, Bad Bunny’s “Tití Me Preguntó” became the first dembow song to get a Latin Grammy award. The track, streamed 1.3 billion times on Spotify, won in the Best Urban category, defeating all the other reggaeton nominees.
“I dedicate this Grammy to the Dominican Republic,” Bad Bunny posted on Twitter after receiving the award.
Pola Paez is a 21-year-old student of Dominican descent who noticed the increasingly popular dembow nights at Latin clubs in Miami.
“I did not expect the Dominican dembow movement to expand the way it did,” Paez said. “As a Dominican in the U.S., it is motivating to witness how supportive everyone is towards the art of my country.”
Although releasing a dembow track is not unfamiliar to Bad Bunny, it is still a new genre for Drake.
Not speaking Spanish did not stop the Canadian artist to rap in Spanglish over a slow beat to then let Bad Bunny rap over a fast dembow track. This is not uncommon in dembow collaborations.
In Bad Bunny and El Alfa’s “La Romana,” the Puerto Rican singer maintained his trap style of rapping and then abruptly changed the rhythm to dembow when El Alfa joined him in the song. Rosalía maintained her Spanish Flamenco style in her collaboration with dembow singer Tokischa. And Anuel AA maintained his reggaeton style in his collaboration with dembow rapper Rochy RD.
Paez thinks the participation of international artists and the fusion of genres can help the dembow movement grow.
“Drake and Bad Bunny are talented artists supporting the movement and I am grateful they found the style intriguing,” Paez said. “Dominican dembow is for everyone, just like any other genre of music.”