|By Tiffany Rainey, Hispanic Magazine
No need to cringe when you can’t think of that exact word anymore. With radio’s hottest new stars, Pitbull and Daddy Yankee, perfecting their own brand of Spanglish on stations nationwide, being bilingual has become not only normal but necessary.
Quickly becoming one of radio’s most popular formats, Hispanic urban, or “hurban” for short, combines more traditional Hispanic tempos with the urban music that second- and third-generation Hispanics have quickly latched onto as their own. The personalities, like the artists that lead the format that includes everything from Latin-flavored hip-hop to reggaetón and beyond, speak Spanish with a generous sprinkling of English. Radio giants saw the opportunity to catch a growing market and jumped at it. Clear Channel has converted four stations since officially debuting the format in Dallas in 2004, and Entravisión, whose Super Estrella format has flirted with Spanglish pop for the last three years and now dedicates one station purely to the format.
“When you look at each market, there are huge pockets of Latinos that weren’t being served by other Spanish-language broadcasting that primarily targets first-generation Hispanics,” says Alfredo Alfonso, Clear Channel’s senior vice president of Hispanic radio. “We saw an opportunity to attract the 18 through 34-year-old market.”
And that they did. Recent Arbitron studies have shown that KLOL-FM, Clear Channel’s Dallas station, increased its audience share by 42 percent since its debut. Its sister station in Albuquerque has captured a whopping 126 percent increase in the 18 through 34-year-old demographic with its switch to the format. “It has a lot to do with the numbers growing. Everything in America is statistics,” says Cuban-American rapper Pitbull about the recent mainstream acceptance of a genre that he has been actively promoting for several years. “We buy products and therefore they’ve got to market towards us. What better way to market to a population than through their music?”
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that Hispanics will be the largest teen minority group by year’s end, and will account for 20 percent of teens by 2015. To station owners, that equates to lots of advertising revenue. Clear Channel’s Miami station, WMGE-FM, attracts everything from big-name advertisers like the U.S. Armed Forces to local clubs promoting their next party.
But the real question is: How will hurban’s blending of genres and language affect the assimilation of Hispanics? While there are those who complain that it detracts from the heritage of younger Hispanics already strongly influenced by their Anglo and African American peers, others say that the format may prolong the assimilation process. Still others say it merely reflects a change.
“A lot of [Hispanic] kids are raised learning English and we’re reflecting that cultural difference,” Alfonso says. “We try to create stations that allow young Hispanics to continue to live in their culture. Just because we are Hispanic doesn’t mean we only speak Spanish.”
Pitbull, as a first-generation Cuban who grew up amid Miami’s eclectic mix of southern bass and Hispanic-Caribbean imports, sees language bending as natural and beneficial to Hispanics.
“A lot of cultures don’t speak Spanish the way they should because they were in areas where… if they spoke Spanish, or English with an accent, a lot of opportunities were taken away from them,” says the rapper, whose album Money Is Still a Major Issue is due out this month. “Now it’s the total opposite. If you speak English and Spanish fluently, a lot of opportunities open up.”
He says hurban music, especially his own brand of Latino crunk, is turning the tables on assimilation with its widespread acceptance among other urban populations in the United States. “It’s come to the point where you have blacks [and] whites that want to learn Spanish,” he says, citing the recent collaborations with mainstream hip-hop artists like Lil’ Jon as an attraction for non-Hispanic listeners. “And that’s where you start batting stereotypes and crossing barriers.”