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In the mid-Seventies, Memphis DJ Rick Dees composed a novelty tune called "Disco Duck." That song turned out to be a massive hit and transformed Dees into a Top 40 radio celebrity. Thirty years on, the non-Spanish-speaking Dees is trying to capture the Hispanic youth demographic with his very own Top 40 reggaeton countdown show.
Unsurprisingly Miami resident and Latino TV and radio host Frankie Needles is not amused. "Rick Dees is the guy that wrote 'Disco Duck'; now he has a reggaeton show. But he's making a complete fool of himself, because the street knows what's real. At the end of the day, Dees is not hip-hop or reggaeton; he never once stopped by my old TV show to support the movement," hisses Needles via cell phone from the set of his new cable television program, One Nation Under Hip-Hop, which is filming a segment in New York City.
Long before marketing executives and ancient radio personalities learned how to enunciate the word reggaeton, DJ Frankie Needles was busy hustling as the host and resident DJ of The Roof, a Miami-based national TV show responsible for introducing Latin rap to a new generation of young bilingual Latinos.
During his three-year tenure at The Roof, Needles was instrumental in bridging the gap between the hip-hop and reggaeton communities, paving the way for today's musical collaborations between artists like R. Kelly and Wisin y Yandel.
"Back then I tried to use my connections as a DJ to bring awareness to the hip-hop community of what was happening with The Roof," explains Needles. "The good news is that now things have changed and I don't have to tell people anymore what reggaeton is all about; everyone knows who Daddy Yankee is at this moment."
The Roof was canceled this past season but rebounded instantly as One Nation and a soon-to-be nationally syndicated Latin-urban radio show. "Right now the scene is becoming stale with everyone playing the same three or four artists over and over," comments Needles. "I'm going to be versatile and mix reggae, hip-hop, and reggaeton. For the radio show I will have artists like Lil' John and Wyclef Jean cohost with me. It will be a beautiful combination; all the communities will be learning from each other."
Notwithstanding the opportunistic endeavors of Rick "Disco Duck" Dees, Needles remains optimistic about the future viability of the Latin-urban music scene. "Just like hip-hop, reggaeton is a movement that came from the streets," he asserts. "And if it's not real, the streets are not going to mess with you."