Nino Augustine on Reclaiming a Space in Urbano for Panama
“We need to go back and give flowers to those early pioneers like Nando Boom, El General, and Renato," Augustine tells People CHICA. "There are many artists from Panama that were staples in this movement."
As today's reggaeton artists continue to dominate global charts, the whitewashing of the genre remains a concern for those mindful of urbano's black roots. Aware of his native Panama's role in the development of reggae en Español, rapero Nino Augustine is unafraid to combat the watered-down culture that's presently promoted. “I'm not scared to say that this genre — a genre that has its early beginning stages in Panama — has been whitewashed,” Augustine tells People CHICA. “More artists of color need the focus, not just once every 10 years. … Give us the platform we deserve and the respect we deserve.”
Augustine counts himself lucky to have grown up in San Miguelito, Panama, where music was infused with a wide variety of Caribbean influences. “I grew up listening to not just reggae en Español but also Jamaican reggae, and music from Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago. We are close to Colombia, so my grandfather loved vallenato.” These elements, along with Southern trap beats, are all found on his latest EP, Me Toca a Mi. The seven-track project incorporates rhythms and styles from Atlanta street culture, which attracted the rapper. “When I arrived [from Panama] to the tristate area, to New Jersey, G-Unit and 50 Cent were in control of the scene, but when I moved to Atlanta, Young Jeezy was controlling the streets. You would see cars with huge rims of all colors. This was during the trap boom. Gucci Mane was also out in the streets.”
As a performer, he recalls attempting to tone down his accent by performing only in English. “Most of my life I ran away from making music in Spanish,” he says. “I was making music in English, and we were getting a good response, but I didn't want for there to be a trace of my accent.” Considering there was a time he didn't embrace Latin music, Me Toca a Mi — which translates to “it's my turn” — embraces the sounds he once avoided. “I chose that title because I wanted to make a statement.”
The EP opens with the title track, with an intro where he says, “Nino es el más duro, eso es ley,” which translates to “Nino is the best, that's law,” a line he says expresses his willingness to want it all. “I know if they gave us the chance to simply compete we would hold our own. It was also important to me to incorporate the Atlanta elements. It's a turn-up song.” As music becomes more global, he wants to represent the dualities of his influences. “I know that my music will continue to evolve,” he says. “We are doing the best we can to change the scene in Atlanta … to work with as many artists and DJs as possible. That's a personal focus of mine — to take Atlanta's culture to the forefront.” The entire project was recorded in his apartment, and two songs were produced by his cousin César Luque. At one point, Augustine worried that the sandunga or perreo elements of reggaeton were missing, so Luque added those strong dembow elements in “Algarete” and “Otro Shot.” “It's super Caribeña,” Augustine says.
His next project will be titled ESL, as a reference to “English as a second language” courses taken by immigrant students in the United States, and will be recorded in Spanish. As he works on his own career, he also acknowledges that the Panamanians that started this movement are rarely recognized. “We need to go back and give flowers to those early pioneers like Nando Boom, El General and Renato,” he says. “There are many artists from Panama that were staples in this movement. I think they haven't received the respect that they deserve.” He'd like to make sure Puerto Rican artists receive that same love as well, especially Tego Calderón, who he counts as one of his biggest influences. “I love how Puerto Rico revolutionized [the genre] and took it to another level,” he says. “Let's honor Tego while he is still alive. Tego, I love you. Let's give flowers to those who earned it and planted seeds for the culture.”