What drives “Despacito” is an irresistible beat that most Puerto Ricans would call dembow, a rhythmic pattern deeply woven across Afro-Diasporic time and space…dembow has become a broadly applied term for any song underpinned by a steady four-on-the-floor kick drum and a 3+3+2 snare drum cross-rhythm…the basic rhythm has been around for a long, long time. It is one of the primary rhythms of the ring shout, the oldest African-American musical institution, and it is known as the basic “tresillo” cell in Cuba, a crucial component of clave rhythms. It threads its way through the music of the Americas, whether traditional or modern, sacred or secular, and it might best be understood as a foundational musical creolization for the Americas, an Africanization of European “common time” or 4/4: the “Afro duple,” if you will.

—Wayne Marshall

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About ‘Despacito’