July 24, 2010 / 3:06 AM / in 9 years

Ivy Queen's reggaeton rhymes depict "How Life Is"

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Fifteen years into her career, reggaeton pioneer Ivy Queen — known for her aggressive, ghetto-fabulous style and no-nonsense lyrics delivered in a rich alto — remains the sole female claiming major status in the male-dominated Latin urban world. She has earned that rank by championing the grievances of the genre’s female fan base: Think Mary J. Blige serving up a generous helping of dance-ready beats.

“I have a lot of fans with a lot of problems, and when they see me, they tell me (my music) gives them hope,” says the Puerto Rican artist (born Martha Ivelisse Pesante). “I’ve spoken to fans who have been abused by their exes; I’ve had male fans who can’t find jobs because of the way they look, with tattoos and piercings. I always get a lot of feedback from men; that they love the way I rhyme.”

On her latest single, “La Vida Es Asi” (That’s How Life Is), Ivy Queen declares to a rival, “The guy you’re dating is mine, and you know it, but here’s the detail: He’s worthless in bed. That’s why I’m here to congratulate you for setting me free, I have to confess.”

But while Ivy Queen’s empowering messages haven’t changed much, other things have. With first-week sales of 3,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan, her latest album, “Drama Queen,” debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart on a new label and in a vastly different business climate.

Her last studio album, 2007’s “Sentimiento,” was distributed by Univision Records and has sold 154,000, according to SoundScan. A subsequent live album was distributed by Machete Music and spawned the 2008 hit “Dime.”

Universal’s Machete, whose roster includes nearly every top Latin urban artist, this year signed Ivy Queen to a “360 agreement,” or multiple-rights deal, in which the artist shares not just revenue from album sales but concert, merchandise and other earnings with the label in exchange for more comprehensive career support. She’s set to co-headline this fall’s Machete Music Tour 2010, a co-production with AEG Live celebrating the label’s fifth anniversary.

The textures on “Drama Queen” vary from tropical bachata (a guitar-based variation on romantic Cuban bolero that originated in the Dominican Republic) to R&B, rap and reggaeton. “La Vida Es Asi” was recorded in urban and bachata versions, with both promoted to radio stations — now the standard method of scoring a hit on Latin radio. “La Vida” has charted on tropical, Latin pop and rhythm stations, driving it to No. 21 on the latest edition of Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart.

Ivy Queen says one of her goals is to record with such English-language R&B/hip-hop artists as Missy Elliott, Timbaland and Ne-Yo. In the meantime, she’s getting her camera gear ready to film behind-the-scenes drama on the Machete tour. “I know a lot of things are going to happen,” Ivy Queen says. “My shoes are going to disappear, and I’m going to have a tantrum.”

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