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Reggaeton's Leading Ladies Combat Exclusion With Unfiltered Sexual Expression

Women at the forefront of reggaeton's second wave are loudly embracing their bodies and their sexuality.

Women at the forefront of reggaeton's second wave are loudly embracing their bodies and their sexuality.

Karol G, Natti Natasha, and Becky G are the women at the forefront of the most recent wave of reggaeton, Latin trap, and urbano music. They’ve each carved a space in a genre that has long been hostile to female artists, dominated by men who’ve centered women’s bodies in every aspect of their artistry and refused to create alongside them. But for the first time in its history, there’s more than one woman with a seat at the table. These women are bold. Their lyrics are sexually explicit and their lusty expressions of desire uninhibited. They’re operating outside the cultural and religious norms dominating Latin America and the U.S.-Latinx diaspora. Their mainstream success seems to suggest that Latinx people as a whole are shifting towards something more inclusive and less harmful. They’re pushing back on the once-impermeable parameters of Latinx machismo and misogyny. Still, it’s crucially important to acknowledge that, at its core, the room for aberration that has been afforded them is the direct product of their privilege as conventionally attractive, non-black Latinas.

Though unexceptional in many ways, Latin American culture fiercely clings to orthodox conceptions of sex and women’s participation in it. Catholic values are tightly woven into Latin American society and are inextricably tied to moralistic ideas about chastity, virginity, and purity—ideas that serve to strip women of their right to bodily autonomy. In the end, women are reduced to either the saintly domestic type ideal for marriage and childbearing or the seductive sex object whose value is limited to just that.

In part, the hostility toward women that pervades the Latin American music industry is a direct reflection of these values. Artistic expression and political subservience do not readily harmonize. If other musical genres have been male-dominated, then reggaeton has been especially so. It’s a genre marked by the profane and the impolite, an intentional rejection of middle-class moral codes and puritanical attitudes. The grit, the nasty lyrics, the profanity, the sweaty perreo symbolize everything that “decent women” should eschew.

 

Reggaeton's Unspoken Heroine

The first wave of reggaeton emerged in the ‘90s and early 2000s and its ripples were felt throughout the world. Women provided the subject matter, the visuals, the sex factor, and the perreo, but, with the exception of Ivy Queen, were all but directly denied the opportunity to succeed as artists. Jenny La Sexy Voz’s contributions to the genre and relative anonymity are perfect examples of the ways reggaeton exploited women’s bodies and sexualities while barring them from benefitting materially from it. She’s the woman whose sultry vocals and sexy hooks shaped the bangers that catapulted the likes of Wisin y Yandel and Daddy Yankee to international stardom. She’s the “dame paleta” behind their hit “Paleta,” the “papi, dame lo que quiero“ on Wisin y Yandel’s “Rakata,” one of the only reggaeton songs up to that point to land on the Billboard Hot 100. Her vocal features, however, were never credited, her contributions went largely unrecognized, and more importantly, she never received royalties for them. Ivy Queen, the single woman to experience success comparable to that of the men who dominated the genre at the time, often talks about the struggles she faced as a woman who wasn’t willing to settle for anything less than standing alongside her male peers.

When asked about sexism in the Latinx music industry in a 2015 Vivala interview, Ivy Queen answered, “Honey, I have enough stories to write not one, but several books.” Her success, to this day, remains the most transgressive success story in the genre. She didn’t look like the women in reggaeton videos, and she certainly didn’t exude the kind of sex appeal that her male counterparts liked to capitalize on. But her talent was undeniable. One of her biggest hits, “Quiero Bailar,” was an ode to women who relished in their sexuality on the dance floor and felt no shame about it. It was also a nod to women who wanted to make clear to men the difference between a dirty perreo and an invitation to have sex. Even if not explicitly so, it was a feminist call for bodily autonomy and the need for consent and respected boundaries. Her mainstream success, however, remained an anomaly for many years, especially after the fervor that drove reggaeton’s success fizzled out.

 

Reggaeton's Pop Music Resurgence

Since the second mainstream wave of reggaeton, birthed by Daddy Yankee’s megahit “Despacito,” 2018 appears more open to the idea of women participating in the genre, not only as physical bodies and faceless hooks but as female artists creating alongside their male peers. Colombian artist and songwriter, Karol G, has been in the game for a few years now; her 2017 debut album Unstoppable reached the second slot on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart. Her video for “Ahora Me Llama” featuring Bad Bunny has over 600 million views on YouTube. She received two Latin Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist and Best Urban Song. The lyrics to one of Karol G’s 2018 singles, “Mi Cama,” playfully taunts a cheating ex-lover by letting him know that her bed’s been extra busy since she left him. She sings the hook “mi cama suena y suena” (“my bed screeches and screeches”) over the sound of creaky bed springs. During a concert, Karol G told the story of an interviewer who allegedly shamed her for what they deemed to be salacious lyrics, to which Karol G responded, “Lástima que la tuya no, y se nota.” (“It’s a shame that [your bed] doesn’t [screech]. And it’s obvious.”) Throughout the years, she’s remained vocal about her challenges with sexism in the Latin American music industry. “There are so many men and you can count the women on your fingers, and it’s not because we’re not here. There’s tons of talent.”

Mexican-American singer and actress Becky G has also made a name for herself in the reggaeton and Latin trap scene. She’s featured on Daddy Yankee’s “Dura” remix, which reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Latin Airplay. Her single “Mayores” featuring Bad Bunny also topped the same chart. The song features a lyric that includes sexual innuendo: “A mí me gustan más grandes/Que no me quepa en la boca/Los besos que quiera darme” (“I like them bigger/So that they don’t fit in my mouth/The kisses that he wants to give me”). When discussing the buzz around that particular lyric with Billboard, Becky G boldly reaffirmed her commitment to defining her values on her own terms. “Every time someone would bring up the lyrics, it’s like they were trying to make me scared, ‘That’s not what you meant.’ No, that’s exactly what I meant. I was very aware of the moment I recorded the line. Who are you to tell me what makes me feel sexy, what makes me feel empowered?”

 

Reshaping Reggaeton's Masculine Landscape

Becky G asked Natti Natasha, a Dominican singer, and songwriter, to hop on the song “Sin Pijama.” It’s one of the only recent songs in the urbano genre to top Latin charts and not feature a male artist. The video for the song, a satire playing up tired stereotypes about hypersexual Latinas, has almost a billion views on YouTube. In a Vevo interview, the two dive into conversations about gender inequality in Latin American households, public resistance to women who own their sexuality, and challenging gender roles in relationships. Natti Natasha has collaborated with the likes of Daddy Yankee, Ozuna, Bad Bunny, RKM & Ken-Y and Don Omar, to name a few. Her feature on Daddy Yankee’s “Dura” remix is every part as sexual and gritty as Daddy Yankee and Bad Bunny’s: “Papi, si tienes el size, vente, enseñame lo que hay” (“Daddy, if you have the size, come, show me what you got”).

These women are not adornments in music videos or uncredited features to be capitalized on then pushed aside. They’re openly embracing their sexuality, often times objectifying men and reducing them to their bodies, and they’re doing so in shameless, indelicate ways. Undoubtedly, things have changed for some women since the early 2000s. But to ignore the confinements within which such transgression is possible would be remiss.

The question becomes, who is allowed to be openly sexual as an expression of freedom and affirmation and who gets shamed and chastised for it? The overlap among the women who’ve graced the Latin charts in the last couple of years should be apparent to anyone who’s been watching. Karol G, Natti Natasha, and Becky G are all openly cisgender heterosexual women. They’re conventionally attractive, thin, and most importantly, light-skinned non-black women—the kind who men deem worthy of respect and reverence even as they defy convention.

In a Red Bull mini-documentary celebrating the legacy of Ivy Queen, Chikki, an Afro-Dominican photographer, artist, and reggaetonera, highlights the racist double standards for female sexual expression: “When I was in high school, if I listened to reggaeton, I was considered ‘ghetto’ but if a white girl listened to it, everyone was like, ‘Oh wow, how sensual, how different.’ It’s good that [reggaeton] is reaching globally, and that it’s touching people from all backgrounds. But at the same time, it’s neglecting the people that actually started it. The roots of reggaeton are black no matter how you paint them.” Black Latin women are the essence of reggaeton—they are its creators and tastemakers—but they have yet to be represented or acknowledged as such by the industry. Instead, they remain props in music video backgrounds, consumed and discarded by artists looking to add an “authenticity” factor to their image.

The confines of Latinx machismo and sexual repression may be fluid for some Latin women, but certainly not all.

READ MORE: Pure Energia: Colombia’s Reggaeton Ruler J Balvin Returns

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Ebro Darden caught the Internet's wrath after calling out Kodak Black for sexual assault during an interview.
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We're Looking At Y'all: Hip-Hop Won't Have A 'Me Too' Moment Because Of Apologists

Ebro Darden — the host of Hot 97 FM’s radio show Ebro In The Morning — caught the ire of the Internet Wednesday evening (Dec. 12) after a clip from an interview with 21-year-old rapper Kodak Black made the rounds. The longtime radio personality merely admonished and acknowledged the rapper’s recent sexual assault cases, including one that he is currently awaiting trial for. While Ebro noted he wouldn’t be able to go into details since the case is ongoing, he did take a moment to acknowledge that sexual assault is serious, and the discussion will not be ignored in the future.

“Respect to everybody involved in that case, we can’t get into details today… We take sexual assault here serious,” “El Viejo Ebro” exclaimed. “We can’t get into details, but we hope to have you back so that we can have a deeper conversation about that. It’s a serious topic, we’re hearing these stories a lot.” No more than two minutes later, the interview was over, as a visibly uncomfortable Kodak, legal name Bill K. Kapri, stated that the media is “entertained” by “bullsh*t” before leaving.

For some asinine reason, Ebro — a man whose job it is to interview musicians about life and their craft — was the one getting the heat for bringing up the allegations. The uproar was not given to the alleged sexual offender, but to the host acknowledging the wrongdoing by the alleged sexual offender.

Label booked him. I didn’t force anything. I was attenpting to make sure a huge issue was not ignored. https://t.co/vnl0JqeLfi

— El Viejo Ebro (@oldmanebro) December 13, 2018

Earlier this year, Buzzfeed posed the question: “Will Time Ever Be Up For Abusive Men In Hip-Hop?” Due to the fans, some media personalities and the higher powers continuing to insulate these artists and avoiding discussion of the elephants in the room, it won’t — at least for the time being.

Fans of the Florida MC ignorantly tweeted that Ebro is likely working “with the Feds” for bringing up the sexual assault allegation, which proves that time will not be up anytime soon for men who allegedly abuse women in the game.

Due to many fans’ beliefs that hosts and journalists should “stick to asking artists about music” — and not the controversial lives often documented and discussed more than the careers that provide them bread and butter on the table — time will not be up. A similar “demand” came up earlier this year, when Laura Ingraham said LeBron James should just “shut up and dribble” instead of using his platform to discuss politics.

Then, there are media personalities like Peter Rosenberg, who during the Kodak interview aimed to deflect from the situation at hand by asking about the moon landing of 1969, in order to make Kodak feel a bit more comfortable (although his status in the hip-hop game despite his documented wrongdoing certainly makes some uncomfortable as well).

We also can’t ignore the woman on the panel, Laura Stylez, who chose to stay silent instead of using her platform and her voice to stand up for the women allegedly affected by Kodak’s behavior, or women in general. As a woman, her silence rubbed me the wrong way entirely.

These two, however, are not the only problematic personalities. DJ Akademiks, YouTuber turned host of Complex’s Everyday Struggle, often discusses his relationship with embattled musician Tekashi 6ix9ine.

“I’m a little sad… but these are the decisions that got here,” Ak, real name Livingston Allen, said in a recent episode of the YouTube series regarding Tekashi’s recent high-profile racketeering arrest and possibility of life in jail. However, he continued to acknowledge that the young man is his n***a, and has not appeared to call out Tekashi for the allegations against him in terms of sexual misconduct.

It doesn’t appear he’s discussed his homie’s sexual misconduct charges head-on since 2014. Even in this particular interview, it appears that the 27-year-old was being more of an apologist for his friend, stating that “[he] could tell [Tekashi] was young, and obviously not thinking straight.”

Is this insulation of musicians who lead perilous lives a way to hold on to the clout these personalities have obtained? Or, is it realizing that if they stop defending these artists as a way to defend those who are hurt, they’ll lose a legion of equally as troublesome fans and followers in the process? Why not attempt to discuss the difficult topic at hand with as much discretion as possible, instead of getting a biased view of the story for clicks?

I know that as a woman in hip-hop, hip-hop doesn’t always love me back, but if this isn’t a slap in the face? To have this conversation occur in the same week that Cyntoia Brown was told she had to serve 51 years in prison for defending herself against a potential rapist, it’s infuriating to have to write about the blatant disregard and disrespect for the well-being of women in society in a field that I hold dear to my heart.

Due to the “separating artists from art” thought-process, especially in such a male-dominated industry and genre, it’s unsurprising that this is the response Ebro received for calling out wrongdoing.

This is the same thought process that allows R. Kelly to continue to tour despite well-documented instances of sexual misconduct for 25 years.

This is the same thought-process that causes music fans to lash out at Vic Mensa for “vehemently rejecting the trend in hip-hop of championing abusers”; although many would argue that he wasn’t the proper messenger to convey such a statement, the intentionality in the statement was appreciated by many.

On a grander scale, this is the same apologist thought-process that placed Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and Donald Trump in the White House… and look at how well that’s going.

If we continue this trend of protecting the men in the game and not putting the well-being of the minority consumers of the genre into consideration (such as women and members of the LGBTQ community), hip-hop could be headed to a very murky place. While I don’t always agree with Ebro Darden, I applaud his effort in attempting to start a conversation that can’t continue to be ignored any longer, especially as a man with a platform in the hip-hop media space.

As hip-hop fans, we should aim to hold these artists accountable for their lyrics, comments and behavior. We can’t argue that they’re not hurting anyone through these things just because you don’t feel threatened, because best believe, someone does.

Whatever side of the fence you’re on, Ebro, Vic and other men attempting to hold these artists accountable is a small step on a long journey. While it’s clear that consumers are more interested in the music these people put out than the lives they lead, it would behoove all of us to take a long look at the state of the game beyond the bars and beats.

READ MORE: Ebro Calls Out Kodak Black For Sexual Assault During Interview

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Will.I.Am Is Wrong About The State Of Hip-Hop

“It’s become the lowest-hanging fruit.”

That was Will.i.am’s assessment of hip-hop in an interview with Rolling Stone over the weekend (Dec. 1), and another troubling quote in the ongoing fallacy that rap is somehow a lower form of art. It’s the same trope many rappers – especially those who tend to steer towards white audiences – lean on when they want to “evolve” or “grow” as artists. Kanye West would rather design water bottles than dabble in the slums that are rapping. Tyler, The Creator wants to score movies because rap isn’t good enough. Miley Cyrus is going back to country because “Come sit on my d**k, suck on my c**k” and “Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my c**k” music is just too vulgar for her.

Even if part of Will’s point, that the bar for entry into hip-hop is low, is true, the situation is more nuanced than that. The bar for entry has historically been low, which is how you end up with “Ice Ice Baby” running the world in the same year Ice Cube told us about AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, or 69 Boyz’ “Tootsee Roll” doing the same while Nas gave us Illmatic and Biggie gave us Ready to Die.

If anything, the bar isn’t any lower, the net is just wider. Hip-hop has expanded so far beyond its Bronx house party origins that calling it worldwide feels like an understatement. If aliens are picking up Earth’s frequencies somewhere, there’s a good chance they’re hearing some hip-hop whenever they do. It’s that big.

In the ancient rap world Will speaks of, the one where he was part of a Los Angeles backpacker group that existed far, far away from the mainstream, rap was not a privilege, it was a necessity. Most of the black men and women who lunged towards rap did so as an escape and last resort. They did so from impoverished conditions, with few options and even less hope. Rap was a way out and, for some, the only way. It was truly life or death as their choices were either make it big by telling your story or return to your desolate conditions to live out the rest of that story. So they persevered.

This, of course, led to the golden era of rap, but plenty of sameness as well. Many of the stories were the same, even if the lexicons between regions were different. As rap continued to evolve, so too did the stories, and the perspectives that were introduced into the zeitgeist.

Eventually, we grew to a place where rap became a privilege and not a necessity. Now, after generations of rappers setting trends and generally being the coolest people in the room at all times, kids were aspiring to be rappers, not just resorting to that profession when they were out of options. Now, kids could study their favorites their whole lives and work towards being that. Suddenly, and perhaps unintentionally and with a ton of misinformation, rap was a desirable profession. Jay-Z rapped because he had to. It was that, or sell drugs and play that story out. J. Cole raps because he heard Jay-Z and wanted to follow in those footsteps. That’s growth of a genre of music and of a culture as a whole. That’s admirable, not scornful.

With that new influx of hopefuls came a whole new set of perspectives as well. If rappers in the ‘90s had to be the coolest and hardest mothaf**kers in the room, rappers in the 2000s changed that just a tad. Before then, rap only had Will’s perspective, the cool cousin who got all the girls and wore all the best clothes. When folks like Kanye started striking platinum, rappers could be Carlton as well.

In this era, the perspectives widened even more as the talent pool got exponentially bigger. As always, music and technology walk hand-in-hand as well. At the same time all those aspiring rappers began to come of age, technology advanced to a place that made it easier for them to try their hands at achieving their dreams. Computers made music easier to make, functionally not artistically, and the internet made it easier to spread it around. Before, if a young Chris Wallace wanted to make it rapping, he had to find a state of the art studio, pay large sums of money to record several songs, and then do the footwork towards getting attention from record labels himself. Now, Malcolm McCormick, a son of an architect and a photographer, only needed a computer, a microphone and an internet connection to rise to worldwide rapping fame.

In the world we live in now, we don’t get just Deebo’s story in rap–we get Craig’s, Smokey’s, Joi’s and Big Worm’s, too. Hell, we get Hector’s and the Pastor’s, too. And if we fall deep enough into a SoundCloud wormhole I bet we get Mr. Parker’s story, too. For all the complaints about Lil Yachty and the like, we still have Kendrick Lamar and his gravity. If you hate Lil Baby, you can find J.I.D. on the same playlist on your streaming service of choice. All of them exist, and none spite the other.

And this is all a good thing. Where hip-hop was once a specialty store, a Foot Locker of sorts where you could buy new sneakers and maybe even some socks and a shirt, now it’s a whole mall. You can get anything you need in hip-hop, as long as you’re willing to go find it. Foot Locker is still there, but you can go to Macy’s or PacSun, too.

With all of that comes plenty of music we don’t understand or value, but that doesn’t mean that music isn’t good or important. Mainstream has always gravitated towards a more accessible, or dumbed down sound when it comes to hip-hop. Some of the greatest rappers of all-time have capitalized on this trend and made careers out of that. That is why it’s called the music business. But that doesn’t mean the artistry isn’t there still. The current generation’s mastery of melody and cadence is just as impressive as the complexity and poignant lyricism of eras past. It’s just impressive in different ways. Jordan won one way, LeBron won one way, and now Steph Curry and his buddies are winning in another. But the game is still putting the ball in the hoop and preventing the other team from doing the same. The game is still telling our stories with an immaculate collection of sounds and organizing them into a song.

All of hip-hop comes from the same rebellious spirit that was encapsulated at those Bronx block parties in the ‘70s. All of it. Everything is about that youthful energy, and counter-culture. In taking the traditional, and changing it enough to invent something our own. Sure, we might not all enjoy the Lil Pumps and Tekashi 6ix9ines of the world, but somebody younger than us does, for sure. And sees it in the same light as we saw our heroes. Trend-setting, rebellious deities, speaking for us and telling our stories. They all come from the same place, even if they don’t sound the same. The bar is not lower, the net is wider, and the window into understanding the youth may be a little more opaque than it used to be. But that’s what age does to the eyes and the ears.

The constant degradation of hip-hop, its culture, its values and most importantly its sounds, is beyond problematic. The people who belittle the genre in an effort to hold it down, are the same ones who dabble in it every time they need a boost in popularity or the coolness factor. Hip-hop is the culture where they find their looks, their sounds, and everything else. We can’t let them work to depreciate the value of the culture they so often steal from.

It’s a classic case of gentrification, but this is a soil so pure it can’t be salted. This is a neighborhood so culturally rich, its natives can’t be run out of town even in the harshest of conditions, because we know once they buy up all this land they’re going to try to price us out. Don’t let them tell us hip-hop is the low hanging fruit when we know it’s the whole damn tree. If they can’t reach the sweetest of fruit at the top of the tree, that’s their fault. Not ours.

READ MORE: Stop Playing Into Female Rappers' Catty Feuds And Demand The Bars

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Bow Wow Threatens Revenge Porn And We All Should Be Disgusted

Shad Moss, still known as Bow Wow, took an ex-lovers quarrel too far when he threatened to leak a sex tape between himself and former fiancée, Erica Mena.

Fueled by a seemingly innocent comment from Mena, Moss fired back undermining the media personality, insinuating she was promiscuous and had accumulated more than 500 sexual partners in her lifetime. Brushing the comments off, the mother-of-one shot back saying, "You mean the 500 bodies you stayed eating between my legs standing up little man."

Clearly emasculated by the clap back, the "Let Me Hold You" rapper went on Twitter begging fans to warn Mena before he used revenge porn to expose her.

 

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#BowWow still has words for #EricaMena 👀

A post shared by The Shade Room (@theshaderoom) on Nov 17, 2018 at 9:44pm PST

Revenge porn or "non-consensual pornography" is defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent. This includes both images originally obtained without consent (e.g. by using hidden cameras, hacking phones, or recording sexual assaults) as well as images consensually obtained within the context of an intimate relationship," according to Cyber Civil Rights.

The two began dating in 2014 while co-hosting the now-defunct BET video countdown series 106 & Park. Before the year came to an end, the two were engaged and even posed for engagement photos with People magazine in February 2015.  The couple called it quits nearly nine months later, leaving speculation as to what caused their so-called fairly tale relationship to end.

Speaking with Global Grind after the breakup, Mena hinted towards the rapper's behavior in the relationship. “I could have gone public about our breakup a month ago,” she said after the rapper began teasing images of him with the mother of his daughter Jovie Chavis.

“He does this to make headlines. Just leave me alone, I moved on; why are you still in your feelings? He’s literally posting about Joie to get on my nerves and it’s not working. He’s posting it to fuck with her head and to try to get a reaction out of me. Listen, I walked away silently. He’s an abuser.”

Mena revealed Sunday (Nov. 18) that the rapper was reportedly suicidal which led to the end of their relationship. “I left him after he tried to kill himself with my son in the house,” she said while sharing messages from one of the rapper's associates. “He’s been trying to link with me ever since.”

From an ethical standpoint holding on to explicit videos and joking about exposing them to cause emotional or physiological distress to a person is morally disgusting. But more than anything, it violates Georgia and Calif. Revenge Porn laws.

It also qualifies as a felony that could result in one to five years in prison and a possible $100,000 fine.

Degrading a woman for her sexual choices is one thing, but as the father of a 7-year-old girl, Moss' primary concern outside of being the host of Growing Up Hip-Hop should be showing his child how a man properly treats women. Releasing a sex tape with somebody who almost became her step-mother is nothing short of ridiculous.

Mena then responded noting that she had been in contact with Lisa Bloom, a popular civil rights attorney known for working with women who have been victims of sexual harassment.

 

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#EricaMena seems unbothered by this alleged tapey tape!

A post shared by The Shade Room (@theshaderoom) on Nov 18, 2018 at 6:02am PST

What's most ironic is that last month (Oct. 2) Bow Wow released an emotional video to bring awareness to domestic violence, but is attempting to inflict sexual violence by threatening to release sexual images without the video participants consent.

It's a low blow which speaks to the rapper's mental health. It also showcases the casual toxic behavior that happens in the industry. The millions watching it all unfold on social media will more than likely follow suit.

READ MORE: Bow Wow Tackles Domestic Violence In New Video ‘Broken Heart’ 

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