Hip-swinging merengue is to the Dominican Republic what reggae is to Jamaica: a crucial aspect of national identity. (Following his 1930 election, dictator Rafael Trujillo even commanded that merengues be composed in his honor.) Merengue had evolved from rural folk music to a colorful national sound by the ‘70s, when Wilfrido Vargas accelerated its tempo and added influences from around the Caribbean along with rock and disco. A decade later, Juan Luis Guerra added poetic lyrics to merengue's contagious and soaring two-part structure. Popular artists from the '80s, including Sergio Vargas and Rubby Perez, emphasized merengue's romanticism and rhythmic restlessness. Elvis Crespo, from Puerto Rico, applied the brakes in 1998, when his hit album Suavemente (Smoothly) highlighted a new and more sophisticated merengue bursting with international appeal. Merengue continues to evolve into the new millennium thanks to tropical-pop merengue crossover quartet Rikarena, among others.