Daddy Yankee: A League of His Own

By now, even your grandmother can fluently sing along to “Gasolina”. When a fateful injury left Raymond Ayala unable to play professional baseball, he never dreamt he would later dominate urban Latin music. After falling in love with Hip-Hop on his native island of Puerto Rico, Daddy Yankee emerged to become a frontrunner in the […]

By now, even your grandmother can fluently sing along to “Gasolina”. When a fateful injury left Raymond Ayala unable to play professional baseball, he never dreamt he would later dominate urban Latin music. After falling in love with Hip-Hop on his native island of Puerto Rico, Daddy Yankee emerged to become a frontrunner in the Latin/Hip-Hop/Reggae hybrid known as Reggaetón. His bi-lingual wordplay, mixed with both party and political content, transcends any genre specific styles.

Daddy Yankee solidified a strong fan base which spanned the globe before reaching the ears of the U.S. audience. Album after album, Yankee has provided club bangers such as “Gasolina”, “Que Pasó, Pasó” and “Rompé”. A decade and a half in the game, with his own label El Cartel Records, Platinum plaques, and sold-out arenas under his belt, Mr. Yankee is geared for the next phase in his career. His latest release Barrio Fino – En Directo, a CD/DVD production, has already reached #1. Alternatives caught up with Daddy Yankee in between guest appearances and TRL runs. His passion towards music, business, and his homeland radiates in every word – and throw the occasional naked fan in for good measure. Alternatives: How would you respond to the statement that Reggaetón is an overnight success?

Daddy Yankee: Well only right now it’s getting so recognized because right now we have a lot of components in our music. It’s like all of the genres combined into one. That’s why the music has become so powerful in the streets and in the world.

AHHA: You came from overseas Platinum status with hundreds of thousands of fans. Then you came to the States and had a whole new audience who received you quickly. How did you adjust to the transition?

Daddy Yankee: That was a good challenge, and it’s what I’m still doing right now. I’ve got this hunger to show the world what I’m made of and show the world what I’ve got to offer. It’s all about music. Music is the universal language. And the thing is, I know that I’m able to conquer the States with my music even though it’s in Spanish, because the music is real. I’m gaining a lot of fans even though they’re not Latino.

AHHA: When you hear non-Spanish speaking fans singing your songs but not knowing the meaning behind the words, does it bother you at all?

Daddy Yankee: Nah it’s the other way around; I love it. When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, it was the same example. In the early 90’s, I didn’t know what the Hip-Hop artists were saying in their songs, but I loved it. I loved the movement anyway even though I didn’t understand a word. I felt that the music was real. I think I’m getting the same feedback here in the States with my music.

AHHA: Who were your influences in Hip-Hop growing up?

Daddy Yankee: I was into Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Run DMC, LL Cool, Nas, Jay-Z, Tupac, Big Pun, Biggie, NWA, all of them inspired me to make music. At the same though, I grew up listening to the Jamaican culture like the pioneers of the Dancehall movement: Shabba, Supercat, Buju Banton, Spragga Benz, Beenie, Bounty, they all inspired me.

AHHA: In your opinion, how do you feel Reggae and Reggaetón artists are getting along sharing bilingual success on radio?

Daddy Yankee: No one has asked me that before! That’s definitely a new one for me. I mean, I think we’re getting along real good because we’re both from the Caribbean. When I saw Sean Paul’s success, I saw that I had an opportunity to take over the world. A lot of people in the streets didn’t know what Sean Paul was saying but they played his songs. So I was like, “Okay, I get it. If he can make it, then I have an opportunity to do it too.” That’s where I’m at right now. People from different places are feeling my music. Not just the States but overseas as well. Japan is my second largest market after the States. I’ve got a Gold plaque from Japan for my latest Barrio Fino. My singles, they play on the radio. So in Japan, Reggaetón is getting very big.

AHHA: Let’s talk about your latest release Barrio Fino – En Directo. Why did you choose to re-release it with the live performances and a DVD?

Daddy Yankee: You know why I did it? Because now that we’re targeting the angle market, that album is gonna educate the masses. People like, say you for example, if you’re not into Reggaetón but want to learn more about it, you could buy the record and learn more about the artist and the movement. That’s why we decided to put it out with a DVD including the documentary and footage from the concerts, where you see the massive impact Daddy Yankee has had in the world.

AHHA: On the Barrio Fino – En Directo, you also have a single with Paul Wall. Would you compare the cultural impact of Puerto Rico in Hip-Hop with the Houston Hip-Hop scene?

Daddy Yankee: I think that everybody is doing their own style, and everybody is blowin’ up right now. From what I’ve seen, in the early ‘90s it was all about East and West Hip-Hop. Right now it’s beyond all that. We’ve got the Midwest, the Dirty South – and right now it’s all about the Dirty South: Houston, Atlanta. And with Reggaetón, now it’s the first time that we as Latinos have an urban movement that represents our culture. And the Hip-Hop artists are respecting that. They understand that there’s another genre spreading in our community and it’s real and from the streets.

AHHA: Elaborating on the streets, we’ve heard from your music that you came from a rough background. A lot of artists fake the street image, so to speak.

Daddy Yankee: [laughs] I don’t know, I only know about Daddy Yankee. [laughs]

AHHA: [laughs] Ok then, what’s your opinion of beef in Hip-Hop?

Daddy Yankee: You see that in all genres beyond Hip-Hop. Everyone has competition, and are bound to get mad at you if you’re doing better than them. [laughs] Ya feel me; it’s humankind.

AHHA: How do you feel about Diddy starting up Bad Boy Latino?

Daddy Yankee: My personal opinion is that music is music, but a business as well. I don’t blame Diddy, because as a businessman he’s looking for business. But, with me being a pioneer and an entrepreneur in the Reggaetón genre, I decided to make my own label [El Cartel Records]. I’ve been doing this all by myself. That’s how I started out, so why should I be with another label now? I did, I closed a deal with Interscope, but this is a distribution deal. I’m looking to increase the brand, sign new acts and new producers. There’s a big market for us in the States.

AHHA: Who else is on your label?

Daddy Yankee: Right now I’ve got my first artists who are producers named the Jedi; they did the beat to my latest single “Rompé”. So we’re gonna be making a compilation album and sign more acts.

AHHA: Will you just be signing Reggaetón artists?

Daddy Yankee: Reggaetón artists, Hip-Hop artists; it’s a label. But, we will be culturally recognized. I want to sign Latinos and African Americans, because that’s a union that the streets are lovin’. I just did a song with Snoop that the streets are lovin’ and the track with Paul Wall. So with El Cartel Records, it’s gonna be hot.

AHHA: Besides yourself, who do you feel is a good representation of Puerto Ricans in Hip-Hop?

Daddy Yankee: Big Pun forreal. Big Pun was the real; one of my biggest influences in my music. You know why? Because he was able to make everything that he wanted to make. He could go commercial, go hardcore, whatever, he was a real talent and represented for the Latinos.

AHHA: What other artists will you be working with?

Daddy Yankee: I’ll be working with Pharrell Williams, I have a song on his album called “Mamacita”. We’re gonna promote the single and shoot the video. It’s a crazy joint; wait until you hear it. On my next solo album, the Cartel Album, I’ll be working with Dr. Dre and a lot of Interscope artists, but I wanna leave that as a surprise.

AHHA: No hint?

Daddy Yankee: Ay, let’s leave it as a surprise. [laughs] I’ll be working with some of the greatest; the big names at Interscope. But, I’ll be doing a lot of Hip-Hop, because a lot of people don’t know that I do Hip-Hop. I did a song with Lil’ Jon, the “Whatcha Gonna Do” remix. A lot of people liked my verse, plus the “Oye Mi Canto” track with N.O.R.E. About four years ago, I did a song with Nas and just became an anthem in the streets. So on this next album, I’ll be showing the many faces of Daddy Yankee. We’re planning on dropping it third quarter this year.

AHHA: When’s your next tour?

Daddy Yankee: We’re starting a tour from March through May, with a big concert in Puerto Rico in May.

AHHA: Ok, let’s talk about you now. Would you let your children listen to your music?

Daddy Yankee: [laughs] That’s a good question. [laughs] I put out a lot of different music for different audiences. Sometimes I write for the radio, sometimes I write for the streets, sometimes I write about life. For my children, those are things they might not understand right now. So obviously, I put them onto the commercial stuff. But, there’s a lot of topics they won’t get, because that’s for the streets.

AHHA: How does your wife feel about your many female fans?

Daddy Yankee: She understands everything. She loves it! [laughs]

AHHA: No way. Really?

Daddy Yankee: Yeaaaaah!

AHHA: Wow. So what’s the craziest thing a female fan has done at a show?

Daddy Yankee: [laughs] I remember this one time that I was performing in Orlando. I see everyone going crazy and I’m like, “Yo I need to turn this down some.” But when I turned around, I saw this lady completely naked dancing behind me! [laughs] I was like, “What? Is this happening forreal?” That was like in ’95-’96.

AHHA: She came up from the crowd?

Daddy Yankee: Right from the crowd! And I didn’t even notice. I was just so into the show. She was drunk, needless to say. [laughs] But that’s something that Reggaetón does to people.

AHHA: Has anything that crazy ever happened to you on the street?

Daddy Yankee: No, no! Nothing like that. I just get a lot of love. I’m down to earth peoples. I walk around the barrios alone, so I get a lot of love for that. They know I’m a part of them. I know how to deal with my people. I don’t walk around with bodyguards or security. People in the States say, “Yankee you need bodyguards or security!” And I say, “Come on man, I know how to get down in the streets.” [laughs] I came from the barrio; that’s ten times worse than over here in the streets. [laughs]

AHHA: How do you feel that you’ve evolved from when you first came out?

Daddy Yankee: My music has evolved because all the time I learn something new, whether it’s my angle market or the Latin market. Every time there’s a new sound heard, I use it. Like let’s say on the Latin side with Bachata and Salsa; those are things I include in Reggaetón to keep it real with my roots. But, with my angle market, I see the Dirty South Hip-Hop taking over, so I’m combining it with my Reggaetón. I’m getting a great chemistry in music with that combination. Me, as a person…I’m still normal. I’m a businessman, but a musician as well. Very quiet, studying everything, and observing what’s around me. People know me as being humble. That’s how Daddy gets down.

AHHA: If you weren’t here, where would you be?

Daddy Yankee: Playing baseball…obviously.