By Kat Bein
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I first met Wisin & Yandel a year ago, in the swank lobby of a San Juan hotel in their native Puerto Rico. At the time, they were the most popular reggaeton group in the world, and the guys of the self-proclaimed "Dynamic Duo" had practically done it all. They'd released multiplatinum records, scored numerous hit singles, and even gotten together with R. Kelly for the bilingual club banger "Burn It Up."
As far as fame and fortune went, the young reggaetoneros had definitely reaped the benefits of their nascent yet popular genre. Still, even then, Wisin — the most effusive member of the group — was well aware their style was in danger of becoming an overexposed commodity.
"Nowadays everyone is coming out with a reggaeton record. There are too many copycats out there doing the same old, tired reggaeton beats," Wisin (a.k.a. Juan Luis Morera, age 29) said while sipping Diet Coke. "We don't want to be associated with that kind of generic music, so we are going to take chances and go beyond the reggaeton formula, and find a way to evolve our sound."
The result of their labor was the 2007 album Los Extraterrestres (The Extraterrestrials), a sharp record that balances undulating reggaeton grooves with ultra-catchy pop melodies. Surprisingly Los Extraterrestres debuted at number 15 on the Billboard 200, a rare feat for a Latin act. The first single, "Sexy Movimiento" ("Sexy Movement"), grabbed the number one spot on the Latin Billboard charts, and a new remix version with, of all people, Nelly Furtado, is now beginning to make its way across the non-Latin airways.
The album proved so successful that a new "deluxe" version, labeled Otra Dimensión (Another Dimension), was released last month, with bonus collaborations by bona fide Latin hip-hop superstars such as Fat Joe and Tego Calderón. With the help of this hit record, Wisin & Yandel have begun a successful U.S. arena tour and are poised, again, to boast the title of one of the most successful Latin acts of the year.
Not bad for a couple of barrio kids who began their careers a decade ago at a Puerto Rican reggaeton block party. But Wisin & Yandel have always exhibited an ambitious streak, unlike most of their fiesta-ready, booty-worshiping peers.
"We come from a very humble background," said Yandel (a.k.a. Llandel Veguilla, age 29), who was born and raised in Cayey, a small, impoverished town in Puerto Rico. " But we always had big dreams and a lot of confidence in our music."
That self-assurance led the duo to hook up in early 2002 with the talented reggaeton production team Luny Tunes. As the beat masters responsible for reggaeton's breakthrough hit, Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina," Luny Tunes lent their magic touch to Wisin & Yandel's single "Rakata," one of the top Latin singles of 2005. That song was a collage of simmering dancehall synthesizers and exotic tropical rhythms, and it became so popular that hip-hop's fading bad boy, Ja Rule, collaborated on a English-language remix version.
These days, Wisin & Yandel take pride in being among the very few artists in the traditionally restrictive Latin music business to own their own label, WY Records. "Growing up, we've learned from watching American rappers like Jay-Z that you could call your own shots; that's how we got the idea to start our own label," said Wisin.
Their label releases records from up-and-coming Latin hip-hop rappers such as Tony Dize, as well as the popular Los Vaqueros compilation series. What's more, the runaway success of their current album has opened the door for a coveted collaboration with 50 Cent and G-Unit in the form a remix for the track "Rider Part Two." All of this momentum is part of the group's conscious strategy to reach beyond its traditional reggaeton fan base.
"Our aim is to become a major international act. We look at other successful Latin artists, like Shakira and Ricky Martin, as our role models," said Wisin. "We want to be more than a reggaeton duo. We want to be recognized as a great pop group."
Even though Wisin & Yandel are well on their way, their status as the best-selling group in reggaeton still ensures them an extremely loyal audience of Latin urban music fans. Their recent May 31 appearance at the Union Square Virgin Megastore in New York City attracted thousands of fans, and their June 9 show at the famed Madison Square Garden was sold out. The latter even featured an unannounced appearance by 50 Cent himself, who performed on a live version of "Rider Part Two." As for Saturday's downtown Miami show, expect surprise appearances by star guests, as well as a capacity crowd ready and willing to dance along to the unabashedly bubblegum rhythms of reggaeton's reining popsters.