Daddy Yankee: A Five-Step Guide for Gringos
King Daddy likes his guides quick and dirty.
Photo by Omar Cruz / Courtesy of Nevarez PR
Daddy Yankee is an international superstar who has sold nearly 20 million records worldwide, winning dozens of awards along the way. However, Ramón Ayala Rodríguez might be something of a mystery to those who are familiar with only his club bangers "Gasolina" and "Lo Que Pasó, Pasó." For that reason, here's a brief primer on El Cangri for those whose exposure to Latin culture might be a little, uh, pequeña.
1. There's more to Daddy Yankee than just "Gasolina" (even though that is a dope song).
In November of last year, Billboard named "Gasolina" the ninth best Latin song of all time. Still, Daddy Yankee's career hardly begins and ends with the seminal track. For starters, Ayala Rodríguez's stage name has nothing to do with the baseball team (although he is crazy popular in NYC) or the American Civil War. The 39-year-old Puerto Rico native selected the name because its closer English translation means "Big Daddy" or, much like the title of his last record in 2013, King Daddy. By the time people with rhythm (and, indeed, without) lost their shit over "Gasolina" in 2004, he'd already been making music for years. His first LP was 1995's No Mercy, an album that went largely unnoticed outside of his homeland. But since his megahit and the equally popular "Lo Que Pasó, Pasó," Daddy Yankee has gone either gold or platinum on all of his subsequent records and collaborated with the likes of Nicky Jam, Andy Montañez, Carlos Vives, and Wisin & Yandel.
2. Daddy Yankee is essentially the godfather of modern reggaeton.
Not only is Daddy Yankee the best-known reggaetonero in the genre, thanks chiefly to the success of 2004's breakthrough album, Barrio Fino, but he's also one of its earliest purveyors. The combination of hip-hop, dancehall reggae, and freestyle rap has been a winning one that Mr. Yankee picked up from DJs around Puerto Rico. Including hard-hitting beats and sprinkling elements of dance music and salsa, reggaeton and all the incarnations of the style that have appeared on his seven studio albums are a unique and unmistakable corner of Hispanic music. When Daddy Yankee brought this sound to the mainstream, no one else was doing it like he was doing on such a scale. Nightclubs in Miami and across Latin America haven't been the same since.
3. More than anything, Daddy Yankee is a savvy businessman.
Although he has a distribution and marketing deal with Interscope, Daddy Yankee has remained largely independent. As the head of El Cartel records, Ayala Rodríguez for the past 20 years has been in complete control of his music and, more important, his image. He rarely does interviews where he discusses his family and instead resolutely focuses on his music. The Daddy Yankee brand has expanded every year since he came to widespread prominence because he has licensed his likeness and his songs for film, TV, videogames, and even Pepsi, all the while fattening his bank account and remaining in charge of his life.
4. He has street cred — buried in his hip.
If it weren't for a stray bullet, Ramón Ayala Rodríguez might've been playing baseball for the Seattle Mariners and many listeners never would've gotten their recommended amount of "Gasolina." One January 6, Three Kings' Day (Día de los Reyes Magos), a venerated religious holiday in Puerto Rico and across the Spanish-speaking world, Ayala Rodríguez was with a friend taking a break from recording. At the time, he was a top prospect at third base, but in a few minutes, his baseball dreams and several bones were shattered. A spatter of gunfire broke out, and he was caught in the crossfire. A bullet from an AK-47 lodged in his hip, which is still there today, and sent him to the ground to hide under a van. It took more than a year to recover, but the time he spent in the wheelchair and on crutches was also spent working on his music. Baseball was gone, but the beats were just beginning.
5. The upcoming show with Don Omar is kind of a big deal.
It's safe to say Daddy Yankee and his Latin pop/reggaeton counterpart Don Omar don't like each other. The duo's rivalry stretches back at least ten years. Sure, a lot of it seems scripted, such as their rap battle last year at Madison Square Garden or the standoffish joint appearance they had at the Billboard Latin Music Conference this past April in South Beach. However, in multiple interviews, Ayala Rodríguez continually treats Don Omar like a little brother, antagonizing him if not outright talking shit. But is the beef finally squashed, or are the two sucking it up for a paycheck? Either way, this Saturday's concert at the American Airlines Arena should be an entertaining one.
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