Daddy Yankee



Every underground genre has its ambassador, the artist who translates a local movement into something the masses can understand. For reggaetón, that artist is Daddy Yankee. Born Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez in 1977 in the Río Piedras barrio of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Daddy Yankee grew up in a musical family: His dad played bongos in a salsa band, and his mother’s family was full of musicians. Yankee mastered the skill of verbal improvisation early, rhyming with friends and appearing on some of DJ Playero’s underground rap mixtapes in the early ’90s. Baseball was his first passion, however, and he was seemingly heading toward a career in the majors until he caught a stray bullet in his leg at age 17 while outside a recording studio. The long recovery scuttled his sports dreams, and he turned to music instead, embracing (and, by some accounts, naming) the nascent genre of reggaetón, a rap hybrid evolving out of dancehall’s dembow riddim. Yankee began releasing albums steadily, and 2004’s Barrio Fino, with its irresistible engine-revving “Gasolina,” broke through internationally, introducing global dance floors to the reggaetón riddim and Daddy Yankee’s driving, verbally acrobatic rhymes about violence, women, easy money, and marginalization. Yankee quickly became an industry unto himself, a sought-after impresario, producer, and collaborator. In 2017, “Despacito,” his collaboration with Luis Fonsi, became another global smash hit thanks to Justin Bieber’s remix. But for all his success, Yankee remains, at heart, a rapper; the “rey de la improvisación” has been a repeat winner of the Street Jam Reggae Awards.


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