Daddy Yankee: The Voice Of His People

With the rise of reggaeton and Latin hip-hop, the music of the entire Spanish speaking world has become considered for its commercial value and mass appeal. Amid the clutter of up-and-comers and come-and-goers sporting a Hispanic style, Daddy Yankee emerges as an almost visionary leader of the pack. Though Yankee’s 2004 hit “Gasolina” catapulted the Puerto Rican native into international stardom, success was not a new concept. With Barrio Fino En Directo, a live spin-off of his 2004 crossover-chart killer Barrio Fino, which is in stores, and a bright future ahead of him, Daddy Yankee is a pioneer for an entire generation of Latin artists.

Since surfacing his first full-length in 2000, Daddy Yankee, with his slick speech, has been able to mesh his spitfire-Spanish-language style with the shtick of traditional hip-hop artists like Lil’ Jon, Noreaga and now Snoop Dogg and Paul Wall. Off the success of his mega-hit “Gasolina,” from the Barrio Fino album, Yankee shows signs of social consciousness on the compulsively-catchy commercial smash single. With his super-stardom in position, Yankee keeps close connections to his “people” and amid platinum success, he still walks the streets of New York City unaffected.

In this candid and personal interview, Daddy Yankee opens up to about his early influences, his rise to commercial success and the future of a new generation of Latin music. You dropped your first LP in 2000, why do you think it took four years for your style to catch on worldwide?

Daddy Yankee: One of the factors was that I didn’t have a major label backing me up. I didn’t have anybody to say “Yo Yankee, we’re going to put your video here and we’re gonna put your music on this station.” It just was not like that. At the same time, it was good because I have gotten to this point because of my music and not anything else. I just put the music out there in the street and that music got me to this point. How did your life change when Los Homerun-es became really successful?

Daddy Yankee: I think that the album that got me to receive international support was El That came out before Los Homerun-es. But Los Homerun-es was the biggest selling record in Puerto Rico.

Daddy Yankee: El and Los Homerun-es, before Barrio Fino, they both sold platinum plaques on the Latin market. What kind of music did you grow up listening to? Were you into Fania All-Stars?

Daddy Yankee: I listened to a lot of hip-hop dancehall and salsa. And of course I was into Fania man, that’s real stuff. I listened to them everyday; Fania All-Stars were like the Kings of Puerto Rico. Do you feel you’re the new King of Puerto Rico?

Daddy Yankee: I think that in the next few years as we put our time in, we’re going to be like Fania for the next generation. Do you feel the Reggaeton has become really commercialized?

Daddy Yankee: They are a lot of artist that have kept it real, like myself, you feel me? I think that has been Daddy Yankee’s key to success. Because if you listen to my music, it is real. That is on the underground Reggaeton, which at the same time has become commercial because the people love the sound. I didn’t go to the mainstream; the mainstream comes to Daddy Yankee. How is it for you as a Latin Superstar to go to a place like Miami or New York, where the Latin population is high? Is it out of control?

Daddy Yankee: I mean it’s out of control; at the same time though, it’s out of control for “me.” I don’t feel like afraid to go out and be exposed with my people. Yesterday, I went out on the block that I used to live on in New York. I remember that everybody was coming out of their buildings on the entire block. There were like three buildings and everybody was looking out their windows. And when I looked back, there was more than 100 people walking behind me in the place that I used to live — Crescent and 193 in The Bronx. I left glad about being on the block and sharing that moment with my people. I got a lot of love in the street. Are you surprised by the amount of support you’ve been getting in the street?

Daddy Yankee: Yeah, definitely, I’m surprised. I knew that I had the potential to conquer the Latin market in South America and here in the states. Now, I feel like Daddy Yankee has transcended the languages and the races. You’ve been in the game almost twenty years, what’s the one thing you think you’ve learned above anything else?

Daddy Yankee: The main thing that I have learned is that you cannot conquer the world just based on talent, you know what I mean? You need talent, but you need charisma. You also need determination, you need focus and you need to be able to handle responsibility in getting to the point where you want to be. I pulled all that together and that has helped me a lot. With the success of your albums and the attention you’re getting, do you feel a lot of responsibility to other Latin artists, to set a good example or open doors?

Daddy Yankee: I mean right now I just opened the door for the artists. Right now, it’s in the hands of the artists to walk through the door I just opened. You know? Not only has Daddy Yankee had success, but the entire genre has benefited from Daddy Yankee’s success and I’m proud of that. I was proud to open the doors for my entire generation; it’s in their hands to keep on making good music. There is a lot of talent besides Daddy Yankee and I know that they are going to make it step-by-step. What is the sense that you get from the people in Puerto Rico, what is the one thing that they always say to you?

Daddy Yankee: The first thing that comes out of their mouths is usually “We’re proud of you,” and “keep going,” you know? They tell me to “stay like you are” and that “you’re always real and you’re down to earth.” Those are the things that the people in Puerto Rico always tell me; they know I’m not going to change. I’m a veteran in the game and that I can handle any situation in music. Do you feel you’re a good role model for the Latin kids in the U.S.?

Daddy Yankee: You see me always with my people when I’m out in the states and I always be here in New York, so some kids will see me as a role model because they see my success and they’re inspired by that. They know that they can do it too. The other day when I was walking around on the block, somebody came to me and said “Yo, Yankee, you made me into a believer because five years ago, you were here sitting down next to me talking about simple things and look at you now, you know?” Those words to me were some of the biggest words I’d heard in a few years, you know? I consider myself a people’s champ more than a role model. There is such a big demand in the Latin market; do you see yourself branching out like so many artists are doing these days?

Daddy Yankee: Well, I’m on the Pepsi commercials in Puerto Rico and they’re going to run the campaign in South America with Pepsi. I’m filming a movie as well; I’m producing and filming a movie. Nobody came to me and said “Yo Yankee, we’re going to do this movie.” No, it was just me by faith believing in the genre and believing in the project and believing in what the people are looking for. I put the money there in the movie and I’m producing and staring in the movie. The fans are asking for that, so I’m just doing what the people want. We’re looking forward also to making Cartel Records one of the biggest labels in the industry, so we’re going to sign Latin producers and right now, we have The Jedis, who are the producers who made the “Rumpa” beat, which is my new single now. Let’s talk about this live album you’ve got out.

Daddy Yankee: Barrio Fino En Directo, which means Barrio Fino Live, has ten joints, two joints with five new songs. Two of them with great rappers, Snoop Dogg and Paul Wall. I have “Rumpa,” my new single. The good thing about the album is that each of the songs are for different audiences. It’s a complete album, plus it has a DVD to educate the masses out there about Daddy Yankee and Reggaeton. It’s the first time the fans are going to see Daddy Yankee in a documentary talking about politics, racism and other things besides the music. What was it about your music that listeners really liked?

Daddy Yankee: Yes, people see me as somebody that is bringing a new flavor to the table. Most people want to work with me because it’s something new on the radio.

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