In the early part of the twenty-first century, Pop was the face of Latin music and Latin culture in America. But the rumble of an urban sound reverberated underneath—from Jamaica to Panama and then on to Puerto Rico, where it emerged from the underground as Reggaetón, a movement that would sweep Latino youth with the power of hip hop.
Aggressively urban, with performers steeped in ghetto cool, with evocative street-style names like Don Omar, Vico C., D.J Playero, Tito “El Bambino,” Tego Calderon “El Abayarde,” “Calle 13,” and “Daddy Yankee,” Reggaetón was infused with the undertones of drugs, gang violence and the dark appeal of ghetto life. “It was born in the ghetto, it was born in the hood” says Daddy Yankee. “People thought that we were promoting the violence, [but] It was not like that. We were just being real. We were just being “el espejo del pueblo” (the mirror of the people). We were rappin’ about the real stuff.”
Reggaetón had its roots in the rhythms of Jamaican reggae, and in one rhythm in particular, the deeply Caribbean “dembo.” Dembo was first fused with Spanish rap in Panama, where it was called Spanish reggae—and soon spread across the Caribbean. “We heard the people from Panama doing reggae in Spanish so we started to incorporate our flavor into that sound,” says Daddy Yankee. “And we created our own genre, Reggaetón.”
With its powerful rhythms, Reggaetón’s great appeal was that it was sexy; an excuse to dance an erotic dance known as “perreo” that scandalized proper society while spreading across Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and US urban Latino populations like wildfire. Daddy Yankee emerged as its biggest star.
Daddy Yankee’s real name is Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez. Born in 1977 in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in the Villa Kennedy Housing Projects, his dream was to be a baseball player. But as a young man he took a stray bullet and spent roughly a year and a half recovering from the wound; the bullet was never removed from his hip. Daddy Yankee turned to music and became a full-time artist, establishing himself as a success in the world of Reggaetón. But it was his album Barrio Fino (Fine Hood), with the international hit “Gasolina,” that made him a star, and brought Reggaetón to the attention of American mainstream culture. “People have told, me, I don’t know what you are saying,” says Daddy Yankee, “but my girlfriend and my mother, they can’t stop dancing.”
More importantly, it served to ease the transition of Latino youth into the American mainstream, a bridge between Latin Music and hip hop. “The thing about Reggaetón,” says musicologist and DJ Wayne Marshall, “is that it was able to express, on the one hand Latinidad, the “Latinness” and, on the other hand modernity. You could be ‘bling-blinged’ out. You could look like all of your peers in this more general sort of hip hop world. You didn’t have to feel like you were somehow of selling out your own cultural roots.”
The album was certified Platinum, sold more than a million copies in the United States, and was named the best-selling Latin Album and Tropical Album of the 2000s by Billboard.
Today his single “Hula Hoop” marks the 50th Daddy Yankee song to make it on the Hot Latin song chart. He is one of only seven acts, and the only urban artist, to have placed 50 or more songs on the 30-year-old chart.