Victor Bizar Gomez for NPR
By the point Daddy Yankee performs “Gasolina” one August evening at Atlanta’s State Farm Enviornment, the gang rumbles so loud it feels just like the venue will collapse on itself.
It is a present that is been months within the making: La Última Vuelta, Yankee’s final tour earlier than he retires. He introduced the choice to bow out in March, with the discharge of his first studio album in a decade. LEGENDADDY, as he so aptly named it, discovered the reggaeton veteran giving himself his flowers for a profession that is spanned greater than three a long time and made him a family title the world over.
“Gasolina” is Yankee’s encore, and the boisterous crowd has been anxiously awaiting the acquainted, roaring motors all evening. Yankee needs the payoff — the screams, the singing alongside, the perreo — earlier than he walks off this stage one final time. And his followers, starting from youngsters to boomers and repping flags from virtually each single Latin American nation, gladly ship.
“Gasolina” is undoubtedly some of the important songs not simply in Yankee’s profession, however Latin music as a complete. It was launched because the lead single for Barrio Fino, the 2004 album that debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard High Latin Albums chart — the primary reggaeton album to take action — and went on to develop into the best-selling Latin album of the last decade. The primary reggaeton music to be nominated for the Latin Grammy for document of the 12 months in 2005, “Gasolina” elevated the already well-liked reggaeton components of breakneck verses, a booming beat and a girl’s sensual hook (from the undersung vocalist Glory) to a world platform. O sea, un temazo — it is catchy as hell.
And on this explicit evening, it feels just like the Puerto Rican maestro is winking on the double-meaning of the bridge on this context.
Tenemos tu y yo algo pendiente
Tu me debes algo y lo sabes.
(We have now one thing pending, you and I
You owe me one thing and you realize it.)
Listening to “Gasolina” reside now’s bittersweet. It is a music that revolutionized the music trade, as a result of that is what Yankee was at all times aiming for. Within the years since its launch, reggaeton has develop into a world powerhouse, blasting from health studios and chain eating places throughout the U.S. And whether or not or not Yankee’s retirement means he’ll by no means carry out or make music once more, the trailblazer’s extremely publicized farewell alerts the style has entered a brand new period. In a second the place reggaeton — a motion began in underground bars and selfmade studios — has reached its industrial apex, how will artists propel the style ahead?
Born Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Daddy Yankee grew up in public housing and initially dreamed of turning into a baseball participant. One evening whereas taking a break exterior a studio, gunshots rang out and a stray bullet from an AK-47 struck his leg. He spent greater than a 12 months in restoration, and regardless that it shattered his athletic aspirations, he realized music could possibly be his manner ahead.
Yankee belonged to a category of pioneers that included Don Omar, Ivy Queen, Wisin & Yandel and producers like DJ Negro and DJ Playero. All through Puerto Rico, they have been constructing off the reggaeton groundwork laid by Panamanian artists like El Basic, who’d helped mix reggae, dancehall and Spanish-language hip-hop — genres that have been mixing resulting from Jamaican migration to Panama, Panamanian migration to New York — to create a brand new sound.
However as thrilling as that explosion of creativity and melange of Caribbean genres was, reggaeton lacked monetary help each in PR and overseas, says Leila Cobo, VP of Latin for Billboard and creator of Decoding “Despacito”: An Oral Historical past of Latin Music.
“Daddy Yankee needed to create his tapes in his little dwelling studio, promote them from his automobile, and there was nobody he might name and say, ‘Do that for me,’ ” she says. “There was no capital. He needed to do every part on his personal. It was very, very exhausting. There was nothing, there was no infrastructure. So [he and other artists] actually constructed it from the bottom up.”
Whereas artists like Tego Calderón targeted on socially-conscious lyricism, Yankee honed in on the enterprise alternative. Katelina Eccleston, the music historian of the platform Reggaeton con la Gata, says that Barrio Fino pushed for area on Spanish-language broadcasting, particularly within the U.S., and proved that reggaeton might efficiently get radio play world wide.
Loads of Spanish-language broadcasting on the time targeted on pop and rock en español, in addition to regional music. Latin artists like Shakira rebranded, crossing over to be performed on English-language stations. The Latin music trade in and out of doors of Latin America appeared down on reggaeton as vulgar, overtly sexual, poor or working-class music.
However Daddy Yankee’s breakthrough began to reverse that development. “Daddy Yankee is the right product,” Eccleston explains. “He set the precedent and actually raised the bar for the way reggaeton artists needs to be approached, how they need to be invested in and the way the style needs to be revered.”
And Barrio Fino‘s success solely marked the start. Yankee constantly churned out banger after banger within the type of albums like El Cartel: The Huge Boss, Talento de Barrio, and the extra pop-oriented Status within the following years. He collaborated with stars within the American market, like Snoop Dogg and the Afro-Puerto Rican, reggaeton-dabbling N.O.R.E. and intelligently positioned himself, Eccleston says, because the Latin idol amongst their ranks.
But it surely’s not simply the creation of a picture or social clout that led to his colloquial nickname, “The Huge Boss.” Cobo hyperlinks a giant a part of Yankee’s industrial success to the truth that he stayed impartial by El Cartel Information, the label he based in 1997. He retained possession of his masters — an influence transfer he has mentioned began off roughly unintentionally, as a result of he simply could not get signed with out being minimize a brief deal — and partnered with main labels like Sony, Common and Interscope for distribution through the years.
“He actually confirmed a number of generations of artists that this was economically viable,” says Cobo.
In 2017, greater than a decade after “Gasolina” first hit airwaves, the style reached one other turning level. Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi was engaged on a monitor that might go on to alter the course of Latin music historical past: “Despacito.”
“Luis Fonsi completed the monitor with out reggaeton in it, after which after he took it to his producers, they mentioned, ‘You understand what?’ Between all of them, they mentioned, ‘It feels it wants one thing totally different. It wants one thing city,’ ” says Cobo, who detailed the music’s creation and impression in her e book. “And paradoxically, they did not go to Yankee first.”
Nicky Jam took the primary choose, till different commitments triggered him to step again from the venture. Then, Yankee grew to become the plain alternative — and the music took off. A Justin Bieber function on the remix solely solidified its standing, and the remix tied, on the time, with Mariah Carey and Boyz II Males’s “One Candy Day,” for many time spent on the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Sizzling 100 Chart (16 weeks), topped the Billboard Sizzling Latin charts for 42 weeks (one other document) and have become virtually inescapable in public. In 2020, “Despacito” grew to become the most-watched video at that time in YouTube’s historical past with over 7 billion streams.
The music ushered in an period of Latin music that even noticed Beyoncé leaping on a J Balvin and Willy William remix. But it surely additionally solidified Daddy Yankee’s place in pop, and signaled a transfer towards a little bit of a cleaner, extra palatable picture and sound for reggaeton. Swiftly, the English-language trade realized it might get in on a worthwhile market — all artists needed to do was get a verse on a reggaeton music already tearing by the membership scene.
“The factor about reggaeton is that simply off of its pure existence — Panama, Puerto Rico, New York, Jamaica — it is a world style, interval. It has many houses,” says Eccleston. “So it was certain to achieve success in lots of components of the globe. I believe what Daddy Yankee did otherwise is that he scaled it exponentially.”
And he made room for youthful generations alongside the way in which. Cobo credit Yankee’s energy with lending a mannequin for youth in Puerto Rico that has partially resulted within the island’s ever-growing pool of proficient singers, writers, producers and engineers. However his attain is felt exterior of his dwelling, too.
Becky G says she grew up listening to Daddy Yankee — her younger “cool” dad and mom performed his music in the home. She first collaborated with Yankee when he was one of many writers and producers on her music with Natti Natasha, “Sin Pijama,” in 2018. She describes his presence as godfather-like. “If it weren’t for Yankee vouching for us,” she says, “Lots of people tried to discredit what we have been doing as girls.”
She remembers the success of her 2017 single “Mayores” and Natti Natasha’s “Legal” being attributed to the presence of their male collaborators — Dangerous Bunny and Ozuna, respectively. However she says Yankee revered and believed in her and Natti Natasha’s craft, and later gave them room to rep girls empowerment on the “Dura” remix in 2018. Quick ahead 4 years, collabs between completely girls artists in reggaeton aren’t solely extra frequent, however they promote. Earlier this 12 months, Becky G’s “MAMIII” with Karol G — a giant center finger to a poisonous ex — debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Sizzling Latin Songs chart.
“I really feel a accountability now shifting ahead to only be true to what [Yankee] noticed in us — being empowered, younger Latinas who need to have a seat on the desk, who need to be within the driver’s seat,” says Becky G. “He is at all times been so encouraging of that. It is humorous, you realize, how he generally references himself as ‘the large boss’? We stroll in, me and Natti, and we’re like, ‘the little boss!'”
They’re two of the youthful superstars featured on LEGENDADDY — together with Dangerous Bunny, Myke Towers, Sech, Rauw Alejandro and dembow prophet El Alfa. A businessman till the very finish, the album was a strategic transfer on Yankee’s half. He is “handing down” to the artists he made area for, all already so profitable in their very own proper — a stage of stardom Yankee has, in some ways, helped safe for them.
Daddy Yankee pushed ahead, ultimately creating his personal enterprise mannequin round reggaeton as a result of he did not actually have an alternative choice. Immediately, it is a fully totally different trade. Dangerous Bunny is essentially the most streamed artist on the earth and Un Verano Sin Ti simply grew to become the primary Spanish-language album to obtain an album of the 12 months nomination from the Grammys.
There’s momentum, cash and a built-in international viewers for the style. But when reggaeton got here up by the liberty and resistance of underground perreo, will the brand new stakeholders keep on that drive set by Yankee’s technology to create one thing contemporary and disruptive to the trade?
Sech says that growth is already underway. “We have now mambo from Rosalía, we’ve pop from Rauw, we’ve Quevedo doing home,” he says. “It is all taking place in Spanish, and it is serving to our style develop.”
Musically, the panorama is simply getting richer. There’s Shakira and Ozuna doing a bachata pop, Rauw wading deeper into dancefloor futurism (produced by DJ Playero, no much less) and Tokischa crooning explicitly throughout dembow, corrido and EDM tracks.
That final instance is necessary, as a result of it is a part of what Eccleston says is a bigger expectation, in as we speak’s trade, for artists to tackle the private and the political of their music, and prioritize inclusivity. For Tokischa, whether or not intentional or not, the sexual openness of her music does that work.
“There’s a collective, racist understanding that reggaeton may be nice, but in addition we will not play the vulgar stuff in entrance of mami y papi,” says Eccleston. “But it surely’s not for mami y papi, you realize? It was created by sexually liberated adults for different sexually liberated adults.”
And it is not simply Tokischa. Dangerous Bunny continues to authentically wrap political statements about Puerto Rico’s colonial state into his music, all whereas disrupting gender norms and uplifting queer and ladies artists at his reveals. This previous summer time, that meant inviting artists Villano Antillano and Younger Miko, who’re on the core of the trans and queer Latin lure motion, onstage in San Juan.
However regardless of strides in reggaeton’s industrial reputation, Afro-Latino artists past Sech and Ozuna nonetheless not often take middle stage within the motion. Reggaeton is a style that also struggles to constructively discuss race, regardless of being constructed and actively profiting off Black tradition and sounds within the Caribbean and overseas. At this 12 months’s Latin Grammys, Rosalía accepted the album of the 12 months award whereas her bachata music, “La Fama,” blasted within the background — however Black Latinx artists who’ve created these sounds do not get the identical reception or recognition.
“There’s this want to attempt to clear reggaeton,” says Eccleston. “This whitening or blanqueamiento of reggaeton is unquestionably pervasive within the area.”
Other than the style’s points with inclusivity, family-friendly reggaeton pop songs will proceed to permeate the airwaves and Billboard charts; that is a part of Daddy Yankee’s legacy, in spite of everything. He cracked the code, and helped construct that market from scratch. However he additionally illustrated how a lot political energy reggaeton wields.
Yankee set a precedent of social and inventive resistance by taking a style from working-class neighborhoods within the Caribbean and popularizing it into some of the recognizable and worthwhile sounds in as we speak’s panorama, regardless that the Latin music trade initially appeared down on what he was doing. Now, as he bids his farewell, reggaeton has reached some extent the place that defiance set by Yankee’s technology can take new shapes of rebel and experimentation, each in sound and in politics — even when perreo is not confined to underground golf equipment and storage events, however now fills total stadium and enviornment excursions.
“Reggaeton is music with a lot happiness, a lot motion, a lot expression,” says Sech. “And everybody has their very own definition of artwork. But when reggaeton does not have that sense of road [to it], it is not what we began with.”