Daddy Yankee - Reggaeton Pioneer and Entrepreneur

L Festival 2017
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Ramon (or Raymond) Ayala was born on February 3, 1977, in Rio Piedras, an area of San Juan,​ Puerto Rico. His father was a percussionist and his mother a manicurist. Under the influence of an island that often identified itself with music and a musical family, Daddy Yankee had been singing since he was young. But it was in the streets around his boyhood home at the Villa Kennedy housing project, an area redolent with Spanish-language hip hop, that the young adolescent Ayala began to rap.

His nicknames include El Cangri, The Big Boss, The King, El Jefe. The nickname that stuck, Daddy Yankee, is the equivalent of 'Big Daddy' as, in Puerto Rican slang, 'Yankee' refers to someone who is big, powerful. Daddy Yankee's brother has the same name as he does, only backwards so that Ramon's (Daddy Yankee's real name) brother is named Nomar.

Yankee married Mireddys Gonzalez when he was 17. They have three children.

Early Days

In the early 1990s, hip-hop was overshadowed by Spanish reggae coming in from Panama and rather than make a decision for one type of music over another, Yankee and like-minded friends began to rap over the popular dancehall music, creating a new musical fusion that over time was named reggaeton.

From his experience with the active street life around him, Yankee had plenty to rap about. For instance, the budding performer had originally hoped for a career in baseball, but when he was 17, he was inadvertently caught in the middle of a barrio shoot-out and was shot in the leg, ending his professional baseball dreams.

Daddy Yankee Records First Album

While hip hop and rap were still underground movements in Puerto Rico, there was one club where the new fusion was welcome called The Noise. Yankee started hanging out with the rappers and DJs at the club, and there he met the DJ/producer Playero, who gave him his start, featuring the budding artist on the 1992 album Playero 37, and who helped him with his full-length debut album, No Mercy, that was released in 1995.

No Mercy did not receive much recognition, and Yankee continued recording as a guest artist on several other albums.

El Cartel

In 2000 and 2001, Yankee independently released El Cartel and El Cartel Vol 2, albums that were very well-received in Puerto Rico, but received little attention in the outside world. In 2003, El Cangri.com caught the attention of urban music fans in Miami and New York, but it was with 2004’s Barrio Fino that brought him global recognition and debuted at the top of the Latin music charts.

Daddy Yankee Becomes Star With 'Barrio Fino'

Barrio Fino owed its phenomenal success to two singles that kept the album at the top of the charts for over a year. Surprisingly, while “Gasolina” made it to the top of Billboard’s "Hot 100" and even today may well be the single that non-Latinos associate with reggaeton, the album’s phenomenal success within the Latino community was “Lo Que Paso, Paso.”

With “Rompe” from the 2005 album Barrio Fino en Directo, Daddy Yankee became the worldwide name associated with reggaeton. Barrio Fino en Directo was released under his own label, El Cartel, and quickly reached platinum status. Yankee then turned his energies to trading in on his name; he crafted deals with everyone from Reebok to Pepsi and, in many ways, became more of an entrepreneur than a musical artist.

El Cartel: The Big Boss

In 2007, his long-awaited album El Cartel: The Big Boss was released to continued success. But straight reggaeton was starting to wane and Yankee was ready; in an attempt to broaden the scope of reggaeton’s popularity, the new album featured a stellar guest list that included Akon, will.i.am and Fergie of the Black-Eyed Peas and Scott Storch, among others.

Recently, Daddy Yankee has turned his attention to the movie industry. His film about a man from the barrio who finds salvation through urban music, Talento de Barrio, is currently in release. Yankee claims the film is only very roughly autobiographical.

If you're interested in listening to the music of Daddy Yankee, here's a list of albums that should get you started on your way.

Barrio Fino en Directo (2004)

El Cartel: The Big Boss (2007)

Talento de Barrio (2008)