The Right Jolt At The Right Time: How Daddy Yankee Spearheaded a Revolución

PLAYING BALL: Daddy Yankee, who was a World Baseball Classic global ambassador, delivered the game ball to the mound prior to the championship game between Team USA and Japan at loanDepot Park in Miami on March 21. The recording artist is a big fan of the sport and aspired to play professionally before getting shot in the leg.
Photo by Daniel Shirey / WBCI / MLB Photos / Getty Images

The GOAT, Greatest of All-Time, is a term in the English lexicon that is thrown around loosely, particularly after a global event. Not long after the World Baseball Classic final between the U.S. and Japan, many declared standout pitcher and hitter Shohei Ohtani as one of the greatest of all time after striking out his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout to seal a 3-2 victory for the Japanese. Ohtani wasn’t the only GOAT at loanDepot Park in Miami on March 21 as Daddy Yankee, the tournament’s global ambassador, was also on the field to deliver the official game ball. And while opinions may vary as to who is the greatest in their respective field, there is very little debate when it comes to the Puertorriqueño.

“When you’re dubbed the King of Reggaeton by everybody, that’s not an easy title to get,” Bruno Del Granado, head of Latin touring at Creative Artists Agency, tells Pollstar. “It’s a title bestowed on him by his peers. Do you know how tough and brutal and cutthroat the reggaeton world is? This is a major accolade.”

Del Granado would know. As a veteran in the music industry and historian of Latin music, he’s witnessed all the explosions within the genre and even had a hand in it having managed Ricky Martin, a pop artist who broke out in the late ‘90s with “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Del Granado didn’t hesitate in saying Daddy Yankee has a place in the pantheon of great Latin artists.

“I think he represents the new Latino who is proud of their heritage,” Del Granado says. “If you remember, all these artists from the Latin explosion had to sing in English. Daddy Yankee was a shift because he represented the new generation of Latino artists who were going to do it on their own terms, not what a record label dictated. … He basically opened the door for this current generation of Latin superstars, and they call the shots.”

What makes Daddy Yankee stand out from his contemporaries is his staying power. After a nearly three-decade career, the reggaeton pioneer is retiring at the top of his game with one of the most successful tours of 2022, “La Última Vuelta Tour,” and a critically acclaimed album, Legendaddy.

“If you go from Barrio Fino to Legendaddy, I’d say I’m so proud of him because the quality didn’t waver,” says Ernesto Lechner, a music journalist and historian who helped curate the Grammy museum’s current Shakira exhibit. “It’s like a farewell love letter; it’s this beautiful testament of, ‘This is who I was, who I am and who I will be. I will change the music of Latin America forever.’”

Who is Daddy Yankee? He’s the humble guy from San Juan, Puerto Rico, who jumpstarted a movement and gave the pop music scene the spark it needed in 2004 with the infectious reggaeton anthem “Gasolina,” which blended Caribbean rhythms and hip-hop.

“I listened to ‘Gasolina’ recently, and it still has that edge,” Lechner says. “It still has that little threatening vibe to it; this is something new, dangerous and daring. … I think of [Daddy Yankee] as this energy. He has this amazing energy that permeates every single one of his recordings. There was a need for change, and I think Daddy Yankee was the No. 1 person for that movement.

“He arrived just in time, not a moment too soon. We needed a jolt, and that’s what he brings. He brings a jolt of energy, an edgy vibe. Latin music needed something for the grownups to be horrified.”

His energy and charisma spearheaded a cultural shift in the music industry, not only once but twice. Daddy Yankee cemented his legacy 13 years later co-writing and rapping on Luis Fonsi’s megahit “Despacito,” earning him “Legendaddy” status. Lechner said he once spoke to Fonsi at length about the song and the artist felt it was missing something during the early stages. so he called up Daddy Yankee. The reggaeton star’s trademark frenetic energy coupled with Fonsi’s melodic sensibility made “Despacito” one of the most successful pop hits of the century.

“I feel honored and blessed to be able to say that I made a mark in two different decades with Barrio Fino establishing reggaeton globally, and later putting a stamp on music in case there was any doubt of where we were headed as Latin artists,” Daddy Yankee says. “’Despacito’ ended what was a cycle [of Latin music trying to break into the mainstream] that we fought for for so long. Artists that peaked like Gloria Estefan, Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull and Daddy Yankee, we have made the effort and pushed the cart for [Latin] music to get to this point. And for me to still be successful and maintain myself as a vanguard for my people, it’s something I can’t explain.

“I’m glad that since the beginning, I’ve been able to stay relevant with my songs, and that they have changed music. It fills me with joy.”