Who Is Daddy Yankee?
Daddy Yankee starting singing and rapping at 13, right when the rap scene began taking root in Puerto Rico. At only 21 he launched his own label called El Cartel Records in the late 1990s. In 2004, he broke into the mainstream with his breakthrough album Barrio Fino along with its hit track "Gasolina."
In 2006, Time Magazine ranked him as one of the top 100 influencers in the world. Ten years later, he and his good friend Luis Fonsi collaborated on the single “Despacito,” not knowing it'd become a chart topper in close to 50 countries and become the most-watched YouTube video ever. Yankee’s unique rap style has made him the most-streamed musician on Spotify in 2017.
From Aspiring Ballplayer to the King of Reggaetón
Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez, known professionally as Daddy Yankee, was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on February 3, 1977.
Though Yankee grew up immersed in music, his first love was playing baseball. In a 2006 interview with MTV.com, he said he had tried out for the Seattle Mariners and had every expectation of being signed when he was caught in the crossfire between gangs. He spent the next six months in bed. It was a year before he could walk and he still carries a bullet lodged in his right thigh. In a New York Times magazine profile, “The King of Reggaetón,” Yankee credits that hiatus from street life for redirecting his focus on making music. He also went to college, and earned an associate's degree in accounting in 1998, in order to help himself better navigate the music business. "I thank God every day for that bullet," he said.
His Memorable Musical Moniker
When he was a child, Yankee was glued to MTV and BET, watching rap music videos of Dr. Dre and Rakim. Despite not knowing English, he felt connected to the music, and at 13, he gave himself the new moniker Daddy Yankee, which means "powerful man." A year later, he began recording himself rapping in Spanish.
“Despacito” Becomes a Phenomenon
In January 2017, Fonsi released his song, “Despacito,” which featured Daddy Yankee — and the rest is streaming history. Co-writing with Erika Ender, Fonsi felt the song needed an urban element to it and contacted Yankee. “I came to the studio and did the verse and the pre-hook, ‘Pasito a pasito’ — that was my creation,” Yankee explained to Billboard magazine. “And we made a hit.”
In an interview with Forbes.com, Yankee praises Justin Bieber’s contribution to the remix they made in April. “He gave us another ingredient on the song,” Yankee said. “I think having two Latinos and Justin, who was born and raised in Canada... It's now a multicultural song. I think that is one of the reasons why everybody is feeling the song, because there's a lot of mixed in.”
Rebuilding Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria
People en Español named Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi The Stars of the Year of 2017 when the duo reaffirmed their dedication to helping their native island rebuild from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in September. As one of Puerto Rico’s most recognizable celebrities, Yankee, who has donated more than $1 million for reconstruction efforts, aims to leverage his star power to raise another $1.5 million to rebuild homes on the island. “Help has to keep flowing because this is not like you throwing 25 cents in a basket and keep walking,” he continued. “This is a very long process and we need everyone to get involved in some way. Restoring and rebuilding the country will take a long time.”
Daddy Yankee was born to Ramón Ayala and Rosa Rodriguez on February 3, 1977, as Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. His father was a bongosero (a salsa percussionist) and his mother's family came from a long line of musicians. He was raised in the projects with his older brother, Nomar Ayala (who at one point, served as one of his managers). His younger brother, Melvin Ayala, is a Christian rapper. He and Mirredys Gonzalez got married in 1994 when they were both 17 years old, and they have two daughters and one son: Jesaaelys Marie, Yamilette Rodriguez and Jeremy Ayala González.
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