Who Is Daddy Yankee?
Native Puerto Rican Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez (born February 3, 1977), better known by the stage name Daddy Yankee, was something of a performing prodigy: He began rhyming and singing when he was 13 years old and became part of the underground rap scene in its early stages in Puerto Rico. He also formed his own record label, El Cartel Records, in 1997, when he was only 21. In 2004, he released Barrio Fino, which became his mainstream breakthrough album. Fueled by the international hit single "Gasolina," it is considered to be one of the best full-length albums ever released in this emerging musical genre.
In 2006, Time Magazine put him on its list of the 100 most influential people who are shaping the world. A decade later, his friend Luis Fonsi asked him to collaborate on a little ditty called “Despacito,” which has made history as the most watched video on YouTube — ever — and topped the charts in nearly 50 countries. Yankee’s signature raps, delivered over repetitive, almost hollow snare-drum rhythm have made him Spotify’s most-streamed artist in 2017.
“Despacito” Becomes a Phenomenon
Released in January 2017, Fonsi’s song, “Despacito,” featuring Daddy Yankee, was 2017’s inescapable pop juggernaut and has become the most streamed song in history. Fonsi, who co-wrote the song with Erika Ender, contacted Yankee because he felt a strong urban voice was needed for its second verse. Together, they rearranged the track, adding in Yankee’s urban aesthetic. “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.”
As of 2017, Yankee reportedly has a net worth of $30 million.
His Memorable Musical Moniker
As a young boy, the aspiring artist was obsessed with the rap music videos on MTV and BET and especially connected with Dr. Dre, Rakim and Big Daddy Kane — even though his only language was Spanish at that time, so he couldn't understand what they were saying. By age 13, he rechristened himself Daddy Yankee, which in Puerto Rican street slang means "powerful man." The next year, using a friend's four-track recorder, he started rapping in Spanish.
From Aspiring Ballplayer to the King of Reggaetón
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.
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 included numerous musicians. He was raised in the Villa Kennedy housing projects with his older brother, Nomar Ayala (who served as one of his managers for a while) and younger brother, Melvin Ayala, who 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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