In 2004, the pulsating, intensely catchy beats of Daddy Yankee’s mostly Spanish song “Gasolina” hit dance clubs around the world, helping launch the Puerto Rican artist — and reggaeton — into the mainstream.
The song, and Daddy Yankee, “triggered the explosion of urban Latin music worldwide,” as one music publishing executive phrased it. Even so, “Gasolina” never made it past No. 32 on the Billboard charts.
More than a decade later, “Despacito,” sung by Daddy Yankee and fellow Puerto Rican Luis Fonsi, featuring Justin Bieber, reached the No. 1 spot on the charts in May. It was the first Spanish-language song to top the charts since “Macarena” in 1996.
And now, Daddy Yankee — whose genre of music was once shunned and censored in his native Puerto Rico — has become the No. 1 artist on Spotify, the first Latino artist to reach the global spot. The 40-year-old surpassed 44,735,586 monthly listeners and ousted Ed Sheeran to top the list, Spotify announced Sunday, according to the Associated Press.
Daddy Yankee’s rise to the top of the charts marks a milestone for the Latin music industry. It also reflects how the growth of the Spanish-speaking population in the United States, and the emergence of music streaming services such as Spotify, have boosted a new surge in Spanish-language songs entrenched in Latino culture.
[America’s No. 1 song isn’t in English. That doesn’t happen often.]
Speaking in Spanish in a video posted to Twitter, Daddy Yankee, whose real name is Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez, looked back on his decision to commit to the music industry in 1992.
“No one believed in me, it cost me many sacrifices, many moments lost with my family,” Daddy Yankee said. “I had to face prejudice and discrimination.”
“But today this genre called reggaeton is the most listened to in the world,” he continued, thanking his fans. His chart-topping recognition belongs not to him, he said, but to the genre as a whole.
“Family, we did it,” he said. He also spoke in English to his “brothers around the world who have embraced our culture. … You’re part of it.”
“We’ve been on this way for a long time now,” he said.
Reggaeton’s emergence in Latin America and subsequent ascent to a global stage were tense and, at times, unlikely. Although there is debate about the genre’s origins, many argue it was in San Juan dance clubs, where DJs in the early 1990s spun hip-hop beats alongside reggae music. Reggaeton developed as an underground genre scorned by the government and major labels, as Petra Rivera-Rideau, author of “Remixing Reggaeton: The Cultural Politics of Race in Puerto Rico,” told the Atlantic.
It became associated with drug and crime-ridden public-housing projects on the island that in the 1990s were targeted in an anti-crime campaign led by the governor at the time. “The discourse around the campaign was heavily racialized: Young, predominantly nonwhite men were seen as perpetrators of crime,” Rivera-Rideau told the Atlantic.
The genre’s emergence in Puerto Rico, Rivera-Rideau said, exposed the “persistence of anti-black racism there.”
In the mid 1990s, police went into Puerto Rican malls and took reggaeton records. In 2002, an anti-pornography campaign censored reggaeton music videos for their representations of women, Rivera-Rideu noted.
“It’s an interesting moment to think about how this genre has moved from being so maligned, marginalized, and censored to now being the No. 1 song on the English-language pop charts,” Rivera-Rideau said.
Reggaeton gained a reputation for its misogynistic and sexual messages, criticism that has remained as the genre has grown in popularity.
“We were speaking about drugs, about wars on the streets, wars in the government,” Daddy Yankee told the New York Times magazine in a 2006 profile titled “The King of Reggaeton.”
“We were using bad words, but that was real,” he added. “It was how we talked. In reggaetón, you say what you want. That’s the essence of the movement.”
“Despacito,” however, is not as explicit. The sensual, catchy song, which means “slowly” in Spanish, was already a hit on Latin charts when Justin Bieber heard it in a club in Colombia and asked Daddy Yankee and Fonsi if he could join in for a remix of the song.
In the popular remix, Bieber sings a verse in English and the chorus in Spanish, which initially impressed Daddy Yankee, Fonsi and Bieber’s fans. But since the track’s release, Bieber has had at least two slip-ups with the Spanglish song.
In May, while performing the song at New York City nightclub 1 Oak, Bieber appeared to struggle with the Spanish lyrics and replace them with “blah, blah, blah.”
“I don’t know the words, so I say ‘Dorito,’” Bieber said in videos captured at the nightclub.
And at the Summerburst Festival 2017 in Stockholm, Bieber told his audience, “I can’t do ‘Despacito. I don’t even know it,” to which someone in the crowd responded by throwing a bottle at Bieber.
But Bieber’s blunders didn’t seem to bother Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. “That chorus is not easy to sing, even for fluent Spanish singers like myself,” Fonsi told Rolling Stone.
Moreover, the remix has given a hefty boost to both Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, who Billboard once called the “messiah of reggaeton” and who has released a number of other hit songs recently, such as “Shaky Shaky.”
“I think streaming has had a lot to do with us being in the same arena as any mainstream American artist and I think that we have an audience that is global,” Daddy Yankee told the Associated Press in May. “We simply couldn’t register it before with numbers.”
He told the AP on Sunday that being the first Latin artist to reach the No. 1 spot on Spotify “marks a precedent not only for my career but for the industry in general.”
“The musical digital revolution has unified the world and this is the proof,” Daddy Yankee said. “We are all in the same boat with no labels or stereotypes.”