Daddy and His Brand New Bag

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 14, 2005

NEW YORK For a man who's been blasted by an AK-47 and had part of an earlobe ripped off by a hysterical fan and who, at this very moment, is draped in so many diamonds that he looks as if he's crashed into a Harry Winston display case, Daddy Yankee has an alarmingly light security detail.

As in, nada .

The reggaeton star's current posse consists of two road managers and three publicists (yes, three), and you can't help but wonder if there's an exit strategy should some sort of chaotic situation wedge itself onto the schedule.

Like, say, an encore of this summer's Puerto Rican Day Parade episode on Fifth Avenue, where Daddy Yankee -- who's something like the Puerto Rican Eminem or 50 Cent -- was swarmed by a bunch of squealing, grabbing, hyperventilating B oriquas who refused to back away from his float. ("It was like this crazy Puerto Rican Beatlemania," recalls Ray Mendez, Yankee's videographer. "I've never seen anything like it.")

Then again, that was Daddy Yankee in his element: "The People's Champ," as he half-jokingly calls himself, surrounded by His People, who know him as the king of reggaeton, the Spanish-language music of the moment that's equal parts hip-hop and reggae dancehall, spiked with Colombian cumbia , Puerto Rican salsa and plena and Dominican merengue and bachata. (Put down the "Rough Guide to World Music," reader; that was all just a music-geeky, laundry-list way of saying that reggaeton is rap en español set to a jumpy rhythm that sounds not unlike a horse galloping across a Caribbean island.)

Anyway, this is Daddy Yankee now: Strutting into a chichi Japanese restaurant in midtown Manhattan with snooty hostesses at the door, a koi pond in the middle of the dining room and $22 sushi rolls on the menu.

In this trendy place with the impenetrable reservation book, the People's Champ is surrounded by People Who Have No Idea Who He Is.

Older people. Yuppier people. Whiter people.

People who've surely heard Yankee's ubiquitous reggaeton anthem, "Gasolina," if only because they've had little choice (the high-octane track is always blaring out of somebody's car), but who couldn't be bothered to answer "Gasolina's" opening, English-language query of "Who's this?" Never mind that a tidy little clue ("¡Dah! ¡Dee! ¡Yan! ¡Keeeee!") immediately follows.

In this setting, then, seated among the unknowing, there's little concern that Daddy Yankee might need security protection -- which may be why his handlers decided this is where dinner should be.

It's certainly not because Yankee is craving yellowtail carpaccio with grapeseed oil and ponzu-wasabi tobiko. (Thanks, he says, y'all go ahead, I already had a tuna sandwich.)

Nor is it for the beverage selection: When a waitress comes by, Daddy Yankee -- who doesn't drink alcohol -- asks for a bottle of water and a Diet Pepsi with lemon, and when he's told the restaurant only has Diet Coke, he says sure, and then wonders why we're all looking at him like he's just kicked a dog.

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