Daddy Yankee, Undisputed 'Boss' Of Reggaeton

Following "Gasolina" into the mainstream: "El Cartel" is the latest from Daddy Yankee. (By Stephen Chernin -- Associated Press)
By Dan Charnas
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Spanish-speaking superstars generally have their breakthroughs in the United States when they release their first English-language album. Shakira achieved hers this way, as did both Julio and Enrique Iglesias before her. With the release of the superb "El Cartel -- the Big Boss," Puerto Rican reggaeton icon Daddy Yankee is poised to render that crossover paradigm obsolete.

Daddy Yankee -- the stage name of 30-year-old Ramón (Raymond) Ayala -- began his mainstream ascent in 2004 with his hit "Gasolina," a tongue-twisting fusillade of bilingual double-entendres that set fire to dance floors across North America and took his "Barrio Fino" album platinum with the help of both Spanish- and English-speaking fans.

"El Cartel" is just as defiantly polyglot, its songs a combination of Spanish, English and Spanglish. It is also unapologetically collaborative, featuring Fergie and Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas, Nicole Sherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls and Akon. As such, "El Cartel" fulfills the artistic and commercial promise of "Gasolina."

A lesser artist might not have been able to walk this musical tightrope. But Daddy Yankee has the talent and personality to match anyone who steps in the studio with him. On "Plane to P.R.," Will.I.Am throws him a beat that conjures memories of the Notorious B.I.G.'s paean to the West Coast, "Going Back to Cali," which DY promptly rocks to the East. With the song's relentless refrain and raucous rhythms, the pop potential of "Plane to P.R." overshadows even his other encounter with the Peas posse, "Impacto," the current single and video featuring Fergie and produced by Scott Storch. In "Bring It On," Daddy Yankee gets one of Akon's best efforts. Over a lumbering track, Akon talks tough and DY spits in fractured English and Spanish, concluding, "The sound of the gun is the universal language."

"El Cartel" is more than the sum of its collaborations. The heart of the album is track after track of solid reggaeton: "En Sus Marcas Listos Fuera" ("Ready, Set, Go") and "A Lo Clásico" ("Old School") have snare drums hard enough to crack heads, and bass to break some axles. But even "A Lo Clásico" is a bit of musical miscegenation, its orthodox reggaeton beats provided by hip-hop and R&B track-master Storch. Daddy Yankee leans into salsa with "Coraza Divina" ("Divine Shield"), and drops some mambo into the hip-hop of "Me Quedaría" ("I'd Stay").

Daddy Yankee's "El Cartel" isn't a crossover so much as it is a coming-out party, a quinceañera for the genre that emerged in the early 1990s. The title of the album's last track, "Todos Quieren a Raymond," really is true. Everybody does love Raymond.

Daddy Yankee is scheduled to perform at the Patriot Center on Sept. 8.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Plane to P.R.," "A Lo Clásico," "Me Quedaría"

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