NEW YORK — A few years ago, Puerto Rico-born Raymond "Daddy Yankee" Ayala couldn't even speak English. Now he speaks the language fluently — but he's still relying on Spanish to touch thousands of fans in the U.S. In the meantime, he's become to reggaeton what Jay-Z is to hip-hop.
On Wednesday Yankee announced his first trek across the States: the Who's Your Daddy Tour.
"It's good for me because [it will keep] opening the doors for the genre. It's all good, man," Daddy said at club Latin Quarters.
Yankee says it was extremely difficult in the mid-'90s breaking into the U.S. market with his art form — a hybrid of Spanish hip-hop and reggae — but over the past couple of years, reggaeton has become increasingly popular in the clubs. It's sexy, it's vibrant and it makes you want to move, even if you don't understand the language. Yankee, along with artists like Don Omar and Tego Calderó (see "Reggaeton Superstar Tego Calderon Headlines AIDS-Awareness Concert"), has seen his popularity grow from the underground to the mainstream.
Yankee's last studio LP, 2004's Barrio Fino, sold more than a million copies. Over the past two years, he's recorded songs with the likes of N.O.R.E., Lil Jon and Pitbull; he's also popped onstage with Usher and P. Diddy. Earlier this week he was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award in the MTV2 category for "Gasolina" (see "Green Day, Gwen, Missy Nab Most Nominations For MTV Video Music Awards").
"Being nominated in the awards show is just an honor," he said. "I'm nominated with a lot of great artists. It's just big for me. I didn't believe it but I have to thank the audience, they the ones that vote and they deserve all the credit.
Photos: The 2005 MTV Video Music Awards Nominees
"I feel honored," he added. "I got a lot of respect from the States. The African-American community has given me a vote of confidence by playing my music. I thank them a lot for that. I feel great that I'm representing my people without sacrificing who I am. They're respecting my culture."
Yankee is preparing to bring aspects of his culture not only to radio, but to the big screen. He's filming a drama in Puerto Rico and New York about the struggle in the streets called "Straight From the Barrio," tentatively due in 2006. Yankee also wants to launch his own clothing and shoe lines next year, and next week he'll announce which major label he'll partner his indie El Cartel Records with to release his next album, The Cartel.
Yankee says The Cartel will feature much of his vintage reggaeton style and that he's been in talks with P. Diddy, the Neptunes, Lil Jon and one of his childhood idols, Dr. Dre, about getting down on the album. Before The Cartel however, Yankee is releasing a live version of Barrio Fino with six new songs.
Yankee says he's be experimenting with Spanglish rapping for his new tracks. "I [made] that decision thinking about my non-Spanish [speaking] people here in the States," Yankee said. "[There's] a lot of Latinos here in the States that don't speak Spanish, but they're proud of the music. I'm thinking about that. I'm thinking about the African-American community that have given me the vote of confidence by playing my music on their radios or in their households. I'm thinking about the white community that's playing my songs on rotation on the radio."
Yankee's tour starts August 27 at New York's Madison Square Garden and ends October 8 at the All State Arena in Chicago.
Daddy Yankee tour dates, according to his publicist:
- 8/27 - New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
- 9/9 - Los Angeles, CA @ Staples Center
- 9/10 - San Diego, CA @ Cox Arena
- 9/23 - Boston, MA @ Agganis Arena
- 9/24 - Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun
- 9/25 - Houston, TX @ Toyota Center
- 9/30 - Washington, DC @ Patriot Center
- 10/1 - Orlando, FL @ TD Waterhouse
- 10/2 - Dallas, TX @ Smirnoff Amphitheater
- 10/7 - Miami, FL @ American Airlines Arena
- 10/8 - Chicago, IL @ Allstate Arena