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Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez (born February 3, 1977), known by his stage name Daddy Yankee, is a Puerto Rican reggaeton rapper songwriter and recording artist. Ayala was born in Río Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was raised in the Villa Kennedy Housing Projects.
While still dabbling in music, Ayala aspired to be a professional baseball player and tried out for the Seattle Mariners Major League baseball team. Before he could be officially signed, he was hit by a stray round from an AK-47 rifle while taking a break from a studio recording session with reggaeton mix tape icon DJ Playero. Ayala spent roughly one and a half years recovering from the wound; the bullet was never removed from his hip, and he credits the shooting incident with allowing him to focus entirely on a music career. Since then, he has sold over 10 million albums.
1988–03: Early music career
Daddy Yankee first appeared on the 1990 DJ Playero’s Mixtape, Playero 34 with the song So’ Persigueme, No te detengas. His first official studio project as a solo artist was No Mercy, which was released on April 2, 1995 through White Lion Records and BM Records in Puerto Rico. Early in his career he attempted to imitate the style of Vico C. He went on to emulate other artists in the genre, including DJ Playero, DJ Nelson, and DJ Drako, taking elements from their styles in order to develop an original style. In doing so, he eventually abandoned the traditional model of rap and became one of the first artists to perform reggaeton.
In 2002, El Cangri.com became Ayala’s first album with international success, receiving coverage in the markets of New York and Miami. Barrio Fino was released in 2004, and the album received numerous awards, including Lo Nuestro Awards and a Latin Billboard, as well as receiving nominations for the Latin Grammy and MTV Video Music Awards. Barrio Fino performed well in the sales charts of the United States, Latin America, Europe, and Japan.
Ayala’s next album, Barrio Fino, was produced by Luny Tunes and DJ Nelson among others and released in July 2004 by El Cartel Records and VI Music. It was the most highly anticipated album in the reggaeton community. Ayala had enjoyed Salsa music since he was young, and this led him to include music of genres besides reggaeton in the album. The most prominent of these cross-genre singles was “Melao”, in which he performed with Andy Montañez. The album was described as his most complete, and with it he intended to introduce combinations of reggaeton and other genres to the English-speaking market. Barrio Fino was followed up by an international tour with performances in numerous countries including the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Honduras, Spain, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, and the United States. The album has sold over 500,000 copies in the United States alone and has sold well throughout Latin America and worldwide.
In 2005, Ayala won several international awards, making him one of the most recognized reggaeton artists within the music industry. The first award of the year was Lo Nuestro Awards within the “Latin music” category, which he received for Barrio Fino. In this event he performed “Gasolina” in a performance that was described as “innovative”. Barrio Fino also won the “Reggaeton Album of the Year” award in the Latin Billboard that took place on April 28, 2005, where he performed a mix of three of his songs in a duo with P. Diddy. The album was promoted throughout Latin America, the United States, and Europe, reaching certified gold in Japan. Due to the album’s success, Ayala received promotional contracts with radio stations and soda companies, including Pepsi. His single “Gasolina” received the majority of votes cast for the second edition of Premios Juventud, in which it received eight nominations and won seven awards. Ayala also made a live presentation during the award ceremony. “Gasolina” received nominations in the Latin Grammy and MTV Video Music Awards.
Daddy Yankee is said to be influenced by Big Daddy Kane, Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson, and Sean Combs. In addition, he mentioned Hector Lavoe, Ruben Blades, and Juan Luis Guerra as major influences to his tropical music.
In 2008, Ayala participated in a campaign to promote voting in the 2008 general elections in Puerto Rico. This initiative included a concert titled “Vota o quédate callado” (Vote or Remain Silent).