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Daddy Yankee on ‘Despacito’ success, tying with Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and more

Reggaeton music pioneer Daddy Yankee.

Reggaeton music pioneer Daddy Yankee. Credit: El Cartel Records

Puerto Rican reggaeton music pioneer Daddy Yankee is not used to doing anything “Despacito.”

The 40-year-old star, whose infectious No. 1 song (the title translates to “slowly” in English) alongside singer Luis Fonsi, featuring Justin Bieber, has been working at top speed since the start of his career in 1992.

The singer, whose real name is Ramón Luis Ayala Rodriguez, has sold more than 18 million albums, and also garnered 80 music industry awards, including a Latin Grammy, two Billboard Music Awards, 14 Billboard Latin Music Awards and six ASCAP Awards. In July he ousted Ed Sheeran from the No. 1 spot on Spotify to become the first Latino artist to lead the music platform. Yankee, who performs Sept. 21 at Brooklyn’s Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk.

The overwhelming success of “Despacito” has caught a lot of people [in the music industry] off-guard, do you consider yourself one of them or did you somehow “feel” that it was a special song from the get-go?

When Fonsi and I recorded the track, we knew we had something special. When I go into the studio, I never put pressure on myself that I have to record a hit. When we released “Despacito,” we saw the reaction it got within the first 24 hours. I said, “Wow, this is amazing!” But when it became such a phenomenon globally and when the video for the song became the most watched video of all time, I wasn’t expecting that. As an artist, you never expect to break records but it feels amazing and is truly a huge blessing that at times can make you feel overwhelmed.

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The song has also been at the center of a few controversies . . . we can’t talk about “Despacito” without mentioning the remix version featuring Justin Bieber, its radio success, the blunders that followed, which resulted in Bieber getting a shoe thrown at him by a disappointed fan and the singer saying, “I’m sorry I don’t know the words” after singing “dorito, dorito” in lieu of the chorus. Fonsi has excused Bieber in previous interviews. Did you find his actions at all disrespectful?

I think the song is very difficult to sing live. And I can understand the situation very well. It is as if they asked me to sing a song entirely in English, I would do it but if they told me, “Hey, sing it live!,” I’d probably say, “Hey, it’s hard to sing this song in English.” So it can happen to anyone. I don’t blame him.

What do you have to say to the people who have alluded, if not straight out said, that the song was only a success because of Beiber’s participation on the track?

“Despacito” was already a hit, not only in Latin America but also in many European countries. The track was already No. 1 on Spotify and No. 1 on YouTube globally. But having Bieber on the track and singing some verses in Spanish brought something unexpected to the audience, opening new doors.

“Despacito” tied Mariah Carey’s 16-week record at No. 1 on the billboard Hot 100 as the longest-running No. 1 song in the 59-year history of the charts. Where were you and what were you doing when you learned this news? How did it impact you?

I was actually here, on the island, for the release of “Yo Contra Ti,” a track I recorded with Puerto Rico’s Symphony Orchestra, to fight cancer. Fifty percent of the profits, will be donated to the Susan G. Komen organization. I heard the news while working for the cause, and really wasn’t expecting it so I was very excited when my team broke the news to me.

What can your New York fans expect to see when you perform in Brooklyn?

What I can promise is to deliver a show full of adrenaline! My fans and the audience can expect a show full of energy, I’ll be performing most of my greatest hits like “Rompe” and “Shaky Shaky” among others.

What’s your favorite spot to visit when you come to New York?

I love going back to the Bronx and Brooklyn. I lived in Brooklyn for a while when I was younger so it always brings back good memories.

You’ve already accomplished so much in your career, are there any items or specific goals and dreams you’ve yet to conquer?

My first goal is to continue recording great music. In the long term, producing and signing new talent, helping them learn and grow their careers. Also, I’d like to have more time to take my tour to China, India and Africa. I’ve gotten many requests to perform in those areas, and my team and I are trying to accommodate some dates in those locations into my calendar.

Maybe you need to take things more despacito? Is there something you’d never do despacito?

Recording, working and touring 24/7, won’t stop, can’t stop! [Laughs.]

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