Reggaeton star Daddy Yankee tells 'Barrio' story

By Ian Malinow

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Billboard) - The recording studio of Daddy Yankee is in a modest house that looks just like any other in Carolina, a town on the outskirts of San Juan, Puerto Rico, that is home to the reggaeton movement. Inside, it's a different story.

There's an expensive, design-conscious look to the floors, walls and the glass-enclosed booth equipped with the latest sound technology. Construction materials are scattered around the building as the renovation continues, but reggaeton star Yankee (whose real name is Ramon Ayala) has recently wrapped another major project: the feature film "Talento de Barrio."

"Barrio," which he produced and stars in and which tells a story of the Puerto Rican barrio, had its premiere in July at the New York Latino Film Festival and is slated for release in theaters in September. The soundtrack, which includes Yankee's hit single "Pose," was released August 12 on Machete Records.

Q: What can your fans expect to hear on the "Talento de Barrio" soundtrack?"

Daddy Yankee: This album reflects my personal taste. I don't limit myself as an artist, and I have no musical limits whatsoever. I explore every kind of music. There are artists who remain faithful to one sound. Not me. In essence, this is a musical trip through reggaeton, hip-hop, vallenato, merengue, rock, soca, bachata and bounce, combined with the electro pop and dance on "Pose." All of the songs are new, and I think that they will be equally well received by purists and the most cutting-edge fans.

Q: The sound of "Pose" is a surprise for people who still identify you with pure reggaeton, what's in the mix?

Daddy Yankee: It's difficult to classify that song, and the proof is that it's already being played on thousands of radio stations, whether they're pop, hip-hop or reggaeton.

We made a fusion using Latin music, hip-hop, electro and dance. We used so many things in that song that it came out as something really innovative, totally new.

Every time I release a new single, it's always the same phenomenon -- it happened with "La Gasolina," "Rompe," "Impacto." People say, "But what is this? What is Yankee up to now? This is a musical revolution." Then they get it and understand the message, that it is an innovation and that I'm an artist who doesn't just stick to any one genre.

Q: As the principal ambassador of reggaeton in Puerto Rico and the whole world, where do you think reggaeton is going?

Daddy Yankee: I think the urban genre is in its best moment in terms of its internationalization. We're moving into a world that's more complex and sophisticated, because as you get into other markets you have to assume that there are fans from different cultures, and so you have to pay attention to their tastes as well. That means when I'm putting a song together I can't just be thinking about what Puerto Ricans (like). Now I have to be aware of the varied tastes of the international public.

I think big, and you can see that in my videos, hear it in my lyrics and in my musical fusions. You can see it in the people I work with and at my shows. When you're carrying the torch you have to be out ahead all the time, and everyone follows your lead. If I stop, the movement stops. I'm not saying that in an egocentric way. In this genre, let's suppose that the first name that's going to be mentioned is mine. So you have a responsibility that comes with that, to represent the genre all the time, not one hundred percent, but one thousand percent, because you're the international face (of reggaeton).

Q: You play the central character, Edgar Dinero, in the movie "Talento de Barrio." How was your experience acting in a film for the first time?

Daddy Yankee: There's no one as happy as me in the world right now. The truth is, I lost sleep during the filming of the movie because it was my first time acting and I was worried about doing it right. We spent about seven months filming in the Gautier de Caguas projects and we were really suported by the people who live there. The production took a long time because of my commitments outside of Puerto Rico. There were no known actors. We used the artists who are in the movie because they took the roles where they need to be: real. Among the actors were Maestro, Voltio, Eddie D, Pedro Prez, Gringo, Glory, and my backup singer Cochy.

Q: What is the movie about?

Daddy Yankee: It's about a guy who moves in the streets, who doesn't know that he has a talent that is going to help him out of the low life. What he really likes is music, and one day he starts singing and his friend thinks he really has talent. Little by little, he starts taking his singing career seriously, but his past won't let him go. Drugs, crime, life in the barrio and hope are all themes in the movie.

Q: What is the principal message that you'd like people to take away from this film?

Daddy Yankee: There are poor, marginalized negihborhoods around the world where there are problems with drugs, and people in different cultures will be able to identify with it. What I want them to remember from "Talento de Barrio" is that there is a way out and they should never lose hope.