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Daddy Yankee, a reggaeton 'leyenda,' retires

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One of the biggest names in Latin music has decided to call it quits at the ripe old age of 45.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DADDY YANKEE: (Speaking Spanish).

CHANG: Reggaeton star Daddy Yankee announced what he called his retirement last week in a video released on social media. He also announced one last album and one final tour later this year. But, you know, retirements, they're not always clear-cut in pop music. And here to help sort all of this out for us is Felix Contreras, the host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast. Hey, Felix.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa. What's happening?

CHANG: (Laughter) Can you just first put into context for us, like, why the retirement of Daddy Yankee is like a seismic event in Latin music?

CONTRERAS: OK. I think first people need to understand that reggaeton could be one of the most popular forms of Latin music ever. I mean, in this age of streaming and YouTube, the streams and clicks on this music number in the billions. And Ramon Luis Ayala Rodriguez helped launch that popularity as a pioneer in developing the genre as it left its roots in Panama and made its way to his native Puerto Rico in the mid-to-late-'90s.

CHANG: Right. And he had like one of the first breakout hits featuring the reggaeton beat, right?

CONTRERAS: Yes. Around 2004, after a decade as a rough underground expression of marginalized Puerto Ricans, that infectious beat broke through to the Latin mainstream by way of his track "Gasolina." For a while, man, it was everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GASOLINA")

DADDY YANKEE: (Rapping in Spanish).

CHANG: I am already dancing, Felix.

CONTRERAS: That's what makes it so popular, man. It's a killer dance groove. It's a dance music, first and foremost. And between the 2000s and 2017, Daddy Yankee's career was a steady climb of hit records on his own, tons of collaborations with other reggaeton superstars and seemingly endless tours of at first Latin America, then the U.S. and then Europe. Millions and millions of album sales, both physical product and digital sales. And not only did he become one of the most successful Latin music pop stars out there, he also helped create a demand for reggaeton that went global.

CHANG: Totally. And you said that Daddy Yankee, he had like all these hit records between the early 2000s and 2017. What happened in 2017? Why are you being so specific there?

CONTRERAS: This happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESPACITO")

LUIS FONSI: (Singing in Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: The song I will never get tired of - never.

CONTRERAS: And a whole bunch of other people around the world.

CHANG: Oh, my God. I have choreographed so many dance moves in my head listening to this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESPACITO")

FONSI: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: You know, the crazy thing about this song's success is that Daddy Yankee was a hardcore reggaetonero, and he teamed up with Luis Fonsi, who was more of a pop balladeer. And what they created was really like capturing lightning in a bottle. I mean, not only did it become one of your favorite songs, it became one of the biggest selling streamed and viewed songs of all time in any language.

CHANG: In any language.

CONTRERAS: In any language. It's like the biggest thing out there. It was a major, major game-changer. And more importantly, it changed the concept of crossover because it was the first time that what is called the general market or the non-Spanish-speaking audience adopted a song in Spanish and lifted it to anthemic proportions. And I checked this week to prepare for our conversations, and the YouTube views on that song are up to nearly 8 billion. That's billion with a B.

CHANG: (Laughter) Holy...

CONTRERAS: Right?

CHANG: So as reggaeton has gotten more and more popular as a genre, like, did it start showing up in other forms of music?

CONTRERAS: Curiously, yes. I mean, that beat, there's a beat. It goes (beatboxing) - that form just really took off. And other musicians, other genres just started adding a little bit to it, just sometimes even the essence of it. I mean, I play in a Beatles music cover band with Latin rhythm.

CHANG: You do? Oh, my God.

CONTRERAS: And even I threw in a little bit of reggaeton on one of our songs. OK.

CHANG: That's awesome.

CONTRERAS: But one of the most recent examples is from the Spanish vocalist from Spain, Rosalia. She's got a great new record out. And she's got a song called "Chicken Teriyaki." Check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHICKEN TERIYAKI")

ROSALIA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: (Beatboxing).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHICKEN TERIYAKI")

ROSALIA: (Singing in Spanish).

CHANG: Yeah. I hear it. I mean, it sounds like reggaeton to me.

CONTRERAS: Yeah. I mean, it's that dance beat, man. Above all, that seems to always have been one of the most successful things about genres, styles, fads, et cetera - it's that dance beat. It's got to have a dance beat. Go back as far back as swing music in the '40s right? It's like - it's dance. You can dance to it? It's going to get popular.

CHANG: Totally. OK. So you're saying Daddy Yankee wasn't just like a mega superstar, he became kind of this agent of cultural change.

CONTRERAS: Correct. I mean, it's hard not to overstate just how profoundly "Despacito" changed the record business, and also how Latin music and culture was viewed around the world, because it was no longer something exotic in a foreign language. I mean, teenagers everywhere from France to Iowa were singing that song.

CHANG: Including some Chinese women in New York City at the time.

CONTRERAS: Yeah (laughter).

CHANG: Woo-hoo. And all of this happened before Daddy Yankee turned 45 years old. I mean, I am older than him. This puts my life accomplishments in total perspective now.

CONTRERAS: Tell me about it.

CHANG: So what does retirement mean for someone like Daddy Yankee?

CONTRERAS: OK. He just released what he calls his last album. It's called "Legenddaddy." OK. Here's a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAMPEON")

DADDY YANKEE: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: He's saying, I am a legend. (Unintelligible) back in my career, right? I mean, he's putting things in perspective from his perspective, right?

CHANG: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: He's also set to start a massive final tour later this year, and he hasn't said much beyond that. I mean, my guess - he's going to do whatever he wants, man. I mean, maybe a string of singles instead of dealing with the pressure of a full album, maybe a series of one-off shows instead of a grueling world tour with all the trappings of a pop extravaganza, dancers, stage stuff, all that stuff. He's created several philanthropic organizations. He's been involved with video game creation. I mean, you know, a guy this creative just might even change the meaning of retirement.

CHANG: Totally. Well, he can do whatever he wants.

CONTRERAS: Exactly.

CHANG: Felix Contreras is the host of the Alt.Latino podcast from NPR Music. Thank you so much, Felix.

CONTRERAS: Thank you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.