DESPITE HAVING DIFFERENT musical styles, Daddy Yankee and his daddy are actually quite similar. DY is the undisputed ambassador of the reggaeton genre — an infectious club-banging mix of American hip-hop, Jamaican dancehall and Latin rhythms. And even though he is a relative newcomer to mainstream music's consciousness, Yankee's reach is now global, selling out arenas throughout the Americas and Europe. But it wasn't all that long ago that Yankee's father — a Puerto Rican salsa bongosero percussionist of the 1980s — played music that wasn't well received in his homeland. "Salsa is more than a genre; it's a way of life," says Raymond Ayala in Spanish — his nickname comes from Puerto Rican slang for tall ("Yankee") and boss ("Daddy") — or Big Boss. "Salsa was the voice of the [low income] barrio, and not everyone understood their way of life. But every generation has their music that they identify with and for our generation that music is reggaeton." It's hard to fathom that if it weren't for a bullet to his right leg that shattered DY's baseball dreams — once a switch-hitting major league prospect third baseman — Latin music would be without one of its biggest stars and the creator of his genre's most instantly identifiable track. In 2004, the megahit "Gasolina" became the first reggaeton song to receive international radio airplay. Yankee's mind-blowing rapid-fire raps (he credits American MC Twista with his delivery style), chants of "Oh, Duro!," heavy Jamaican riddim percussion beat and sound effects of motorcycles revving put his fans into a tizzy. "Gasolina" is on Yankee's "Barrio Fino" album — an instant classic that did as much for reggaeton as Notorious B.I.G.'s "Ready to Die" did for East Coast rap — and helped turn club Spanish rap music into a global phenomenon. The album created a sort of Puerto Rican Beatlemania, causing the ladies to hyperventilate while their male counterparts busted out into impromptu krump-like dance. But Yankee, known for his humility, was expectedly low-key when asked about the song. "I was driving to my studio in Puerto Rico, and I started singing the hook really loud," he said. The track got its name when he overheard a guy hollering at a girl, asking how she likes her "gasolina," or how she likes to party. "I create most of my songs that way, while driving, because I'm focused and in that creative zone." Now 32, Yankee — who also goes by Caribbean Fire, El Jefe, El Cangri and 30/30 — has spent half his life singing, rapping, producing and expanding his multimedia empire — films, his own indie record label, charitable work for education, a clothing line and even his own cologne. The workaholic got his start in the rap game in grade school, back when rock music (his mom was a Madonna fanatic) ruled the charts, but chose to go a different way, emulating the raps on his Run DMC and Rob Base cassettes. At the time, the rap scene in Puerto Rico barely existed. Vico C was the most notable Spanish-language rapper, but there were few others. "There were no rappers on radio, in the press, on TV," said the product of San Juan's Villa Kennedy housing projects. "It was all underground, and that's why I think I have the credibility that I have. My fan base, they recognize and respect me a lot because I'm not an artist that was created under the umbrella of the [music] industry. I was the only artist that came from the streets, from the heart of the people." This is part of the reason the reggaetonero named his breakthrough album "Barrio Fino" (The Fine Neighborhood), the culmination of years of tireless work that resulted in a near-perfect urban mix of hip-hop with traditional Latin rhythms — tracks about his rough upbringing ("King Daddy" and "Corazones") and radio-friendly salsa-rap hits that abuelitas and Latin mothers can appreciate ("Sabor a Melao" and "Lo Que Paso Paso"). Yankee is the top-selling Latin artist of the past three years and has sold more than 7 million records during his 16-year career; headlined shows at arenas, soccer and baseball stadiums worldwide; and despite rarely performing in English, has collaborated with stars of all genres including Lil Jon, Black Eyed Peas, the Pussycat Dolls, Paul Wall, Lloyd Banks and Snoop Dogg. "It's all about doing daring music," Yankee said. "If you speak Spanish and you conquer another country that doesn't speak Spanish, I think that's a big challenge in music." » DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D St. NW; Sun., Mar. 15, 7 p.m., $58; 202-628-1776. (Farragut West). Photo by Matthew Peyton/Getty Images. Posted By Express at 12:00 AM on March 12, 2009
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