A decade ago, before most artists fully understood the power of branding and DIY promotion, Raymond Ayala, better-known as Daddy Yankee, took charge of his career as a reggaeton artist. He created his own label -- El Cartel -- and started to release singles and albums on his own, including 2004's ground-breaking Barrio Fino, which went on to sell 1.1 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and yielded the worldwide hit "Gasolina." Yankee, who now numbers nearly 13 million likes on Facebook and more than 4 million Twitter followers, will release his new album, "Prestige", on Sept. 11.
1. Your last album, "Daddy Yankee Mundial", was released on El Cartel through a distribution deal with Sony. "Prestige" is coming out on Capitol Latin. Why another major-label deal?
They made me a very tempting offer, economically speaking. Although I do everything independently, distribution is a whole other thing. It's impossible for us to distribute around the world. We needed a partnership.
2. You have your own line of Azad luxury watches, Section 8 headphones and a sponsorship pact with Verizon, among other deals. You're also a partner in the new El Cartel Tequila. What can you say about that partnership?
It will be the biggest deal of all, and the numbers should be huge. Our aim is to establish El Cartel as not just another tequila but part of the club and party lifestyle. There are several songs where I mention the brand name, and a lot of these party songs go hand in hand with the concept of Cartel Tequila. I have a track called "Lose Control," for example. It's the only song 100% in English and it's an exclusive iTunes track. But the physical album is entirely in Spanish because that's what the fans were requesting: A 100% urban album, 100% in Spanish.
3. You've had several major hits from this album already, including "Lovumba," which reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart. When your creative process began, were you thinking album or singles?
Honestly, I simply was creating music and putting it out there. When I saw the singles were doing well, I said, "Let's finish this." People who follow me know I've been releasing singles nonstop since 2009, but there's content of mine online that's impossible to contain. And I've seen the results. I go to South America, Central America, Europe, and everything I've released on the Internet is playing. [The single] "Llegamos a la Disco" ["We're at the Disco"], for example, is an anthem for the urban movement, but it was never on the radio. We have many other records like that. Our new street is called the Internet -- that's where everybody finds music.
4. But you're very strong on radio.
Yes, because I have a big following, even though I'm an urban act. "Lovumba" and "Llegamos a la Disco" had the same repercussion. Urban music has two audiences: the audience that listens to popular music and the street. If you separate yourself from that street, which is the root of the genre, you're dead.
5. Your biggest revenue comes from touring, and you've performed in both arenas and clubs. Why?
Both are equally important to me. Any club is important. All Latin music movements are born in clubs. There is no better research than going to a club. If your music works, it will bounce up.
6. You continue to be hugely popular, 10 years later, in a very young-leaning genre. How do you stay hip?
First, you have to understand that music is the root of everything. When art ends, the business starts. When I talk about the Internet, it's because young people are there. TV and radio are still what move the masses and you can't ignore that, but you also have to feed that monster that grows daily, which is the Internet. You're giving it away, yes, but people are listening. It means business in terms of shows and activities. Also, I surround myself with young producers with new ideas. I always say, "I like new cars, but I stay in my lane."