Midem Report: Daddy Yankee on 'Despacito' Success & Remaining Independent -- 'I'm My Own Jefe'

V. Desjardins/Image & Co/Courtesy of Midem
Daddy Yankee at Midem Conferences on June 7, 2017.

When Luis Fonsi sent “Despacito” to Daddy Yankee, Yankee heard a hit. But still, he felt there could be even more.

“Fonsi sent me an email and said, 'I have this crazy song.' Obviously he’s the creator and the main author of the song. But I thought there was something missing. I told him, ‘I think it needs energy,'" recalled Yankee during his one on one panel session (moderated by yours truly) at Midem Thursday morning (June 8).

“I went into the studio and I did my thing. The verse and the pre-hook- 'pasito a pasito,' was my creation," he said. "He gave me plenty of liberty to be creative on the session. Then I remember the ending of the song was different. I told Fonsi, ‘we need to repeat pasito a pasito after the bridge.' We put everything together and it came out. ‘Despacito.’” 

Our half-hour conversation with Yankee was held at a packed panel room with a broad range of attendees who all knew “Despacito,” but were also familiar with Yankee’s roster of past hits, beginning with “Gasolina” and including “Rompe” and “Oye mi canto.” All told Yankee has had more Hot 100 hits in another language than anybody in the history of the chart.

The secret to over a decade of hits, he said, is, “my essence, my Caribbean essence. Staying true to your essence and putting something new on the table,” said Yankee, who’s worked with acts as varied as Pharrell and Fergie. “Number two, don’t repeat formulas. If you tell me to do another ‘Despacito,’ it’s not going to happen. And number three, it’s very important to have a business sense.”

As for crossing over, that is never the objective, he noted. “I never thought ‘Despacito’ was going to be a crossover hit," he said.

Yankee spoke of his beginnings as the leader of reggaeton as a then “underground movement” that had no radio and no major labels and where tracks were recorded and sold as mixtapes. Today it’s not too different. Streaming, he said, “that’s the new street market. We were entrepreneurs by obligation.”

Even now, Yankee remains independent and has full control of his masters, only signing distribution with the majors. “I’ve been investing with my tracks and I own my masters. When anybody negotiates with Daddy Yankee, it’s straight with me. I’m my own jefe,” he said to applause.

Yankee also spoke about working with multiple digital and distribution platforms. “Shaky Shaky” benefited greatly from exposure in music.ally, for example, and also Zumba.

“Zumba is a huge platform as well, and it relates to the music we’re making," he explained of the fitness craze. "They reach out to millions of people in their platform and that’s another tool we have to promote our music. I’m taking advantage of many platforms.” Radio, however, continues to be key. “It always adds something special to the artist as well.”

“Despacito,” for example, started in radio and streaming platforms. “You need both," he reminded the audience. Yankee, also just released a new single, “La rompecorazones” and is in the midst of his European tour, where, of course, he performs “Despacito.”

“It’s one of the reasons we have a sold out European tour!” he laughed. 

You can watch the full panel here: