Review #473: Barrio Fino, Daddy Yankee

Karla Clifton
4 min readNov 28, 2023

#473: Barrio Fino, Daddy Yankee

Mr. Despacito himself. (No shade to Luis Fonsi.) That song came out the year I graduated college, so it was a time in my life that I actually went out clubbing. Every time I hear it I flashback to the smell of cheap beer and the feel of my shoes sticking to the floor. Was there ever a bigger hit than “Despacito”? The answer is yes, of course: Alexa, play Dame más gasoliiiinaaaa!

Daddy Yankee walked so that fellow P.R. reggaeton artist Bad Bunny could run. (Of course they’ve performed together.) But Yankee wasn’t always planning on making music — in fact, he had serious ambitions of becoming a baseball player, and tried out for the Seattle Mariners. According to him, he did well: “I was going to get signed. Officially signed! Everybody [saw] the potential in me. Then all of a sudden: a bullet.” That’s right — a stray bullet from an an AK-47 hit his hip and sidelined his baseball dreams forever. But Yankee’s attitude on the accident is wholly positive: “I thank God for that bullet. … That bullet made me [focus on] music, because I didn’t have any [other] options — it was music or music, you know?”

So he focused, and succeeded so hard, he brought reggaeton to the English-speaking world. And all he needed was a little “Gasolina,” a song inspired by Puerto Rican women who looked for parties by looking for guys driving nice cars. It’s hooky and mesmerizing and has been in my head all goddamn day, to the point that it’s driving me crazy. And I drive a Honda Civic! When you write an earworm like that, it doesn’t matter what language you’re singing in: you’re bound to explode.

My favorite thing about pop/hip-hop music from the early 2000s is how you can always tell what era it’s from by the amount of beeps in every song. It’s fun to see that the same rule applies to reggaeton. See “Dale Caliente” for the best beeps. And Yankee’s delivery is consistently high energy, brash and shouty and cocksure — Eminem and Flo Rida kept coming to mind. “King Daddy” knocked me out, especially the Dad-dy! Dad-dy! See also “Santifica Tus Escapularios,” where he calls himself El Cangriman, Puerto Rican slang for “important person.” Yet on “Salud y Vida,” he assures us (and himself) that he doesn’t need money to keep him happy.

Yankee spends much of the album championing his home. Indeed, the album’s title translates to “A Fine Neighborhood,” though a barrio is generally understood to be a low-income residential area. He has help from P.R. ex-con and poet Gavilán on “Intro” and “Intermedio ‘Gavilán,’” who waxes poetic about these small, dense communities over epic strings and helicopter sounds. He tackles its complexities by coupling “Corazones,” a song about how the barrio is painted as a crime-ridden cesspool despite being full of goodhearted people, with “Golpe de Estado,” a song about engaging in a violent coup d’etat. He also celebrates “El Empuje,” a dance associated with reggaeton. But the most beautiful song might have been “Outro,” where Yankee takes a woman on a tour of P.R. that ends in his childhood home: Bienvenida a mi barrio, humilde pero fino. Welcome to my neighborhood, humble but fine. Aww.

But this is also a club-thumper record released in 2004, so mostly the songs are about women. “El Muro” and “Saber Su Nombre” are both thudding pop songs, but “Sabor a Melao” has some mariachi elements towards the beginning , before launching into what I think is a truly raunchy sex tune. But Yankee has been married since he was seventeen, so there are also some love songs. It’s pretty funny that even the love songs are heavy bouncy club songs — see all the beeps on “No Me Dejes Solo” (or “Don’t Leave Me Alone”) and “Tu Principe” (in which Yankee asks to be “Your Prince”). But “Cuéntame” is genuinely tender, using a mix of acoustic and electric guitar to change up his formula. But I wonder how his wife feels about “Dos Mujeres,” a song about loving one woman at home and another elsewhere. Other standout love songs were “Lo Que Pasó, Pasó,” “¿Qué Vas A Hacer?” — which features some beautiful vocals from the singer May-Be — and “Like You,” the first Spanglish song Yankee ever released.

This album made Daddy Yankee an international staple. Recently, he announced that he would be retiring from music at the end of this year, once he finishes his final tour. I have my doubts, if only because I can think of a few artists who retired, then backtracked. But if that’s what he decides to do, he can retire satisfied.

Review #472: Ctrl, SZA

Review #474: #1 Record, Big Star