Happy 15th Anniversary to Daddy Yankee’s third studio album Barrio Fino, originally released July 13, 2004.
This is the album that changed everything. After Daddy Yankee dropped Barrio Fino for the American market on July 13, 2004, reggaetón stopped being just a regional thing for the Puerto Rican music scene. This LP was major in the US, but more importantly, it was huge in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries, boosting the genre to become the premier sound in the region and beyond.
At the beginning of his career, with DJ Playero at his side, Daddy Yankee was a significant player in the reggae en español movement, a dancehall music variation with roots in Panama. After Boricua acts were able to create their own sound, separate from that of the Panamanian pioneers, reggaetón was born. Originally a heavily persecuted underground tribe, hip-hop and reggaetón artists were capable of overstepping state-sanctioned criminalization to become the youth’s voice.
The first underground acts to become stars in Puerto Rico were Vico C, Héctor & Tito, Eddie Dee, Lito & Polaco, and Tempo. With a great background in hip-hop, reggae en español, and the still young reggaetón style, Daddy Yankee soon joined that group with hits like “Latigazo” (2002) and “Segurosqui” (2003).
By 2004, the scene was enjoying even more popularity amongst young people and flourishing with newer acts like Don Omar, Wisin & Yandel, Ivy Queen, and Tego Calderón. Reggaetón had already entered the markets of Santo Domingo, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela; the car just needed a little bit of gasolina to start for good and cross over to the mainstream.
With two of the strongest singles in reggaetón history (“Gasolina” and “Lo que pasó, pasó”) booming out of every radio station, car, and house party in Puerto Rico, Yankee dropped a bomb. Released on June 13th in Borinquen and an exact month later in the US, Barrio Fino was the most accomplished album by any Puerto Rican underground artist up to that point. It was the perfect storm and the perfect timing for reggaetón legends DJ Urba & Monserrate and Santo Domingo’s production super duo Luny Tunes. The latter were coming fresh off great success after working with Eliel on Don Omar’s 2003 debut The Last Don, another smash hit classic LP.
The album starts with rapper Gavilán describing the strength of street knowledge and the experience-rich life in el barrio. After the spoken word intro, here comes Ramón Ayala a.k.a. Daddy Yankee and the vigorous “King Daddy.” One of the best examples of a formula Ayala developed throughout years of mixing rap and toasting over reggaetón beats. The result is a fast and dexterous chorus delivery, along with smooth braggadocio verses and bridge, fitting to start off the LP.
“Dale Caliente” is another archetypical reggaetón track with staple vocals by Glory and an acoustic-guitar sampling bombastic beat. The sound became a regular in reggaetón albums for the mid-2000s and this time is presented by Urba, Monserrate, and Fido (of Alexis & Fido fame). Next, the trio takes it up a notch with the all-time classic track “No me dejes solo.” The song is about lust and fear of loneliness, with Wisin & Yandel stealing the show for a second and Glory delivering yet another memorable chorus.
The intro for track 5 is one of the most recognizable loops in Caribbean music history, by the time Daddy Yankee starts singing about throwing mambo, everybody’s already on the dancefloor. “Gasolina” was the hit reggaetón needed to go mainstream, it was the summer anthem for everybody from Argentina to Mexico.
Melodically, for Ayala, the song was a continuation of the 2003 Luny Tunes-produced underground hits “Aquí Está Tu Caldo” (from mixtape Blin Blin, Vol. 1) and “Cógela que va sin jockey” (from Más Flow). Only this time around, the Dominican duo came up with a sharper, more layered production, while the singer-songwriter was letting fly his most playful punchlines and innuendos
Before “Gasolina,” reggaetón and perreo were an embarrassing youth perversion to the Puerto Rican mainstream, after the international hit, the genre became only the most important cultural movement of the decade.
For track 6 “Like You,” Yankee consulted veteran Eddie Dee to co-write an R&B/reggaetón crossover. The result is promising but acts like R.K.M. & Ken-Y and Wisin & Yandel would later perfect the formula. “El Muro” feels like a lesser version of “Dale Caliente,” with lazy production and an uninspired hook and bridge.
“Lo Que Pasó, Pasó,” another Luny Tunes unbeatable production, was a bigger hit than “Gasolina” in Spanish-speaking countries. After Tego Calderón’s success with songs like “Pa’ Que Retozen” (2002) and “Métele Sazón” (2003), mixing bachata and reggaetón had become a thing. Nevertheless, Luny Tunes and Eliel went to the kitchen to take that style to a whole other level on this track. The chorus is simply flawless, with quintessential writing and singing by Yankee, whose delivery is unforgettable. “Lo Que Pasó, Pasó” is by far the most fun song on the album and a great example of what great craftsmanship sounds like in the proper environment.
Daddy Yankee was hitting back to back home-runs with “Lo Que Pasó, Pasó” and the Zion & Lennox-featuring “Tu Príncipe.” The Puerto Rican duo, being the originators of reggaetón ballads, were in their element here. Lennox’s verse is full of quotables, Zion drops one of his most remarkable performances, but it’s Daddy Yankee who captures all of the spotlight, with a dancehall-savvy, rhyme scheme-changing, flavor-rich verse. “Tu Príncipe” became the genre’s go-to romantic track and an all-time dancefloor favorite.
Naldo joins Eliel and Luny Tunes for “Cuéntame” and he demonstrates he’s one of the most progressive figures in the game, with the slickest beat on the album. Flutes and guitars jangle around just to escort Yankee’s lamentful voice in a very underrated song. “Santifica Tu Escapulario” is Ayala’s first straight hip-hop effort in Barrio Fino, detailing his pedigree and catalog over a two-bar loop.
Daddy Yankee (and reggaetón as a whole) got one of the biggest co-signs in Boricua music, as legendary salsa singer Andy Montañez provided vocals for the DJ Nelson-produced “Sabor a Melao.” Ayala would later further explore his salsa penchant in songs like “Ella Me Levantó” (2007). Glory reappears in “El Empuje,” as the singer-songwriter chants about empowering and pleasing women.
In ballad “¿Qué Vas a Hacer?” Ayala asks for forgiveness from his romantic partner, while singer May-Be stands in firm opposition. The Crooked Stilo-crafted beat for track 15 “Salud y Vida,” sounds almost hand-made for a Cypress Hill LP, while Daddy Yankee raps about St. Peter and blessing his enemies.
After a Gavilán interlude, comes “Corazones,” the only conscious hip-hop attempt in Barrio Fino. “Golpe de Estado” features a verse by Tommy Viera and the presence of legendary producer Nely. The track is reminiscent of the old reggae en español days, with a gangster approach and pistol busting lyrics. By “2 Mujeres” Ayala’s delivery begins to grow tiresome, though the song does prove to be effective in its own right.
“Saber Su Nombre” is a forgettable track with bland production and dull lyrics. The “Outro” is a great spoken word piece about finding love in the Caribbean island. A cowbell pattern sets the rhythm, while trumpets garnish a love letter by Ramón Ayala to his people and his culture.
Barrio Fino was remarkable not only for being a crossover hit and catching the ears of novel listeners across the world. This album contains long-adored classics of the genre and some of the first attempts to diversify its production. It’s great because it showcases a premier reggaetón solo act delivering all he can give to his audience. Although saying Daddy Yankee peaked in 2004 is silly, it sure was the time he ascended as a cultural icon and a household name.
On the other hand, Luny Tunes have been the best producers in the game since the early ‘00s, with lots of hits and a couple of classic LPs under their belt. Yet they never got to craft something so unique and rich for a single artist ever again. Barrio Fino is special and reggaetón lovers know it.
This was the zeitgeist for all of the Caribbean kids and youths, who now know they can create a global movement out of nothing and accomplish everything. This was the album that ushered in the last great cultural contribution of caribeños onto the worldwide scenario. A defining moment for a sound that started in Jamaica, and then took the whole region by storm, with Borinquen as its headquarters and home.