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Review: A warp-speed Daddy Yankee at the Greek Theatre

From 'Lovumba' to tracks off his upcoming new album, 'Prestige,' reggaetón star Daddy Yankee keeps his audience in party mode during his 17-song set at the Greek.

August 06, 2012|By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
  • Puerto Rican recording artist Daddy Yankee performs at the Greek Theatre.
Puerto Rican recording artist Daddy Yankee performs at the Greek Theatre. (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

The reggaetón star Daddy Yankee is a one-man pop conglomerate. Now 35, an age by which some performers already have burned through their bank accounts, Daddy Yankee presides over a diverse portfolio of assets: his own record label, a clothing line and lucrative promotional deals with soft-drink makers and sportswear manufacturers. He also has starred in movies as a vampire and a petty thug.

In between, Daddy Yankee, who was born Ramón Ayala, somehow found time to endorse 2008 presidential contender John McCain as "a fighter for the Hispanic community."

But while he was polishing up his market bona-fides, the Puerto Rico native's music started losing its luster after his 2004 breakthrough album, "Barrio Fino." Reggaetón, a rhythmic cocktail of salsa, Spanish-language hip-hop and Jamaican dance hall, flamed for a few years then fizzled in popularity. And Daddy Yankee, known to fans as "El Cangri" (The Chief) and "El Jefe" (Boss Man), fell short of becoming the bilingual crossover sensation many had foreseen — a sort of male, urbanized Shakira, but with more of a bling fixation.

But on Sunday night at the Greek Theatre, Daddy Yankee proved he was still an artist, as well as an entrepreneur, to be reckoned with. Opening his warp-speed 17-song set with "Lovumba," a lover's mambo-soul-calypso dance number with fiery metaphors, Daddy Yankee kept the crowd on its feet for the entire show.

He also wasted no time in reminding his audience, with visual projections and repeated verbal ad-libs, that his overdue new album, "Prestige," will be released Sept. 11. That date might seem like tempting fate. But Daddy Yankee's persona always has been that of a San Juan homie who's successfully bucked the odds and unabashedly enjoys the succulent fruits of his labors. (Raised in the Villa Kennedy housing projects, he still carries a limp from an unspecified adolescent wound.)

His songs revel in youthful adrenaline and the thrill of erotic self-immolation ("Gasolina"). He never tires of lifting a Champagne glass to feminine pulchritude in tunes such as the Spanglish monster hit "Rompe" and "Pasarela," a terrific new dance track off "Prestige" that he unveiled Sunday, backed by six tireless male and female dancers and the savvy vinyl mixologist DJ Candy Boy. Once or twice at the Greek, he briefly paused among the break beats to ponder loss before quickly shifting back into party mode, with a verbal dexterity that at its most frenzied suggests Porky Pig on speed.

At the Greek, Daddy Yankee gave ritualistic shout-outs to the various nationalities in the house (Salvadorans, Colombians, Cubans). But other more politically minded artists such as Calle 13 and Juanes have long since claimed the leadership of pan-Latin musical solidarity.

Daddy Yankee is no rabble rouser, even if one of his videos shows him brandishing a baseball bat amid throngs of riot police. Instead, he's the hip-hopper you can take home to meet your abuelita, a family man who gives thanks to the Almighty, grateful to be living the American Dream, with all the creature comforts that entails.

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reed.johnson@latimes.com

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