In 2004, I found myself tugging, pulling and cajoling my date off a dance floor at a converted former torpedo factory in Alexandria, Virginia, so I could ask her to marry me. My carefully planned proposal required that she walk by a certain piece of art at exactly midnight, but the convoluted plot was nearly ruined by a then-little-known Puerto Rican singer named Daddy Yankee, whose hit song “Gasolina” was just at that inopportune moment keeping my future wife glued to the dance floor with its unique turbo-sped mix of hip hop and Latin beats.
On Wednesday night, I again found myself trying to figure out how to get her off the dance floor as “Gasolina” blared in the background, this time not to propose, but to make sure we beat traffic and got back to the babysitter in time.
I shouldn’t have worried. Clocking in at just over an hour from opening number “Con Calma” to encore, Daddy Yankee showed he may be a bit longer in the tooth, but not in his delivery.
That’s par for the course for the artist, who in just 15 years has managed to pioneer and popularize the style of music known as reggaeton, becoming its most recognizable star and racking up a handful of hits and billions of YouTube views. And as he showed Wednesday night in Rishon Lezion, the so-called king of reggaeton is still reinventing the genre, fusing it with trap beats, EDM drops and Afro-Cuban inspired rhythms.
Combining spitfire Spanish rapping with a mix of syncopated dancehall, Daddy Yankee proved he still knows how to get a dance party going.
Backed by a DJ, a crew of dancers, a backup singer and a hype man, all in branded Daddy Yankee gear, and helped by a healthy dose of pyrotechnics and ticker tape, the rapper sped through his repertoire of early hits such as “Limbo” and latter-day collaborations like “Mayor Que Yo,” keeping the crowd moving its feet in the sultry night.
Though a large portion of the audience was still in diapers when “Gasolina” became a hit, the song managed to inject new life into the crowd.
In a parallel of his actual career, the “Gasolina” excitement was quickly eclipsed by “Despacito,” the 2017 mega-smash that he is featured on alongside Luis Fonzi. The song is far and away the most-ever viewed on YouTube, with over 6.2 billion hits (that’s nearly one for every person on the planet, though my children may be responsible for at least 1 billion of the views).
Many of the most recognizable songs during the concert were in fact collaborations with other artists, a mainstay in recent years for the singer, who has not put out a full-length album since 2013’s “King Daddy.” The shift is a nod to the new music industry, in which streaming singles have supplanted albums and the big bucks are made on tour.
The concert, his third in Israel since 2015, was the second-to-last on his Con Calma tour, named for his Spanish-language remake of the 1992 reggae rap hit “Informer” by Canadian rapper Snow, who is perhaps one of the few people who can rap faster than Daddy Yankee.
Between songs, though, Daddy Yankee slowed down enough to jabber with the crowd. Unlike some other artists who barely bother to acknowledge where they are, he gave the masses what they wanted, repeatedly name-checking Israel and Tel Aviv (though not Rishon Lezion) and calling out the various national flags from Latin American countries people had toted to the show.
“Every time I come here I feel like home,” he said to cheers, thanking the crowd over and over again in Spanish, English and Hebrew.
“Todah Raba,” in fact, was one of the few Hebrew phrases he has apparently learned after three visits in about four years, but he made up for his lack of vocabulary subbing in Spanish, as in “Shalom de la henta.”
“I’m picking it up,” he joked.
But as he’s proved again and again by making non-Spanish speakers in the US, Europe and elsewhere step to music they don’t actually understand (his first hit was about fossil fuels and a cat that’s actually a car that’s actually a woman; his biggest hit is a graphic account of lovemaking), what you say matters less than what kind of beat you say it to.