By Jay Cridlin
Times Staff Writer
If you stood on an Ybor City street corner on a random Saturday night in 2005, odds are you probably heard Daddy Yankee's Gasolina — or something that sounded a lot like it — booming from the woofers of a pimped-out whip.
It's the defining single of the Latin hip-hop genre known as reggaeton, reaching the top 40 in dozens of countries, and it made Daddy Yankee an international megastar. How massive was the Gasolina hype? In 2006, Time named Yankee one of the year's 100 most influential people.
"I'm not even pretending that I'm trying to influence everybody," the man born Ramon Ayala in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, said recently by phone from Miami. "That was part of destiny. I'm just being me, man."
So far, that strategy is paying off big time. In addition to his music, Yankee has dabbled in acting, and he has a record label, production company, endorsement deals, even his own signature men's and women's fragrances. All this, and he still finds time to crank out chart-topping albums, like the new Daddy Yankee Mundial.
Put it this way: He's the Latin Diddy.
On Saturday, Yankee headlines the 18th annual Tampa Bay Caribbean Carnival, a two-day festival of music, food and culture at St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park. We caught up with him last week, around the same time you might have seen him guest starring on . . . The Bold and the Beautiful? Huh?
I got a press release this week saying you just passed the 1 million Facebook fan mark. What's an appropriate celebration for a milestone like that?
Celebrating with the fans. Actually, I'm preparing a new song exclusively for them, for Facebook, for everybody.
When your music began picking up steam in Puerto Rico and the mainstream United States, was there a point where you realized you were going to have to transition from just being a musician to being a mogul, too?
Oh, definitely. And that was way before I found success around the entire world. I was just waiting for the opportunity to become that person. I'd been watching a lot of people in the entertainment world, and I said, "Nobody's doing this in the Latin market." So that's what I'm doing — taking advantage of the opportunity in front of me.
I just saw you on The Bold and the Beautiful. How did that come about?
They called me up, and I said yes. It was a great opportunity to show everybody my new album — they let me perform three songs. Basically, the script was easy for me, because I was doing me. I was being Daddy Yankee. I'm not a character.
As a musician, what do you get out of acting?
Acting is more of a hobby for me. My passion is music. So it's ironic how when I began acting, it was more easy for me than music. I don't know how to explain that. Acting comes from a lot of things in your persona. People tell me I'm a natural actor. If that's what the people say, I'm going to go for it.
Did you see where 50 Cent lost like 50 pounds for a movie role? Would you ever do something like that?
Yeah, if I had to. That's not a problem. I know that I could do it.