Words by:

Original release date: 3 July, 2004
Label: VI Music / El Cartel Records 

On his recent single Reggaetón, Colombian urbano star J Balvin paid homage not just to the genre of its title, but to a handful of its pioneers. Among those cited in the track’s tropical throb was Daddy Yankee, the Puerto Rican artist that blazed a new path for reggaetón with his astronomical breakthrough hit Gasolina.

Dembow, the dancehall riddim adopted by Panamanian and Puerto Rican producers and transformed into a distinct Latin music movement, owes no small part of its modern day ubiquity to that single. Yankee’s corresponding 2004 album Barrio Fino gave the regional urban sound – born of mixing reggae and rap – its foremost cross-cultural moment. While reggae previously permeated global pop charts a decade prior, thanks to songs like Inner Circle’s Bad Boys and Ini Kamoze’s Here Comes the Hotstepper, its Spanish-speaking cousin presented it to the world in a different context altogether.

Barrio Fino experienced something closer to a slow burn than an explosion. It took 21 weeks of charting in the US (of which Puerto Rican sales qualified) on the Billboard 200 before reaching its peak at No. 26 in April 2005 – at the time a huge feat for Latinx representation in mainstream music. This commercial performance also opened doors for other reggaetoneros operating at the time, with peers like Don Omar, Tego Calderón and Wisin y Yandel all releasing albums to critical acclaim, some even surpassing Yankee’s hard-fought chart position.

These seminal albums, by artists now regarded as living legends of the genre, had a profound effect on what came next. The stateside visibility of Gasolina not only emboldened its contemporaries, but also a younger generation of reggaetón listeners and, eventually, creators. Among those who credit the single with inspiring them artistically include future hitmakers like Farruko, J Balvin and Bad Bunny.

As was the case with the Latin pop boom surrounding the millennium, the English-language media treated reggaetón like a trend, here today and gone tomorrow. Yet the appetite for música urbana proved insatiable and even gluttonous, growing in listenership not only across Latin America but in cities throughout the US with Spanish-speaking populations. Yankee continued to release singles and albums that prospered on the American Latin charts, though some branched out into EDM and pop, a portent of his eventual global resurgence when he and Luis Fonsi dropped Despacito in 2017.

"Few who heard Gasolina back in the day could’ve anticipated how deeply ingrained dembow would end up 15 years later."

While the Justin Bieber connection catapulted Yankee to dizzying new career heights, the fusion of reggaetón and pop had been going on for quite some time. Colombia’s rise as a powerhouse of the format through singles like J Balvin’s 6AM and Maluma’s Borró Cassette bore no small semblance to what Yankee had done years prior on Barrio Fino cuts like Lo Que Pasó, Pasó and Cuéntame, both blending tropical sounds with its unmistakable urban grit.

The legacy of Barrio Fino hoists not only these homegrown reggaetoneros and Latin pop singers who’ve made this music their own, but also the non-Latinx artists embracing this sound. Few who heard Gasolina back in the day could’ve anticipated how deeply ingrained dembow would end up 15 years later, its stomping off-beats and unforgettable choruses still vibrating on dancefloors today.

Thanks to its worldwide success, Barrio Fino seeded the culture for a cross-cultural bloom, legitimising the art of reggaetón to wider audiences. And while the genre’s roots trace back to the pioneering work of DJ Nelson and DJ Playero, reggaetón conceivably wouldn’t be where it is now without the undisputed King of Reggaetón.