Daddy Yankee Talks 'Despacito' Success, Radiohead Meme

"We're surpassing the numbers for 'Macarena,'" the Puerto Rican rapper says of current single. "So our names are going to be part of music history"

Daddy Yankee talks "Despacito," his current breakout hit with Fonsi, and reflects on the legacy of his 2004 smash "Gasolina." Credit: Wilfredo Lee/AP

By the time Justin Bieber hopped on a remix of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's sexy, catchy "Despacito," the song was already well en route to becoming the song of the summer. In the 97 days following its release, it became the second fastest YouTube video to reach a billion views, beat only by Adele's "Hello." In the wake of Bieber's magic touch, the Spanglish hit cracked the Billboard Hot 100's Top 10 after months of dominating the Latin charts, becoming the first mostly Spanish song to achieve that feat since "Macarena" in 1996. As of this week, the song has already risen to Number Three. 

"It's such a blessing," Daddy Yankee tells Rolling Stone via phone from his home of Puerto Rico. Last year, fellow Puerto Rico native Fonsi had reached out with his concept for "Despacito" and the pair went to Miami to record the soon-to-be hit.

The alluring track had already become successful in clubs across Latin America, which is how it reached Bieber. "What I heard is that he was in the club in Colombia and heard the song," Yankee reveals. "He liked it and jumped on it. Justin Bieber always does a great job when it comes to interpretation. I like the way he makes music."

For Yankee, watching "Despacito" become a global hit reminds him of what he experienced in the early Aughts with "Gasolina" and "Rompe," two mostly Spanish reggaeton hits that helped bring the genre into the American mainstream. "Gasolina" in particular has been one of the most enduring songs of Yankee's career. Around the time "Despacito" jumped to the top of the charts, the older song soundtracked a viral video featuring the erratic stage dancing of Radiohead's Thom Yorke, which made it seem as though the rock band had covered the song.

"When I saw the video, I was like, 'Is that real?!'" Yankee says with a massive laugh. "It was a great video, even though I thought it was real. I have a ton of respect for Radiohead. They're a great, amazing band."

As he sees "Despacito" reach even greater heights than "Gasolina" did at the time, looking back on the reach of his very first single reminds him of what is possible. "It feels like I just dropped ['Gasolina'] yesterday," he reflects. "In EDM festivals, every time a DJ plays the song, the crowd goes crazy. It's one of those songs you have in your career where you're like, 'OK, I had a worldwide hit.' I'm one of the few artists that can say that."

Currently, Bruno Mars' "That's What I Like" and another Bieber feature — DJ Khaled's "I'm the One" — are standing in the way of Fonsi and Yankee hitting Number One with "Despacito." But Yankee is thrilled about what the song has already accomplished. "Right now we're surpassing the numbers for 'Macarena,'" he says. "So our names are going to be part of music history."