Over the years, Daddy Yankee fans have come to expect a number of things. First and foremost is his party-starting reggaeton. Number two would be that boyish, smiling face, hiding behind a pair of shades. And then there’s the 34-year-old Puerto Rican superstar’s familiar physique—with its smidgen of adorable pudginess.
Well, that last part is long gone. Now the man born Ramón Ayala appears younger, leaner and healthier than ever. “I haven’t looked like this since high school,” says a proud Yankee, who shed 35 pounds in four months. “I feel like I have the energy of an 18-year-old!”
The physical transformation hasn’t been easy. It’s the result of the strict diet and workout regimen he’s followed since February with trainer Jean Carlo de Leon to prep for an as-yet-untitled movie in which Yankee will play a fictional boxer. Shooting won’t begin in Puerto Rico until next year, but he’s already getting in character. And given the popularity of his first movie—2008’s semi-autobiographical Talento de Barrio, about life in the projects—people will be lining up to see Yankee turn into the boricua version of Rocky Balboa.
Wouldn’t it have been simpler to “get a little work done,” as they say—namely, liposuction? Asked about this, Yankee laughs. “You don’t get this through surgery,” he says firmly. “You really just have to work hard at it. I don’t know of any other method that is more effective.”
Yankee won’t deprive himself altogether, though. “Once a month, I eat a slice of pizza, which I really like, and also a few donuts,” he confesses. “You need to give your body a rest sometimes—and then go back to your regular routine.”
Fans have been very vocal about his new look, especially on Twitter, where he regularly posts pics. “Everyone tells me, ‘You look great, Daddy, but don’t lose any more weight,’ ” he says. “Right now, my waist is 32 inches [it used to be 36 inches], but I would like to lose more—until my body tells me to stop because it’s not healthy.”
Aside from perfecting his body for the big screen, Yankee is putting the finishing touches on his sixth album, Prestige, due out in September. Some of Yankee’s almost 1,200,000 Twitter followers offered ideas that he used in the recording studio.
“My fans are the most important thing I have,” Yankee says. “So I said to them, ‘You tell me what you want and I’ll execute it.’ They asked me for more collaborations [in English and Spanish], so that’s exactly what I’m going to give them. They said, ‘We want to hear new sounds, but don’t forget about your reggaeton that we love.’ So the album has a lot of reggaeton.”
Yankee is tight-lipped about the names of collaborators, but the infectious first single, “Ven Conmigo,” includes bachata sensation Prince Royce, who is a Daddy Yankee fan. “Even though he’s had success for many years, he still keeps that humbleness,” Royce says. “That’s something I admire a lot. I want to be like him.”
Yankee may be humble—you’ll never hear him brag that his 2004 debut, Barrio Fino, was the first reggaeton album to go platinum—but his star keeps rising. Surprisingly, his largest fan club is in Russia, a country he has yet to visit. While Moscow isn’t on his upcoming world tour, which starts in October, Yankee will go to Australia for the first time. His overseas experiences have been eye-opening, he says.
“What I’ve learned through traveling is that what people want right now is to have a good time,” Yankee says. “We are going through some tough times and the entire world is asking to disconnect itself from those problems. That’s why in general the music that’s winning is dance music. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Prestige is all about good vibrations.”
Ironically, the man who wants to lead the world in a full-blown fiesta is also one of its shyest.
“Few people know that I’m a timid person,” he says. “That’s why you always see me smiling—I think I hide my shyness behind that smile. I’m really surprised that the more I distance myself from being the center of attention, the more it pursues me.”
It’s difficult to stay out of the spotlight when you’re one of the hardest-working men in show business. Even though he says music—specifically, touring—is “still my main source of income,” Yankee continues to expand his brand. Having already launched his own hair gel, fragrance and sneaker and clothing line, he’s considering adding a collection of sunglasses.
“Ask anyone and they’ll say Daddy Yankee is an industrious man,” he says. “I never stop working. I learned that from my mother. Till this day my mother works with no necessity to do so because I give her everything.”
With hard work comes sacrifice, however, and Yankee’s kids with wife and manager Mireddys—Yamillette, 16; Joassealys, 15; and Jeremy, 12—have had to adjust to his being on the road a lot. When he does pause for a break, Yankee prefers to stay home in P.R. to spend quality time with the family. “I take vacations here in my land,” he says. “It’s the opposite from most people because I’m always traveling.” You can take the man out of the barrio, but you can’t take the barrio out of the man.