Daddy Yankee — “Gasolina”

Released: 7.13.04

Peak: #32

My downstairs neighbors some ten years back would spend afternoons on their front porch listening to Medeski Martin &Wood, and sometimes I’d stop to chat when I got home after work. Since the jam-jazz noodlers had always irritated me whenever I played their albums myself, I was surprised how nicely they worked as somebody else’s background music. At the risk of sounding reductive, that’s kind of how I feel about reggaetón. My best experiences of the stuff have been as environmental music, as a beat that sounds awesome bumping out of passing cars.

I’m hardly tin-eared enough to say reggaetón all sounds the same, or even that it all sounds the same to me, but as with all rule-bound dance genres, certain tracks sound more like themselves than others. Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” was that breakout, its keyboards chopping up turf underneath that modified cumbia beat with an urgency that lots of the hip-hop hits surrounding it on the radio lacked–as did every other Luny Tunes production I’ve sampled (though as a flutophobe, I prefer the high-end keyboards of electro-Latin to the trad wind instruments of the genres being updated).

At the time, more knowledgeable colleagues cowed me into preferring Lil Jon’s “Dirty South” remix. But though I’m sure it helped Papi break into a few clubs, and though I no habla myself, I don’t need English lyrics for “Gasolina” to feel accessible, and for sure don’t need Jon interjecting trademarks into the off beats. I could guess on my own that the Spanish lyrics would translate roughly to something like “She wants it!” and “Give it to me!” (though the bit about her being so fine even her shadow fits her is an unexpected turn of phrase.). Maybe someday I’ll return to DY’s breakthrough disc, Barrio Fino, and see if I missed anything. If nothing else I suspect it’d reward my attentions more than Medeski Martin & Wood.

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