20 Questions With Yandel: The Reggaeton Star on His New Album and Being Quiet No More

Yandel
Elastic People

Yandel

'Quien Contra Mi' includes 28 collabs.

Back in 2003, Yandel -- better known as the quieter half of iconic reggaeton duo Wisin & Yandel -- released his solo debut, Quién Contra Mi (Who Against Me?). It was a 12-track tour de force that included collabs with genre stalwarts Alexis, Fido and Tego Calderón.

Now, Yandel has revisited the concept with in a new, testosterone-filled Quien Contra Mi that features 22 tracks and collabs with 28 different artists. They include J Balvin, Snoop Dogg and Ruben Blades, Anuel, El Alfa, Manuel Turizo, Nicky Jam and Rauw Alejandro in a new version of Yandel’s original hit “Denbow.” Absent from the roster is Wisin, with whom Yandel is already planning a new album.

“It was a lot of calling, of asking for favors returned,” Yandel laughs.

Most of the album, he says, was written and produced in his home and nearby studio in Orlando during the last four months of Covid-19 lockdown.

“I’ve spent time between my house and my studio. That’s my routine for the past 100-plus days,” said Yandel, speaking, of course, from said studio. From the routine, a slew of new music was conceived. Some of it was already in the works. “I’m always in the studio working on new stuff, even when I don’t have a release coming out; so I’m always ready,” he adds.

But a lot is brand new, in an effort to play refresh and bring in a new generation to his classic, aggressive-beat reggaeton.

It begins with an intro that’s a manifesto and a history of Yandel and his struggles from childhood in a Puerto Rican ghetto, but also a pump-up message for younger listeners.

“I wanted to tell my story, to pump up the kids who are just starting. And, since people always say I’m so quiet, well, here’s something different," he says.

Quiet no more, Yandel answered 20 questions for Billboard below.

1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself?

Playero 37 [the classic DJ Playero album that many reggaeton acts regard as one of the starting points of the genre].

2. What was the first concert you saw?

Vico C playing at an old parking lot in old San Juan. There were a bunch of other artists. I was about 16.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid?

My mom was a housewife and my dad was a plumber.

4. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?

DJ Playero and also Vico C. Urban music really connected with me because you could sing whatever you wanted. It was really a genre of the streets. I was raised in a neighborhood where war was waged every day, and I saw a lot, I learned a lot in the streets, and urban music allowed me to reflect that. I worked. I had a barber shop. And I went into DJ Dicky’s studio and we put out the album No Fear. I was 18 years old.

5. Do you still cut hair?

I cut my sons' hair [Dereck and Adrian]. Always. And I trim my own beard. I have to do it every three days. Except during this lockdown. I just shaved.

6. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?

When I decided to be an artist, I had to record everything in one sitting. You couldn't mess up. If you messed up in minute 6, you had to start from scratch. I’d record on a cassette tape. I’d go to the pharmacy, I’d buy a package of 20 cassette tapes, and I’d use a little tape recorder that belonged to my grandfather and I’d record. Then I’d go to the neighborhood and sell them for $10. That’s how I began to make a name for myself in the town of Cayey. I think that town and its people supported me from the very beginning.

7. What’s the last song you listened to?

“Por Mi Reggae Muero” from my album, with Anuel.

8. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?

Michael Jackson.

9. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?

We sometimes play concerts outdoors. And kids climb up in tree rooftops, really high. I worry that they’ll fall. And women take off their clothes and throw it at us.

10. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?

The Notebook.

11. What TV series have you watched all the way through multiple times?

Money Heist on Netflix.

12. If you could be a character in “Money Heist,” who would you be?

Denver [the big-laughing, impulsive robber played by Jaime Llorente].

13. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?

I like to race ATVs. I love to go to the mountains and race and get covered in mud. It’s great therapy.

14. If you were not a musician, what would you be?

Well, a barber.

15. Favorite Karaoke song?

“Lamento Boliviano” [by rock group Enanitos Verdes]. [Sings] Y yo sigo aquí, borracho y loco! It’s a great song to sing along.

16. Do you have a vice?

Coffee. I have to have it.

17. What are you afraid of?

Heights. I fly on planes, but standing somewhere that’s high makes me afraid.

18. What do you spend too much money on?

My videos.

19. Who’s still on your bucket list to collaborate with?

Marc Anthony and Shakira. I still haven’t been able to make that happen.

20. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

Talk more.

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