September 17, 2016


Future Hispanic History Month: J. Balvin's Game-Changing Sound

Getty Images
Getty Images

This year, we’re celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month with Future Hispanic History Month highlighting a variety of rising stars who are creating history before our very eyes. We wouldn't hold it against people if they thought the reggaeton era started and ended with Daddy Yankee—but if they did, you clearly didn't know J. Balvin has been completely reinvigorating the scene.

While reggaeton came from Puerto Rico, J. Balvin (real name José Álvaro Osorio Balvin) is the Colombian who is bringing the scene back to relevance with a new take on the sound. The genre was typically defined by booming, up-tempo beats, but Balvin has found huge success by slowing things down, best heard in what is arguably his mainstream breakout hit "Ginza." While he'd made appearances on the Latin charts for a few years, the 2015 single became one of the biggest recent Spanish hits and even charted on the Billboard Hot 100. No doubt that came thanks to its familiar beat, but refreshing melodic delivery and Balvin's focus on more sentimental and thought-provoking lyrics ("Ginza" uses tourism as a metaphor for romance, while a standout line in 2013's "Ay Vamos" goes, "We fight / We fix it / We’re stuck in the same pattern, but we love each other").

Perhaps most importantly is how Balvin is making these changes without adhering to anyone's rules. He was already mixing up the reggaeton game when he jumped on remixes for Justin Bieber (featuring on the Latino Remix of "Sorry") and Major Lazer (contributing a Spanish verse to the MØ collaboration "Lean On"). The dude even got Pharrell to sing in Spanish on "Safari," a standout track on Balvin's recently Energía album and one of reggaeton's most promising opportunities for a huge crossover hit in years.

The most important thing here isn't that J. Balvin is a super-talented singer-songwriter-rapper (and he is), but that instead of following the trends and the paths set before him, he's looking to blaze entirely different ones. And with music this hot, that fire is going to burn for awhile.