Here is a fantastic review of Benito Antonio “Bad Bunny” Martínez Ocasio and his music by Suzy Exposito (Rolling Stone):
Somemewhere on the northern shore of Puerto Rico sits a modest Airbnb with white stucco walls and a roof covered in fake grass. Inside, the island’s most exciting young superstar is fighting off boredom any way he can. It’s mid-March, days after Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced ordered residents to stay inside due to the coronavirus pandemic. Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, known to the world as Bad Bunny, is living here till he can start construction on the villa of his dreams. “The fucking coronavirus arrived, and it sealed me up,” he says in Spanish, deadpanning like a sullen teen banished to his room for the summer. “People think I’m spending quarantine in a huge mansion, with a really awesome pool …”
[. . .] So, how does one of the world’s biggest pop stars spend his quarantine? He’s been working out in the home gym in the mornings, eating ascetic meals of chicken and potatoes. He’s been texting on a group chat he’s dubbed the Mafia, which includes his assistant/merch designer Janthony and fellow rapper Residente. The two MCs take turns comparing what they worry are coronavirus symptoms. (Neither seems actually sick, thankfully; “He’s a hypochondriac, just like me,” Martínez explains of Residente.) Martínez, who’s grown increasingly outspoken about Puerto Rican politics in recent years, has also voiced his displeasure at Puerto Rico’s handling of the pandemic. Reacting, in part, to Vázquez’s lack of press conferences during the crisis, he called the government “a herd of clowns” on Twitter.
He’s holed up in the Airbnb with his longtime girlfriend, a 26-year-old jewelry designer named Gabriela Berlingeri. [. . .]
Like most of us, Martínez’s emotions during lockdown have run the gamut. “The truth is, all this has made me angsty … but I’m having a good time,” he says. In February, he released his second album, Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, or “I Do Whatever I Want,” and it quickly became the highest-charting Spanish-language album ever released in the United States. He joined Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and J Balvin at the Super Bowl halftime show, then was promptly whisked away to Mexico, where he began shooting scenes as a supporting actor in the Netflix crime series Narcos: Mexico before it shut down due to the pandemic. He sighs. “Maybe I needed the rest!”
He didn’t rest for long. A few weeks after our first conversation, Martínez and Berlingeri recorded a new song in his home: “En Casita,” a twee trap ballad about wanting to visit a lover but needing to stay in quarantine. A month later, Bad Bunny dug deep into his vault of unfinished songs, and finalized an 11th-hour follow-up to YHLQMDLG titled Las Que No Iban a Salir, a collection of 10 tracks scrapped from previous sessions.
[. . .] YHLQMDLG, on the other hand, is a portrait of Bad Bunny’s Puerto Rico: unfiltered and untranslated for outsiders, with help from beloved hitmakers Daddy Yankee, Ñengo Flow, and Jowell y Randy, as well as the elusive cult favorite Yaviah. It’s a time-traveling party bus of a record, a dirty reggaeton-trap megamix modeled after DJ sets from marquesinas, or underground garage parties, in the aughts. “It’s the album I would have wanted to make when I was 16,” says Martínez, now 26. “I didn’t bring it back to the old times; I brought old times here.”
Bad Bunny reaches peak freak on YHLQMDLG with songs like “Safaera,” which details a night of banging in an Audi (and definitely not in a Honda). The song has its own viral meme: the Abuela Challenge, in which fans film their grandmothers listening to the line “If your boyfriend doesn’t eat your ass . . . why bother?” Cue the scandalized faces of thousands of abuelas across Latinx TikTok — as well as Bad Bunny’s mom’s. “‘Where did you hear that?!’” Martínez says, pitching up his voice to imitate his mother as she listens to his more vulgar rhymes. “I was like, ‘Sorry, Mamí.’ She knows my heart’s in the right place.”
True to his life-motto-turned-album-title, Bad Bunny does what Bad Bunny wants — and it pays dividends. He has headlined arenas all over America and racked up more than 3 billion streams in the U.S. alone, according to Alpha Data. Unlike crossover stars, from Ricky Martin to Enrique Iglesias, Martínez did it without a teen-heartthrob pedigree, a major-label deal, or singing in English; he’s an independent rapper who owns his weirdness, whether by his genre-bending sounds or gender-bending outfits (more on those in a moment). Bad Bunny is a new kind of Latin superstar, bespoke for a generation of open-minded listeners.
“He is a creative genius,” says Ricky Martin, who lent his voice to X 100pre. “Benito has reconfirmed the fact that music has no barriers. I think the way he does things connects at a deeper level regardless of language and cultural differences.”
“It’s a trip to be around him,” adds Residente. “With him, I’ve learned to be more open. Even in the most stupid things, you can find art in them.”
Bad Bunny is increasingly becoming Puerto Rico’s cultural weather vane, even as he’s still trying to orient his own internal compass. At the 2019 Latin Grammys, he was one of the top-charting nominees in the room, but was relegated to the urban categories. He’s excelled at keeping reggaeton, an Afro-Caribbean mélange of hip-hop and reggae, fresh for a new generation of listeners, and he’s helped mainstream the newer Latin trap sound, a Spanish-language adaptation of American trap, without dulling its edge. “Reggaeton is a genre that has been going for more than two decades,” he said the night he accepted the award for Best Urban Album. “Whether you like it or not, we’re representing Latinos worldwide.” [. . .]
[. . .] Martínez attributes his ascent to the mainstreaming of música urbana, an umbrella term encompassing reggaeton, trap, and rap en español. “Música urbana is in its best moment when it comes to numbers,” he says, citing global megahits that set the scene for his takeover, like “Despacito.” But he’s ready to raise the stakes, and while he’s at it, some eyebrows too. “A wholesome reggaetóncito took off worldwide and became very popular,” Martínez says, sassily cocking his head to one side. “That’s fine, I am not criticizing that style of song. But street reggaetón, O.G. reggaetón, perreo … it deserves a space in the pop world.” [. . .]