A mob of people swarm Bad Bunny, the Puerto Rican rapper, yelling his name. “Oh my god, he’s so sexy,” one teenage girl squeals. Another, in complete shock, shouts: “I touched him.” But Bunny isn’t fazed. Dressed in a maroon Alexander Wang anorak jacket with matching shorts, long tan socks, brown Gucci hiker boots, and mirrored sunglasses, with his fingernails painted yellow, he flashes a smile and takes selfies with them.
In certain New York City neighborhoods, Bunny might not be as recognizable. Not here, though. Throughout the shoot for this cover, the predominantly Latino residents of the area surrounding Brooklyn’s Knickerbocker Avenue followed his and Colombian artist J Balvin’s every move. Some even managed to find the nondescript bar where we filmed, waiting outside for hours and screaming every time the door swung open. They wanted to catch a glimpse of Bunny, the 24-year-old Latin trap king, and Balvin, reggaeton’s answer to Drake.
Reggaeton’s long been a fixture in the Spanish-speaking world, but in 2004 it exploded in the U.S. with Daddy Yankee’s hit “Gasolina,” off his album Barrio Fino. The genre’s had its ebbs and flows since then, but it has recently found a massive new market, thanks in part to the global success of Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” remix featuring Justin Bieber and Daddy Yankee—the most streamed song ever—and, of course, Balvin’s steady hit-making and Bunny’s arrival.
Last year, Balvin (real name José Álvaro Osorio Balvin) released his megasmash “Mi Gente” with French DJ and producer Willy William, followed by a remix featuring Beyoncé. Both songs were everywhere; the original currently has over 2 billion views on YouTube, while the remix has over 79 million. But those two songs weren’t just major successes on the charts. More than that, they helped other Latin rap artists, like Bunny, cross into the mainstream.
Born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, Bunny started his career by uploading songs to SoundCloud while still a student at the University of Puerto Rico. But in two short years, he’s become a phenomenon. “Soy Peor,” the track that established the Latin trap sound, caught the ear of the U.S. audience; it’s been streamed 13 million times on SoundCloud. Balvin’s “Si Tú Novio Te Deja Sola”—a song Bunny first composed with the artist in mind—has been nominated for a Latin Grammy. He’s collaborated with big-name American artists like Nicki Minaj (“Krippy Kush”), Cardi B (“I Like It”), Chris Brown (“Dime”), and Drake on an unreleased song.
Together, Balvin and Bunny are leading the charge in bringing reggaeton to the American market once again. The best part about that is they’re doing it on their own terms—a new sound, painted fingernails, eccentric outfits. We haven’t seen anything like them before, but if you ask them, that’s the point.
Bad Bunny and J Balvin, two of reggaeton’s most recognizable faces, are Complex’s latest cover stars. They sit down with Rapetón editor-in-chief Angel “El Guru” Vera to discuss how they first met, the rise of Latin trap, and what they think it takes to be an icon. Bunny also explains why he hasn’t released an album and reveals that he has an upcoming joint album with Balvin.