Bad Bunny’s debut studio album X 100PRE, released on Christmas Eve, marked the culmination of his remarkable rise to the status of hottest pop star on planet Earth. This time three years ago, he was a broke college student studying communications at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, working part-time at a grocery store, and just starting to upload his music to SoundCloud. Not long after that, he had established himself as the Ty Dolla $ign of musica urbana (popular music of the Hispanic diaspora) — a versatile, dependable vocalist featured on dozens of records and seemingly every radio smash, from Cardi B’s “I Like It” to the star-studded “Te Bote” remix. Today, his unparalleled clout is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he got Drake to sing a full verse in Spanish.
What explains Bad Bunny’s ascendance? He possesses the ability and willingness to traverse genres, but his voice is not chameleonic so much as it is simply charismatic. He operates on the cusp of rapping and singing, with a forceful, swift cadence that he delivers in a syrupy tenor and across a surprisingly broad melodic range. He is almost the diametric opposite of Ozuna, the other Puerto Rican megastar of the moment, whose voice is sweet and weightless. There’s also Bad Bunny’s laid-back, decidedly un-macho persona. He is not a conventional heartthrob. Outside of music he speaks most loudly with his sense of fashion; he’s already a style icon who has given the world the most refined iteration of scumbro yet – Jordans and cutoff jean shorts, baggy, colorful short-sleeve button downs and a truly unprecedented collection of outlandish sunglasses, dangling earrings, and zagging geometric shapes cut into his hair.
Oh yeah, the album. X 100PRE (a stylization of “Por Siempre”) solidifies Bad Bunny’s identity as an eager genre-hopper. In addition to incorporating various Latin styles, the album leans heavily on the trunk-rattling 808s of southern trap and cavernous synths native to Toronto. The album’s main producers, reggaeton veteran Tainy and Robert “La Paciencia” Rosado, frequently trigger emphatic beat switches mid-song, keen to never let the album’s sonic landscape grow stale even for a moment. The sense of adventurousness that propels X 100PRE really only gets out of hand on “Tenemos Que Hablar,” a cheap Blink-182 imitation in which Bad Bunny replaces pop-punk’s adolescent mischievousness with a joyless account of a relationship on the fritz (the chorus translates to “I hate your messages when they say we have to talk”).
Bad Bunny is largely preoccupied with his journey to stardom and search for love. The non-Spanish listener can trace this arc through the references he makes. For example, on “Como Antes,” he speaks of Pokemon Gold on Game Boy, MySpace, The Simpsons, and Shakira to signify his childhood. On the Diplo-produced “200 MPH,” he mentions JC Penney to dunk on the broke boys who can’t afford to shop somewhere nicer. He revels in the spoils of his success and occasionally delves into the dark side of fame, like on “Otra Noche en Miami;” the blasé boasts of the first verse subtly predicts the Future-esque turn that occurs in the second verse, which finds him in a dark funk, “tired of threesomes and orgies, I'm tired of my life being empty.” He outright admits to dealing with depression on “RLNDT.” “Normally on the Latin side, artists who are commercially big don’t always go in on the lyrics side,” Tainy said of “RLNDT” in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That song’s really relatable to young people, to us, to kids, to adults.”
Similar to Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, X 100PRE maintains an overall consistency such that any of its song might eventually emerge as a bona fide hit. It already has two in “Estamos Bien” and “MIA,” which reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks in large part to its Drake feature. The most likely candidate for the album’s next home run is “La Romana,” a rousing hookah anthem featuring the Dominican dembow icon El Alfa that takes a sharp left turn halfway through. It’s representative of the entire album, a restless collective of songs in which Bad Bunny attempts to spin an unusually wide variety of styles. It’s a foregone conclusion that he is going to be one of the biggest stars of 2019, but exactly where he’s going next is anyone’s guess.