j balvin bad bunny oasis review
UMG Recordings, Inc.
4.0 Bad Bunny J Balvin oasis
Highsnobiety

4.0/5.0

Although joint albums are nothing new in the world of hip-hop, the first full-length collaboration between Colombian singer J Balvin and Puerto Rican trap star Bad Bunny still represents a huge leap forward for rap music as a whole. Variety compared the impact of OASIS on Latin music to that of Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande if they ever teamed up for an American pop extravaganza, but in truth, this record is even more important than that might suggest, pushing Spanish-language rap further than ever before into the mainstream.

Of course, big-name Latin musicians have collaborated before, but it wasn’t until the success of “Despacito” in 2017 that these artists started to transcend language barriers in such a global way. Around that time was when Balvin and Bunny first worked together on a one-off single called “Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola,” and since then, they’ve featured on a number of remixes together before reaching new heights of fame last year on Cardi B’s anthem “I Like It.”

Rumors that Balvin and Bunny might collaborate on an entire project emerged soon after thanks to cryptic teasers and some knowing comments in interviews, but the release itself still came as a surprise when OASIS suddenly dropped last week, stirring up a response from fans that was far from a state of being relaxed or peaceful as the project’s title might suggest.

Created in the same mold as standout recent duo efforts like Watch the Throne or What a Time To Be Alive, Balvin and Bunny’s work brings out the best in both artists, encouraging them to experiment outside of their respective comfort zones. By combining their different sounds on OASIS, both artists have reinforced their appeal soon after dropping well-received solo efforts while still retaining their individuality throughout.

Lead single “QUÉ PRETENDES” is a perfect example of this, pushing the scale of Balvin’s voice to new heights while Bunny adopts a chilled demeanor which avoids the commercial path of his earlier club hits. Romantic reggaetón vibes seep even harder into the next song, “LA CANCIÓN,” which wrenches at the heart thanks to its sincere combination of sporadic piano chords with a slow, thudding trap beat.

The natural chemistry that Bunny and Balvin share throughout OASIS elevates the record above the unnecessary machismo of similar urbano collaborations, complimenting each other’s style without awkwardly trying to outdo each other through heightened bravado. Opener “MOJAITA” encapsulates this approach perfectly, literally welcoming us into the oasis this pair have created as they trade verses back and forth with silky smooth precision.

Elsewhere, Bunny and Balvin enlist producers Sky and Tainy to play around with an even wider range of international tones and sounds, drawing on everything from jazz and ukuleles to Atlanta trap and even Banku music. Pioneered by guest singer Mr. Eazi, this African style combines Ghanaian and Nigerian sounds to great effect on the EP’s final track, “COMO UN BEBÉ.” The trilingual raps heard here cross cultural boundaries with ease, creating an uptempo number that, while of course makes you want to dance, pays homage to the African roots of reggaetón that are becoming more and more overlooked as time goes by.

It would have been easy for Bunny and Balvin to commercialize their sound on OASIS to find further success abroad, so it’s reassuring to discover that they make no concessions to white American audiences here, retaining the authenticity that first helped propel them both to fame. In a recent interview, the New York Times asked Bunny and Balvin why it’s so important to them that they continue singing in Spanish. Amusingly enough, Bunny’s response was simply “because that’s the language we speak.”

It might sound obvious, but not so long ago, plenty of the most successful Latin artists sang primarily in English, so there’s something liberating about hearing younger stars unapologetically embracing their heritage in ways that even English-speaking listeners are now open to accepting. When Bunny and Balvin name drop a number of Latin nations on “YO LE LLEGO” (including their own), this power move serves as both a proud declaration of their roots and the countries their music has conquered too.

OASIS might lack an outright banger like “Mi Gente,” and there are some occasional moments where the energy of each track starts blending into one another, but that shouldn’t diminish what’s being accomplished here. In a recent interview on Beats 1, Bunny defined an ‘oasis’ as something “‘that’s special… that’s different” and the one he’s created with Balvin is no exception. With these eight tracks, the pair are spearheading a new wave of Latin music that’s expanding the very definition of what urbano songs can accomplish on a global stage. Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande wish they could make that kind of impact together.

Words by David Opie
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