In December 2017, Bad Bunny performed just one block from where I was living at the time in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I didn’t know who he was, and not many people who weren’t listening to Spanish-language trap did. Not quite six months after that appearance in Minneapolis, Bad Bunny introduced himself to a global audience on a humble collaboration called ‘I Like It,’ with Cardi B and J Balvin. Less than a year after that, I impulsively got on a plane to Chicago to catch the tour for his first solo album, X100Pre (Por Siempre—Forever). In 16 months, he had outgrown that Minneapolis nightclub and was filling arenas across the US, Latin America and far beyond.
On Leap Day 2020, Bad Bunny dropped his much-anticipated sophomore album, YHLQMDLG (Yo hago lo que me da la gana), proving that he does indeed do whatever he wants. Coming little more than a year after X100Pre, there was serious risk that YHLQMDLG would simply be a vehicle for a couple of streaming hits but otherwise populated by so much musical fluff. Pero no. Bad Bunny’s second offering is more than worthy of his previous work, delivering infectious reggaeton tracks, impassioned breakup songs and innovative trap numbers that raise the genre’s bar from where he himself set it in 2018.
YHLQMDLG opens with the quirky ‘Si Veo a Tu Mamá,’ which charmingly layers a trap beat over a backing track reminiscent of early 2000’s video games—you know, the ones where you wandered around collecting mushrooms and no one got hurt. Right off the bat, we’re reminded of what makes El Conejo Malo so unique in this game—not only is he interested in new beats, but he provides variety with his own voice, writing melodic lines that showcase an expressive vocal range. In a genre where you typically pick your style of vocal masculinity and stick to it, Bad Bunny approaches his voice as a flexible emotive instrument. And Dios mio, is it ever.
The next track, ‘La Difícil,’ drops some dembow to give us the first reggaeton track of the album. However, this is not some overwrought perreo destined for nightclubs and not much else; this is the suave, nuanced, lush reggaeton that keeps Bad Bunny and the likes of J Balvin and Nicky Jam on the leading edge of this genre. ‘Pero Ya No’ shows off vocal and songwriting chops yet again over a watery celeste accompaniment that conjures up the playful dream world of a little kid, which is exactly the imagery that was chosen for the initial concept videos for this album.
What little kid doesn’t imagine singing with her or his heroes? ‘La Santa’ is the first collaboration on this album, with none other than Puerto Rican reggaeton’s first global star, Daddy Yankee. Despite his contribution, this remains a Bad Bunny track – having much more in common with last summer’s ‘La Canción’ than with Daddy Yankee’s EDM-flavored output. In fact, I think that the lead artist’s willingness, once again, to deploy different vocal colors and textures subtly upstages the veteran reggaetonero in a satisfying generational changing of the guard.
Bad Bunny picks up that mantle in multiple ways on ‘Yo Perreo Sola’ with a heavier dembow beat reminiscent of Luny Tunes’ productions for Yankee. Disappointingly, it also resumes an outdated tradition of prominently featuring an uncredited female singer. Génesis Ríos, a Chilean trap artist also known as Nesi, opens and closes the song and yet is not credited as a singer. She is credited as a songwriter, however, on an addictive track that showcases the effectiveness of música urbana’s current minimalist vogue. Don’t stop dancing, because the last track goes immediately into the irresistibly steamy ‘Bichiyal,’ featuring Yaviah. Bad Bunny’s sultry trap-like vocals contrast with the spacious, vocoder-augmented melody of ‘Soliá,’ which, instead of getting down-and-dirty on the dancefloor, floats on lush clouds of synthesizer and a light dembow beat.
A stand-out track is the reggae-flavored ‘A Tu Merced,’ which together with the whiplash nostalgia tour, ‘Safaera,’ serves as an upbeat palate-cleanser for the trap-heavy final third of the album. In this stretch, ‘25/8’ in particular reminds us of El Conejo’s early trap hits but also how very far he’s come since then, demonstrating a melodic creativity and vocal virtuosity that we’re not used to seeing from this genre. The stunning hook is its own proof that, in his own words, Bad Bunny is ‘nunca seguidor, yo siempre he sido un lider’ (never a follower, I’ve always been a leader).
Like X100Pre, YHLQMDLG saves its most personal moments for the end, with ‘<3’ serving as a poignantly sweet offering of gratitude for the career that has been. Fortunately, we can say definitively that it is far from over. YHLQMDLG cements Bad Bunny’s lonely place at the vanguard of urbano music. His first solo album (and subsequent joint album with J Balvin) set a challenge for his fellow musicians to create innovative, fresh and thoughtful art and to avoid monotony above all. Seeing that no one was up to it, he seems to have taken it upon himself to move the genre forward. Out in front of the pack, he does what he wants.