Artist of the Week: J Balvin Walks the Line

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More than ever before, we are seeing the inclusion of Latin music in mainstream entertainment. Once a niche, Latin sub-genres like reggaeton and flamenco are weaving themselves into the fabric of pop culture and succeeding. The artists who are leaving their mark by reaching a broad market and topping charts represent an untapped musical vein, one rich with its own melodies and sounds.

The crossover began when a few of these artists found a way blend in the influences of contemporary popular music in a way that didn’t drown out their Latin roots. With the current state of affairs, it’s easy to understand why this is an important time for Latinx artists and influencers to step into the spotlight and tell their stories. Fans all over the world are able to see past the language barrier and connect with the spirit of the music, bringing a mass of people from all different backgrounds together. One of these artists, Colombian singer J Balvin, has become a leader in this wave of pan-Latin music by marrying pop and reggaeton in an smooth, unapologetic style.  

José Álvaro Osorio Balvin, who goes by J Balvin, was born on May 7,1985 to a middle class family living in Medellín, Colombia. Growing up with an interest in American rock music, Balvin was deeply influenced by Nirvana and Metallica. He even went on to cover the Nirvana hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in live sets. Then he discovered reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee and was so inspired by the flows and style that at age 14 he decided to pursue his own career as a reggaeton artist.

When he turned 17, he moved to Oklahoma as part of an English exchange program where he was disappointed to find the experience was nothing like the American movies he had seen as a child. He decided to move back home to Medellín, where he studied international business at EAFIT University before fully committing to music. In his early performance years he was known as J Balvin “El Negocio”, or “The Business.” While rap battling and self-promoting in the clubs of urban Medellín he met DJ, David Rivera Mazo who became his business partner. The two quickly began collaborating on musical projects. By age 20 Balvin signed with EMI Columbia Records. That’s when he released the single that changed everything, a song entitled “Yo Te Lo Dije”. This single put him on the map and within a year he was signed to Capitol Latin. 

Already a star in the clubs of his hometown, he truly broke through in the United States with his Billboard topping song “6 AM” featuring Farruko. In February of 2014, the song debuted at number 43 on the Billboard charts and by that spring had reached number one. Since then, J Balvin has been a pillar in the Latin pop community, collaborating with several other up and coming Latinx artists.

Many credit the success of other reggaeton artists such as Nicky Jam and Farruko to J Balvin’s ability to popularize a new wave of reggaeton and spread it to the masses. Camilla Cabello also cites Balvin as one of her musical influences. The two have collaborated on the 2017 The Fate of the Furious soundtrack featuring “Hey Ma” with Pitbull. His most famous hit is a collaboration with Cardi B and Bad Bunny on the number one single “I Like It”, which was released in May, 2018. It reached number 7 on the Billboard charts and was named 2018’s Song of the Year by Apple Music. The music video for “I Like It” has over 900 million views on YouTube. 

Now J Balvin is known for his signature minimalist style and gentle delivery, greatly appealing to a wider audience by using pop melodies in his songs and singing over the beats. He stays true to his roots by partnering with Medellin-based writers and producers Alejandro “Sky” Ramirez and Carlo Alejandro “Mosty” Patiño on several of his tracks.  Way to walk the line.

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