If you haven’t heard of J Balvin (quite frankly, you’ve been living under a rock) you would have heard his reggaetón sensibilities infused into music from the likes of Cardi B, Pharrell, Beyoncé and Liam Payne. Singing in his native tongue of Spanish, the Latino rapper has become a hit in the music industry as he unapologetically brings his culture to the masses. And if you’ve been watching closely, you would have noticed Balvin – who’s real name is José Álvaro Osorio Balvín – shaking it with none other than Jennifer Lopez on the Super Bowl stage. His rap mix of J Lo’s ‘Love Don’t Cost A Thing’ has since become a viral dance sensation on TikTok, and is just a mere drop in the ocean of what the creative has achieved in his decade-long music career.
Speaking with J Balvin on a long distance call from Australia to Columbia – worlds apart in distance – it is hard to believe that since his astronomical thrust into stardom, he is also, so down to earth. Checking in on how he was coping with the worldwide lockdowns, he simply responded with, “I’m great, I’m grateful,” a testament to his character.
For the 34-year-old, his connection with music arrived at the age of 12 when he begun playing guitar, but his interest in hip-hop would only occur years into the future. “I started playing the guitar when I was 12, that was my first connection with a musical instrument,” he explained to ICON. “I started writing my own music and when I was 16, I was making hip-hop music, rap, and I’m still here.
“I was 16, 17 years old when I realised I wanted to make music for a living. I took the risk, and here we are.”
The road to recognition for the Columbian local however, was not easy, as many artists find it. At age 17, Balvin moved to the United States to learn English where he lived in both Oklahoma and New York. He returned to Medellín and gained popularity performing at clubs in the city. Despite having released music that dates back past 2013, the rapper’s first taste of fame arrived in 2014 with single ‘6 AM’ featuring Puerto Rican singer Farruko. It peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. Later, his album La Familia reached number ten on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart, spending 122 weeks on the chart in total. Speaking on his success he credits patience.“You know, it’s the amount of time. It’s a process. And it’s all about gaining respect, hard work, quality.”
Between then and 2020 with his latest album Colores, Balvin has enjoyed the riches of a slew of awards across the Latin Grammy Awards, Latin Billboard Awards, MTV Video Music Awards and has already received two nominations at the Grammy Awards. And his new work may be his most personal to-date, not through its lyrics, but Balvin’s love of colour and as the king of collaboration, he brought on Japanese artist Takashi Murakami to visualise the album.
“I wanted to do something with one of my favourite concepts, which is colour,” Balvin reflects. “I’m a huge fan of Takashi Murakami – he’s one of the top three, biggest pop artists in the world. It was blessing that he really wanted to work with me on this album. We wanted to make a statement… He is well known because of his flowers and we wanted to spread out the love together and show the power of colours.”
“I wanted to create a highly visual album and I wanted to work with the best… we wanted to level up.”
As his work spreads through the sound waves of mainstream hip-hop and pop genres, Balvin hopes to continue the awareness and representation of reggaetón and latino culture across the world. The best example of this would be his aforementioned participation in the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime show in Miami, which featured Shakira, Bad Bunny and J Lo.
“It means a lot to me because it was a dream to be at the Super Bowl and performing in Spanish. It was a beautiful statement and I’m still so happy and so grateful. It was such a historical moment. As Latinos we had the chance [of] singing in Spanish to the whole world. Balvin continued, “100 percent that has always been my goal to show reggaetón to the world and make it known… to all corners of the world.”
As for how he is staying inspired and creative in self-isolation, as expected, Balvin has found the silver linings. “I’m just looking for vibes that are on a higher level to [put me in] a better mood. I’m working on music, I want to make music that makes you feel alright, makes you feel good and feel that everything is going to be okay. I’m really enjoying the process of creating in quarantine because I’m taking it day by day. I’m not thinking about what is going to happen tomorrow or in a week because we don’t know.”
As for the first thing he will do post-Pandemic?
“Fly around the world.”
J Balvin’s latest album, ‘Colores’, is out now. For more from the artists, visit his website here.