Just over a year after J Balvin first hinted at a collaborative album with Bad Bunny, the reggaeton and Latin trap titans have finally released their eight-track opus, Oasis. Not long after putting out their respective 2018 masterworks — Bad Bunny’s X 100Pre and J Balvin’s Vibras — the two began easing their joint venture via a slow drip of clues, from their Complex cover story to their appearance together in Jhay Cortez’s top ten Latin hit “No Me Conoce,” in which they alluded to the project. Now, just in time for summer, they’ve delivered.
Oasis opens with a chipper greeting from Balvin: “Welcome to the oasis,” the Colombian superstar spits on “Mojaita,” over a muscular Jamaican dembow riddim and trickling water droplets weaved together by go-to producer Sky Rompiendo. Before they can catch their breath, Balvin and Benito take off in a breakneck sprint, quickly transitioning into “Yo Le Llego,” a tough-talk declaration of the duo’s global eminence. Balvin and Benito ride over propulsive congas and a meandering salsa-adjacent loop as they list off all the Latin American countries they’ve conquered with their music.
But Balvin and Bad Bunny also include space for reflection; the pair slows down on “La Canción” and “Qué Pretendes,” a one-two punch of somber dancehall that functions as a salve for your baboso-inspired heartache. And to burnish their credentials as seasoned internationalists, they recruit Marciano Cantero from the Argentine rock trio Enanitos Verdes and Nigerian-born luminary Mr. Eazi. It’s these collaborations that showcase Balvin and Bad Bunny’s versatility, riding a ukulele beat with a rock en español icon just as effortlessly as an effervescent Afrobeats tune.
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Indeed, “Como Un Bebé” is a snapshot of the crumbling boundaries of cultural production in a globalized era. Mr. Eazi, whose prescient blend of Ghanian highlife and Nigerian music have made him the godfather of “Banku music,” supplies trilingual raps as Balvin and Bad Bunny lament the perils of an immature relationship in Spanish. As reggaeton drifts further and further from its black history, it’s refreshing to see an Afro-diasporic exchange like this; at the very least, it’s a — probably unintentional — reminder of how many of the conversations happening in global pop can be traced back to these genres’ African roots.
Lyrically, Bad Bunny sidesteps some of the artful wordplay and razor-sharp cultural references that have characterized his earlier work, instead opting for the breeziness of his radio and club hits, as on the breakup send-off “Odio.” For his part, Balvin shines when he embraces the melodic, reggaeton suave textures that have catapulted him to fame; but his limited vocal range often takes a backseat to his partner-in-crime’s theatrical baritone. (A noteworthy exception being the lead single, “Qué Pretendes,” which sees Balvin’s voice scaling new heights.)
Ultimately, Oasis is a document of how far Balvin and Benito have come, and a blueprint of where they are headed. Hip-hop has long embraced the joint album format, and Oasis echoes the intentions of that genre’s earlier ventures into this territory — take Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne and Drake and Future’s What a Time to Be Alive — effectively reinforcing these peers’ domination of their respective genres. With Oasis, Balvin and Bad Bunny issue a reminder that 2017’s steal-your-girl anthem “Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola,” their first collaboration, was just the first of the many spoils they’d collect in the years to come.