Of all of Bad Bunny’s many gifts — his charmingly nasal vocal delivery, his apparent good nature, his preternatural ability to pull off a manicure — his finest attribute may be his knack for pleasant surprises.
As the modern música urbana industry’s predilection toward unexpected album drops often reflects disorganization more so than imagination, the Puerto Rican superstar’s ingenuity and affability has more than carried him through four such releases, beginning with the Nochebuena 2018 blessing of his full-length debut X 100pre. Still, fans had at least some inclination that last year’s J Balvin team-up for mini album Oasis and this past February’s YHLQMDLG were coming with some degree of imminence.
Not so for Las Que No Iban a Salir, a 10-song dive into Bad Bunny’s hard-drive of set-aside, previously discarded, or otherwise unreleased songs unveiled on Mother’s Day. Though the specific origins of this material remain unclear, most of these tracks appeared in some form during his Instagram Live quarantine event in early May. As he virtually teased hundreds of thousands of viewers with snippets, lip-syncing and even singing over some of them with a wood spoon substituting for a microphone, it was unlikely that many anticipated an actual release would come so soon.
Though the absence of an Anuel AA feature heard during the social media twerk-in has sparked some online snark, guest appearances from the likes of Jhay Cortez, Yandel, and Zion & Lennox that did make the cut certainly won’t leave listeners wanting. And, after YHLQMDLG so plainly revealed a near-sacred devotion to reggaeton, it makes perfect sense that such perreo piety would persist here. To that end, Bad Bunny plucks Don Omar — urbano’s proverbial King of Kings himself — from a state of semiretirement for the hedonistic thump of “Pa’ Romperla.” With enduring veteran Nicky Jam in tow, Bad Bunny time travels through decades of genre history for “Bad Con Nicky,” in a move not unlike what he undertook for YHLQMDLG’s still-smoldering single “Safaera.” A nod to the days when Jamaican dancehall inspired the earliest of reggaetoneros, the sample of Daddy Yankee’s refreshed Playero 37 cut “Donde Mi No Vengas,” from 2003’s Los Homerun-es, is an especially nice touch.
Of course, as we’ve seen with signature singles like “Estamos Bien” and “Vete,” Bad Bunny certainly doesn’t need fancy features to prop himself up. With lyrics that indicate recording during self-isolation, “Bendiciones” kills his haters with kindness while offering empathy and hugs for those affected by the virus and natural disasters that have imperiled his home country. The quarantine theme continues for “En Casita,” a duet with girlfriend Gabriela Berlingeri that stresses the need for social distancing even with the emotional costs.
While some persnickety audiophiles might bristle at the unmixed and unmastered nature of the project, Las Que No Iban a Salir sounds more than acceptable by today’s home-streaming standards. After all, there’s no place else most listeners will get to hear the record apart from their rechargeable devices, thanks to the global pandemic going on outside. Instead, it plays out like the Instagram Live DJ sets and password-protected Zoom parties occurring nightly all over the world, something intimately comforting and oddly unifying when people so desperately need it.