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Bad Bunny Mastered the Hit Single. With ‘X100PRE,’ He Arrives as an Album Artist

24-year-old Puerto Rican star’s debut full-length is assured, varied and full of potential hits

Bad Bunny performs at the Latin Grammy Awards, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas2018 Latin Grammy Awards - Show, Las Vegas, USA - 15 Nov 2018

After racking up a string of major global hits, Bad Bunny released his debut album, 'X100PRE.'

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/REX Shutterstock

Has there ever been an artist who needed to release an album less than Bad Bunny? For three years now, this Puerto Rican star, born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, has been gushing hit singles like a broken fire hydrant. His voice, low and droning, is inimitable and absurdly adaptable, equally at home in stadium-ready trap (“Diles”), weapons-grade reggaeton (“Te Bote”), sunny cumbia (“Mayores”), seduce-your-girl R&B (“Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola”), club-pop missiles (“Mia”), grungy rock (“Sensualidad” at the Latin Grammys), salsa (“Mala Y Peligrosa”), dejected piano balladry (“Amorfada”) and choral tropical house, a fusion he might have invented (“Estamos Bien”). Many artists master at most one style; at age 24, Bad Bunny already commands multitudes.

So his debut, X100PRE, at first seems like an odd concession to the old-school from an artist who made old-school look thoroughly obsolete — if singles are enough to get you into the studio with Drake, why bother with a full-length? But X100PRE is everything you could possibly want from a debut album: Plenty of the stuff that initially brought Bad Bunny fame along with some impressively executed forays into new styles — no small feat, considering how many genres he has already infiltrated.

X100PRE seesaws between two modes: Near-invincible levels of swagger and utter despondence. “I do not go to stores, because I own the mall/ I’m Cristiano after putting in a goal/ I have French speaking in Spanish,” Bad Bunny sings in “Otra Noche en Miami,” a propulsive, brittle Eighties pop record that could play equally well after Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” or Taylor Swift’s “Style.” But much of that bravado is missing in “Tenemos Que Hablar,” a totally unexpected pop-punk cut. “I hate your messages, when you say we have to talk,” Bad Bunny sings.

This dynamic plays out again and again. I break the rules and I repair them,” Bad Bunny brags in “Caro,” the type of airy, triumphant trap record that sounds best at ear-splitting volume. Then in the gorgeously brooding “RLNDT,” he is lost at sea, a true chico dark in bad need of a pep talk: “Tears leave no trace, so I do not leave a trace.”

Bad Bunny worked primarily with the reggaeton hitmaker Tainy — the same beat-genius behind “Estamos Bien” — on X100PRE, and the results are frequently breathtaking. “Ni Bien Na Mal” is rugged rap until the end, when it resolves with a handsome string-section and a wind-chime sound that would lull your baby to sleep. Those unexpected guitars from “Tenemos Que Hablar” return more subtly in the second half of “Como Antes,” suggesting Bad Bunny might have planted the seeds of a whole new genre, Latin-trap-punk-pop.

A different sort of guitar riff, acoustic and prickly, boosts “La Romana,” which initially sounds like a trap cousin to J Balvin’s “Reggaeton” (another Tainy production). But then the dynamite Dominican rapper El Alfa shows up for a breathless, full-tilt dembow cut. When he collaborated with Cardi B recently on “Mi Miami,” the two were criticized for eschewing the pummeling dembow that made El Alfa a star; he did not make the same mistake when in the studio with Bad Bunny.

The other big names on X100PRE aside from El Alfa — and Drake, since the October single “Mia” reappears as the last track — are Diplo and Ricky Martin, who both carry themselves admirably. Diplo put together the beat for “200 MPH,” a pitch-perfect trap hit as potent as anything coming out of Atlanta; this should be played on both RapCaviar and major hip-hop radio stations, though both treat Spanish-language hip-hop as window-dressing. (If “I Like It” fits your rotation, there are plenty of other Latin trap songs that should also make the cut.) “Caro” works in a similar mode to “200 MPH,” until Martin shows up to echo Bad Bunny during a lovely interlude — a pretty ballad strong enough to be an entire song on its own.

It’s a healthy time for Latin pop. The great artists, a group that includes J Balvin, Rosalía and Ozuna, are putting out massive global hits while also crafting meticulous, considered, genre-hopping albums; these singers are versatile in a way that makes many Anglo artists seem monochromatic, and they make that versatility look not just stylish, but essential to vital artistry. Bad Bunny conquered the singles game with ease. On X100PRE, he cements his place among the elite in Latin pop — and in pop music writ large.

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