Bad Bunny Demands the World Crossover to Him on 'YHLQMDLG' - Rolling Stone
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Bad Bunny Demands the World Crossover to Him on ‘YHLQMDLG’

The Latin trap superstar’s excellent sophomore LP convenes a family reunion of his favorite rappers and reggaetoneros

Bad Bunny

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During the last two years, Bad Bunny has left no box unchecked en route to attaining global superstardom. His 2018 debut X 100pre (which featured assists from a small handful of co-stars including Diplo, El Alfa and Drake) was a crossover experiment that saw El Conejo level up from newcomer to pop titan. Since then, the 25-year-old Latin trap artist has graced Coachella’s main stage, collaborated with J Balvin on the joint LP Oasis, worked with pals Residente and Ricky Martin to help oust the Governor of Puerto Rico, received three Grammy nominations, and performed alongside Shakira and J. Lo at the Super Bowl halftime show. 

For his sophomore solo release, he’s trying something even more ambitious: asking the world to crossover to him. An artist of his merit might try to further stretch his clout by recruiting even more maximalist pop stars and producers, guaranteed to win mainstream ubiquity the world over. Instead, Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana (or I Do Whatever I Want) convenes a family reunion of his favorite rappers and reggaetoneros to produce a genre-promiscuous work of reggaeton a la marquesina: a more street-savvy form of reggaeton once deemed so risqué that it was criminalized and relegated to garage parties across Puerto Rico throughout the Nineties.

But before our protagonist unleashes the Badder Bunny, we get a slice of the Good Bunny in the bossa nova/trap opener “Si Veo a Tu Mamá.” A Nintendo-lite rendition of “Girl From Ipanema” warbles behind Bad Bunny’s weepy operatics as he laments a breakup, but intends to part on good terms. (“And if I see your mom/I’ll ask for you/To see if you already have someone/Someone who makes you happy.”)

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He leans further into that heartbreak in songs like “Ignorantes” featuring Sech, as well as “La Difícil,” a heartfelt appeal to an icy love interest who comes and goes as she pleases. (The accompanying video introduces, or rather humanizes, a familiar character in Bad Bunny Cinematic Universe: the video vixen with a heart of gold.) Women, especially those who frequent the club untethered by men, figure heavily in the story of YHLQMDLG — but just as Bad Bunny reserves the right to do what he wants, so do they. 

In that spirit, the independent ladies’ anthem, “Yo Perreo Sola,” (“I Dance Alone”) is pure fan service for feminists. Yet save for a writing credit, the mystery vocalist behind the song, Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Nesi, goes unnamed on the tracklist. It’s an unfortunate repeat of a long-running reggaeton dynamic which privileges the contributions, however small, of male artists over women. (See the 2004 hit “Gasolina,” made famous by Daddy Yankee, the crowned King of Reggaeton, minus the proper amount of credit to his unsung female counterpart, Glory). In an album dedicated to throwbacks, the erasure of a woman’s contribution is the least flattering. 

Still, as El Conejo swears, no bunny is perfect: Daddy Yankee himself attests to that in the pop-reggaeton earworm “La Santa.” “You’re no saint and I’m no saint/We met each other sinning,” he says, incredulously. “Don’t act like a saint, you love the perreo/And now you want to change me?” Meanwhile “Bichiyal,” Boricua slang for “Bitchy Gyal” — or, a “bad bitch” in the flattering sense — is a Spanglish triumph which heralds the comeback of MC Yaviah, who, over the course of the last two decades, became an underground cult favorite on the island of Borinquen. Reggaeton all-stars Ñengo Flow and Jowell y Randy also supplement their own cutting verses on the unquestionable highlight “Safaera” — an ode to end all odes to women who let loose in the club. 

Modeled after a classic garage party mega-mix that DJ Playero might have spun in the Nineties, “Safaera” is five-minutes of unadulterated chaos. It’s tantamount to elbowing your way through the libertine bedlam of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights — at every turn a description of our players in various states of coitus, set to the bounce of bhangra and a Big Up Riddim. Anglophone listeners will easily pick up on the plinky tumbi riff made famous by Timbaland on Missy Elliott’s “Get Your Freak On.” Meanwhile the song’s Jaws sample recalls the dirty classic “El Tiburón” by Alexis y Fido; it’s on this track that Bad Bunny gets to ride a wave of reggaeton he was much too young to participate in the first time around but still studied as closely as Bible verses in the privacy of his childhood bedroom in Vega Baja.

Elsewhere, Latin trap lord Anuel AA kicks off the tough guy marathon with “Está Cabron Ser Yo” (“I’m That Fucker”); Myke Towers gets some jabs in on the beef-starter “Puesto Pa’ Guerrial,” and on “P FKN R,” Bunny’s taunting vowels practically beg haters to try and talk smack on his island, as the hissing Arcángel plays a formidable wingman. 

Chilean Pablo Chill-E and Argentine rapper Duki pay the Boricuas a visit on the guitar-laden, penultimate track “Hablamos Mañana” — which plays like the screeching metalcore cousin of Bad Bunny’s 2018 pop-punk cut, “Tenemos Que Hablar.” It’s a gratifying burst of angst for Bad Bunny’s more left of center fans, who came for the weird guy with the black polish, and stayed for his unflinching vulnerability. 

In the featherweight closer “<3,” Bad Bunny divulges one last admission, his most striking yet: upon releasing a follow-up album in December, he hopes to retire for good. (“And even though my best songs have yet to release,” he raps softly, “To be clear, people, I already don’t sleep/And all this fame has made me sick.”) For an artist who’s just on the cusp of Kanye-caliber fame, it’s one helluva mic drop. But as is the Benito way, he’s calculated the costs, and decided that perhaps the most radical statement he can make as a global star is to stay right at home on his island, where he needs no translation.

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