In English, Spanish, or any other language you can throw at him, Colombian superstar J Balvin has a sixth sense for a smash hit. Between 2016’s Energía and 2018’s Vibras, the singer-songwriter established himself as the globe-trotting James Bond of reggaeton with chart-toppers like “Ginza” and “Mi Gente.” He then upped his game as a vocalist opposite Bad Bunny in 2019’s Oasis. But on Balvin’s fourth studio album, Colores, Balvin seems more dedicated to fine-tuning his signature sound than to crafting the Next Big Hit.
Don’t let the Crayola motif fool you: Spanning 10 pigment-themed tracks, Colores is a sophisticated show of Balvin’s sonic palette. He opens with a high frequency on the playful “Amarillo,” in which a wonky horn sample rides like a monkey on the back of the marching dembow riddim. But he succumbs to sentimentality in the atmospheric ballad “Rojo,” followed by the blushing “Rosado,” featuring Diplo: “Tell me how no one compares to you,” Balvin sings starry-eyed in Spanish, “To me you are the hardest, you’re on another level.” Right-hand man and producer Sky Rompiendo finally puts Balvin’s freestyle skills to the test amid the dancehall-accented bounce of “Verde.” Balvin colors within the lines of standard radio reggaeton in songs “Blanco” and “Morado,” but then dusts off his guitar for the unmistakably made-in-Medellín tracks “Azul” and “Gris.”
With an assist from Afrobeats envoy Mr. Eazi, the Nigerian King of Cool we last met in Oasis, standout track “Arcoiris” is where Balvin’s cosmopolitan jet-setter persona makes a comeback. Together, he and Eazi finesse hook after hook, drawing a timeless groove that recalls not just the history of the Afro-Caribbean music tradition — but where it’s headed next. Echoes of Buena Vista Social Club’s “Chan Chan” waft serenely into the outro, like a summer breeze from Havana to Medellín, and eventually to your ears.