Nicky Jam and J Balvin released an all-star remix of “X” on Friday, with new verses from the versatile Puerto Rican hitmaker Ozuna and the Colombian pop-reggaeton star Maluma. The addition of these singers is sure to boost “X,” which is already one of the year’s most dazzling and popular tracks, amassing more than 975 million views on YouTube in less than four months.
Jam and Balvin know not to mess with a good thing, so the instrumental remains unchanged on the “X” remix. Ozuna handles the first verse, lobbing come-ons across the dance floor in his tender, instantly recognizable tone, changing up his vocal patterns at will. He also shouts out the native countries of all the participating singers, one of his favorite tactics – see “Siguelo Bailando,” one of his standout singles from last year. Maluma follows Ozuna’s lead, also choosing to experiment with multiple flows. At the end of the track, he returns one last time to show off his quavering croons.
“X” finds a sweet spot somewhere between the hard bounce of reggaeton and the rat-a-tat, jabbing style popular in Brazilian hits. Rashid Badloe, one half of the Surname-born, Netherlands-based production duo Afro Bros, crafted “X” with help from the Aruban singer-songwriter Jeon. Together they link “X” to a house music tradition. “It’s basically Latin house with a slow BPM,” says Badloe. “There’s Brazilian [elements], African [elements]; it’s all in there.”
This globe-conquering hit almost never existed: Afro Bros originally made the beat for DJ Carnage, who was working on a remix for another Spanish-language rapper. When Afro Bros turned in the instrumental, however, it was rejected. “It’s a new sound, you have to get used to it,” says Badloe. “At least the labels and A&Rs do.”
Meanwhile, another Afro Bros production, “18 Plus,” was becoming popular around Latin America. “It was a huge underground hit in Colombia, Panama, all over South America,” Badloe explains. “J Balvin heard that track, and that’s why he wanted to connect with us.”
Badloe sent Balvin’s camp a one-and-a-half minute version of the “X” beat, and they were instantly smitten. “The engineer looped it, and that’s what you’re listening to [on the final version],” the producer says. “They wanted us to upgrade the beat, but they were in a rush to release it.” Within a week, according to Badloe, both Balvin and Jam had recorded their vocals.
The speed with which the two singers recorded and released the track is part of the reason why “X” remains enticingly spare. “It’s empty – we could fill it up more,” Badloe says of the instrumental. “But they liked it that way.”