The Lowdown: Puerto Rican superstar Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, better known as Bad Bunny, is back with his second serving of solo music. YHLQMDLG, which stands for “Yo hago lo que me da la gana,” or “I do what I want,” is a stacked 20-track album where Bad Bunny does just that. After conquering the música urbana scene (that includes reggaeton and Latin trap music) with his first album, he’s enjoying the view from the top this time and redefining what it means to be a global pop star.
Out of all the Latin music artists who rose to prominence toward the end of the last decade, Bad Bunny’s ascent was the quickest and most sweeping. In 2016, he was a grocery bagger who posted a song on SoundCloud that caught the attention of his former imprint, Hear This Music. Two years later, he went independent, topped Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 chart with “I Like It” alongside Cardi B and Colombian reggaetonero J Balvin, and dropped his debut album, x 100pre, meaning “por siempre,” or “forever.” His first headlining world tour saw him instantly booked in arenas around the world, and he and Balvin, who took Bunny under his wing, dropped a Watch the Throne-like Latinx album titled Oasis last year.
Bad Bunny’s first album racked up billions of views on YouTube and streams via platforms like Spotify. While his contemporaries were flexing their wealth, he was flexing his feelings and stood out as música urbana’s resident sad boy. His Pisces sign placement jumped out and fans wanted more of it. After a few months of trolling them about his solo follow-up, YHLQMDLG finally dropped on Leap Day. Bad Bunny seems more at home than ever while proudly repping his Puerto Rican culture.
The Good: No matter how high up Bad Bunny goes, he never leaves his island of Puerto Rico behind. After participating in protests against a crooked, local government last year, he uses YHLQMDLG to highlight the US colony’s rich artistry while basking in his life before the fame. On the reggaeton tracks, he revisits the genre’s simpler, rough-around-the-edges sound from its mid-2000s breakthrough on “Bichiyal” and “La Santa” with Boricua legends like Daddy Yankee and Yaviah, respectively. Perreo, the twerk-like dance associated with reggaeton, takes center stage on the club banger “Yo Perreo Sola”. Bad Bunny achieved that throwback energy with Luny Tunes apprentice Marco “Tainy” Masís, who produced most of the album, in the mix.
Bad Bunny shares a beer with Anuel AA, another one of Puerto Rico’s Latin trap stars, on “Está Cabrón Ser Yo”, which roughly translates to “It’s fucking awesome being me.” The two who are often pitted against each other in the media join forces on this swaggering one-two knockout. Reggaeton’s in Panama by way of Afro-Latinx pioneers like El General and Nando Boom are often forgotten. Bad Bunny shares the spotlight with a singer-songwriter putting that country back on the map on “Ignorantes”. The soulful Sech joins him on the heartbreaking, come-back-to-me anthem produced by Panamanian producer Dimelo Flow.
While exploring the past and present of música urbana, Bad Bunny continues to look toward a genre-bending future. Album opener “Si Veo a Tu Mamá” blends Latin trap with a perky sample of “The Girl from Ipanema”, which contrasts with the song’s woeful message. The flute-led trap of “Hablamos Mañana” with Chilean rapper Pablo Chill-E and Argentine artist Duki ends on an emo note. After the guys boast about living the high life, a blast of electric guitar backs Duki’s screamo sign-off. The album’s best track, “Safaera” is beast of a banger, transforming classic reggaeton with Puerto Rican OGs Jowell & Randy to a Jaws-like transition that descends into tropical madness worked around a sample of Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On” with singer Ñengo Flow. Blaring sirens sound off Bad Bunny’s perreo intenso.
The Bad: Back to “Yo Perreo Sola”, which was co-written and features vocals from fellow Puerto Rican singer Génesis Rios, who goes professionally by Nesi. Reggaeton music is known for its machista (a form of toxic masculinity) messaging where women can be degraded. Bad Bunny and Nesi champion perreo where a woman has the agency to get down on her own. It’s also the most inclusive perreo anthem when Bad Bunny sings in Spanish, “The boys and the girls want her.”
The misfire with “Yo Perreo Sola” has to do with the song credits. For being a female empowerment moment, Nesi is not listed as a featured act even though she contributes heavily to the collaboration. Whether an intentional move or not, from not giving Nesi her proper dues, Bad Bunny is contributing to a history of erasure of women’s contributions in reggaeton music. This can be dated back to 2004 hit “Gasolina” where the woman on the chorus with Daddy Yankee was not credited alongside him. That’s a part of history that hopefully stays in the books next time.
While thanking his fans for the wild past year on “<3”, Bad Bunny also drops a bombshell on them. In his melodic meditation, he spits in Spanish: “In nine months, I’ll come back and drop another to retire peacefully like Miguel Cotto.” Bad Bunny likens himself to the retired Puerto Rican boxer, seemingly hinting that one more album will drop around December before his early retirement. This isn’t anything negative per say, just some sad news if it’s true from one of Latin music’s biggest superstars.
The Verdict: If YHLQMDLA is really Bad Bunny’s penultimate album, at least he went out doing it his way, never translating his music into English for the sake of commercial appeal. While 20 tracks seems exhausting, to the contrary, he captures our attention throughout, especially with his clever zingers. His pen is sharper than the last time with lines in Spanish like “You can’t catch me anymore/ I’m not a Pokémon” in the R&B-influenced “Pero Ya No”. In a world of pop stars, Bad Bunny may never be as famous as Pikachu, but with YHLQMDLA, he’s emerging as a rarity in the game like the mythical Mew. Benito is game-sharking a system that was once othering Latin music artists with his perreo takeover of pop.
Essential Tracks: “Safaera”, “Yo Perreo Sola”, “Está Cabrón Ser Yo”, and “Hablamos Mañana”