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How Bad Bunny Skipped Categories And Skyrocketed To Fame

Jan 3, 2019
Originally published on January 4, 2019 8:24 am

Before Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio became Latin trap star Bad Bunny, he was just a kid growing up in Puerto Rico whose mom would blast salsa and romantic Latin ballads on weekends.

"On Sundays and Saturdays, when it was time to clean the house, when I heard those records, I knew I would have to at least mop the floor or something," he says with the help of an English translator.

But after cleaning, Bad Bunny says he would lock himself in his bedroom and listen to Island rappers Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón and the godfather of Puerto Rican hip-hop, Vico C.

Soon, he started practicing his own raps. A self-described class clown, Bad Bunny got his stage moniker from the time he was forced as a child to wear a bunny rabbit costume. He was pretty angry about it, but the name stuck.

In the last year or so, Bad Bunny has hopped with ease into the English language market, guest starring on tracks by such rappers as Nicki Minaj, Drake and Cardi B.

Bad Bunny's rise to stardom is (mostly) his own doing. He started posting music on SoundCloud around 2016, singing and rapping only in Spanish. He now has billions of streams on platforms like YouTube and Spotify and a Grammy nomination for record of the year thanks to "I Like It," his collaboration with Cardi B and J Balvin.

Isabelia Herrera, music editor of the online magazine Remezcla, says Bad Bunny's successful crossover is a testament to changing U.S. demographics. "Demographically, this country is Latino," she says. "People are no longer like, 'We don't understand what that is. We don't understand that this is in the Latino world.' There's no longer that barrier."

Bad Bunny's success rests on more than his music. In a world of macho rapper caricatures, he boasts about stealing your girl while rocking a gender bending style: Polished nails, flamboyant, colorful jackets and get-ups that would make David Bowie tip his fedora in admiration. "I can simply tell you that since I was a kid, I didn't like to look like anyone else," Bad Bunny says.

He doesn't sound quite like anyone else either. The artist's debut full-length album, x100Pre (Forever), stays true to his trap music roots. Bad Bunny's low, nasty drawl and rhythmic, choppy Puerto Rican Spanish dance over dark, deep beats on the song "Quien Tu Eres" ("Who Are You?") But there's also plenty of experimentation on the album, too. Fans hear folksier guitar, shiny pop, and, without a doubt, the influence of his childhood chore time when he was forced to listen to his mother's romantic ballads.

YouTube

"Solo De Mi" ("Only My Own") is a ballad of independence. The accompanying music video was part of a campaign against domestic violence that features a battered woman singing the words.

"I always like to create things that get attention," Bad Bunny says. "It used to be a problem when I wasn't famous. Now, I can do whatever I want and people have to accept it."

This from a musician who's able to skip categories with so much ease because he belongs to none.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In case you didn't know, Bad Bunny is not a new cartoon character. He's a young Puerto Rican rapper who's skyrocketed to international fame online. Now he's released his debut album. NPR's Jasmine Garsd has this profile.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Before Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio became a star, he was just a kid growing up in Puerto Rico whose mom would blast salsa and romantic Latin ballads on weekends.

BAD BUNNY: (Through interpreter) On Sundays and Saturdays when it was time to clean the house, when I heard those records, I knew I would have to at least mop the floor or something (laughter).

GARSD: He says afterwards he'd lock himself in his bedroom and listen to island rappers Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderon and the godfather of Puerto Rican hip-hop, Vico C.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMBOSCADA")

VICO C: (Rapping in Spanish).

GARSD: A self-described class clown, Bad Bunny got his moniker from the time he was forced as a child to wear a bunny rabbit costume and was pretty angry about it. The name stuck.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LIKE IT")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Yeah, baby...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) I like it like that.

GARSD: In the last year or so, Bad Bunny hopped with ease into the English-language market, guest starring on tracks by such rappers as Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. Here he is on Cardi's hit song "I Like It."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LIKE IT")

BAD BUNNY: (Rapping in Spanish).

GARSD: Bad Bunny did this on his own. He started posting music on soundcloud, singing pretty much only in Spanish. He now has billions of hits on YouTube and several Grammy nominations. Isabelia Herrera, a music editor at Remezcla, an online Latin culture magazine, says it's a testament to changing U.S. demographics.

ISABELIA HERRERA: Demographically, this country is Latino, and people are no longer, like, we don't understand what that is; we don't understand that this is, like, in the Latino world. There's no longer that barrier.

GARSD: Bad Bunny's success rests on more than his music. In a world of macho rapper caricatures, he boasts about stealing your girl while rocking a gender-bending style, nail polish, flamboyant, colorful jackets and getups that would make David Bowie tip his fedora in admiration.

BAD BUNNY: (Through interpreter) I can simply tell you that since I was a kid, I didn't like to look like anyone else.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAD BUNNY SONG, "QUIEN TU ERES?")

GARSD: And he doesn't sound quite like anyone else, either. His debut full-length album called "X 100pre," or "Forever," stays true to his trap music roots. Those are those dark, deep beats you're hearing; his low, nasty drawl. His rhythmic, choppy Puerto Rican Spanish dance over them, as in the song "Quien Tu Eres?," or "Who Are You?"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUIEN TU ERES?")

BAD BUNNY: (Rapping in Spanish).

GARSD: But there's also plenty of experimentation on the album - folksier guitar, shiny pop and without a doubt the influence of his childhood chore time, forced to listen to his mother's romantic music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOLO DE MI")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

GARSD: But "Solo De Mi," or "Only My Own," is a ballad of independence. The accompanying music video was part of a campaign against domestic violence. It features a battered woman singing the words...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOLO DE MI")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

GARSD: I am not yours. I am no one's. I am only my own. Don't call me baby because you already know I'm not here for you, not even a little.

BAD BUNNY: I don't know. I always liked to create things that get attention. It used to be a problem when I wasn't famous. Now I can do whatever I want, and people have to accept it.

GARSD: This from a musician who is able to skip categories with so much ease because he belongs to none. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOLO DE MI")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish, rapping in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.