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J Balvin drops new album 'Vibras,' redefines how Latin artists cross over to U.S. music scene

"We are defining a new mainstream,” reggaeton artist J Balvin told NBC News about his newest album, all in Spanish.
Image: Artist J Balvin
Artist J BalvinCourtesy Rogers and Cowan

Colombian reggaeton artist J Balvin has accomplished the unthinkable in the Latin music industry: a successful crossover into the American mainstream music market with albums entirely in Spanish. With his new album "Vibras," Spanish for vibes, he hopes to keep the momentum going and redefine the role of Spanish-language music worldwide.

“It’s all about the vibes,” he told NBC News. “That’s why it’s called ‘Vibras,’ in Spanish. It’s an album that we made with so much love — proving and showing the world that Spanish is becoming the new."

"We are defining a new mainstream," said Balvin.

For many years, Latin artists such as Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Shakira achieved crossover success by recording English-language albums. Back then, the results exceeded everyone’s expectations. But with 4 albums under his belt and a 5th one being released on Friday, all in Spanish, Balvin is reinventing the way Latin music artists cross over to the U.S. music scene.

“Even though you don’t understand what I’m saying, you are going to really feel it,” Balvin said. “The same thing happened to me when I used to listen to English music. I didn’t even understand one word. You know? But, it just makes me feel great.”

José Álvaro Osorio Balvin, also known as J Balvin, was born and raised in Medellín, Colombia. With dreams of becoming a rapper, 17-year-old Balvin sought out Colombia's then-underground hip-hop and reggaeton scene. After several MySpace music campaigns and local performances, Balvin was signed in to the Universal recording label in 2013.

At 33, the two-time Latin Grammy Award winner is one of the top artists of the moment. He is one of Spotify’s top 3 artists in monthly listeners worldwide. Just last month, he scored a Top 10 hit alongside rapper Cardi B and Latin-trap pioneer Bad Bunny with their boogaloo kitsch song "I Like It."

Balvin’s previous music collaborations range from world-renowned stars like Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber to Pharrell Williams, Pitbull, Nicky Jam and Liam Payne, just to name a few.

His new album includes collaborations with Puerto Rican legendary reggaeton duos such as Wisin & Yandel and Zion & Lennox, as well as artists such as French DJ Willy William, Brazilian pop star Anitta, Mexican indie-pop musician Carla Morrison, flamenco singer Rosalía and Aruban singer Jeon.

The combination of diverse music sounds, from Zion & Lennox’s romantic reggaeton styles to Anitta and Jeon’s dancehall rhythms, shows what Balvin called “una evolución,” Spanish for an evolution.

“Each one of their songs brings a different vibe,” said Balvin. “[The album] still has a lot of reggaeton because that is what opened the doors for me, but you can do reggaeton in a way that people that don’t know reggaeton or don’t understand it, they would feel great.”

“You can expect an evolution, but that [reggaeton] essence is more present than ever before,” Balvin added in Spanish. “I kind of went back to my roots and added some extra spice to it.”

Balvin is the first reggaeton artist to perform on the main stage at Coachella, appearing alongside Beyoncé and Cardi B.

“That last move we did with Beyoncé in Coachella, that opened the doors even more for Spanish music,” Balvin told NBC. “Who would have thought that somebody Latino was going to be singing with Beyoncé at Coachella? Years ago? Nobody. But, I did believe in me. So, that’s what I want to do: keep inspiring people as much as possible.”

His first ‘Vibras’ album single, ‘Mi Gente,’ which dropped last summer, took over the mainstream music scene by storm. For three months straight, ‘Mi Gente’ topped the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart and surpassed 1.8 billion YouTube views. Even primetime TV shows such as Shonda Rhimes’ ‘How To Get Away With Murder?’ featured the song in some episodes.

Blue Ivy, the 6-year-old daughter of legendary singers Jay-Z and Beyoncé, reportedly loved listening to ‘Mi Gente,’ which motivated Beyoncé to jump into the song’s remix, according to Balvin. The song hit the third spot on the Hot 100 list after such remix.

In April, Telemundo Deportes named J Balvin and Michael Brun’s single ‘Positivo’ as the official pop song for the network’s coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, which kicks of on June 14th.

“This song really makes you feel like you are in a festival, in a carnival at the World Cup. And the name is ‘Positivo’ because is just only positive vibes,” said Balvin. “I know it's nothing deep, but it has the feeling that makes you feel positive.”

More positive vibes is what J Balvin hopes to give fans during with ‘Vibras’ world tour that starts in Mexico this May and makes it to the United States in September.

“Catch the vibe,” said J Balvin. “Just positive energies. Positive vibes.”