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Bad Bunny Shows Us His Version Of Old-School

Bad Bunny, photographed at the 2018 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Oct. 09, 2018 in Los Angeles.
Frazer Harrison
Getty Images
Bad Bunny, photographed at the 2018 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Oct. 09, 2018 in Los Angeles.

What can't Bad Bunny do?

Challenging traditional gender norms and aesthetics in the male-dominated world of urbano? Check. Revealing, via the heartfelt closing track of his new album, that he might be retiring at the end of this year? Check.

The 25-year-old Puerto Rican artist, born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, joyfully skews convention — in his music, his style, his outspoken politics. It's this anti-conformist attitude that has helped make him an international star, rising from a college student working at a grocery store to one of the biggest names in Latin trap in just a few years.

Bunny's sophomore album, a 20-song set aptly titled YHLQMDLGYo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, "I do what I want" — and released on Feb. 29 is, thankfully, more of the same.

YHLQMDLG comes less than a year after Oasis, his dual EP with Colombian superstar J Balvin, and opens with a synthesized sample of bossa nova staple "The Girl from Ipanema." But make it Sad Bunny: In typical Conejo Malo fashion, he declares from the get-go that he's still missing an ex, and imagines all the things he'd say to her mom if he ran into her. But unlike most of the darker, psychedelic beats on his debut, X 100PRE, or the tropical, genre-bending jokes of Oasis, this lovesick rundown of all the things going wrong in Bad Bunny's life cruises along over a breezy backdrop that perfectly sets up the party anthems to come across the rest of the album.

YHLQMDLG is full of reggaeton throwbacks, finding Bad Bunny re-grounding himself in the roots of the heavy perreo he grew up listening to, in the Puerto Rican tradition of marquesinas (garage parties), including features from genre veterans like Daddy Yankee, Ñengo Flow, Yaviah and Jowell & Randy. On standout track "Safaera," produced by Tainy and DJ Orma, a quivering beat switches gears multiple times, while Bunny describes just how much he's planning to drink and smoke tonight, as a woman moans "Papi, sigue" in the background — a straight-up urbano formula. Ñengo Flow, who tweeted that the song is an ode to the marquesina sound, perfectly sums it up with his line:

Real G, orientando la' generacione' nueva', con la verdadera

Bellaqueo a lo galactic

He's showing the younger generations just how far the genre has come, and his game is astronomical. The old-school feel of the album is underscored in the video for "La Dificil," released on the same day as the album, which follows the story of a backup dancer in an early-aughts reggaeton music video.

The trademark cosmopolitanism of the renegade rapper maintains throughout, with lyrics representing bad girls who like to get down by themselves at the club ("Yo Perreo Sola") and elevating bisexual visibility in several lines about how both guys and girls are into it ("Los nene' y las nena' quieren con ella"). The statements are effortless for a figure like Bad Bunny, who's made waves for defying toxic masculinity in his own self-presentation and in his music videos, which have addressed issues like gender fluidity and domestic violence. On Feb. 27, during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, he performed the YHLQMDLG single "Ignorantes" with Panamanian singer Sech, wearing a shirt calling out the recent murder of a trans woman in Puerto Rico. "They killed Alexa, not a man in a skirt," it read.

Bad Bunny's woke politics have made him an outlier in a genre deeply rooted in sexist and homophobic language, proving that perreo with a clean conscience is, in fact, possible. (However, "Yo Perreo Sola" lacks complete follow-through on its message of empowerment — Genesis Rios, a.k.a. Nesi, who sings the opening hook, is credited only as a writer and not a performer on the song.)

Bad Bunny, photographed while taking part in a demonstration demanding Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello's resignation in San Juan on July 17, 2019.
Eric Rojas / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Bad Bunny, photographed while taking part in a demonstration demanding Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello's resignation in San Juan on July 17, 2019.

YHLQMDLG is an expansive celebration of Bad Bunny's inability to be confined within one theme — it dynamically weaves its way through heartbreak, yearning, a good time at the club and, of course, his pride for Puerto Rico. The outro, "<3", finds an earnest Conejo thanking everybody who's supported him through his career, and also mic-dropping quite the big news:

Este disco está cabrón, lo hice pa' vosotros, ey

Y en nueve mese' vuelvo y saco otro

Pa' retirarme tranquilo como Miguel Cotto

He confesses that he'll put out another album in nine months, but will probably retire after that due to the toll this lifestyle is taking on him. Between spitting bars at the Super Bowl halftime show, selling out world tours, protesting for former Gov. Ricardo Rossello's resignation in San Juan last year and cranking out A-list collabs left and right, it makes sense Bad Bunny's in need of a break. YHLQMDLG delivers 20 solid songs for the summer, a full-fledged pop album that fully leans into its Caribbean roots. But, as Bunny says in his closing remarks, he knows his best songs are still ahead of him — hinting that he's still saving some surprises for December. For now, he's just doing what he wants.

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Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.