A Bad Bunny Primer For Hip-Hop Heads

He's much more than a Puerto Rican Drake.

Welcome to 37th issue of Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links (15-25 of them) to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. You can check out the archive, here, and read more about me, here. If you’re already a BF subscriber, thank you for your continued support. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of a forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. And please share this newsletter with your circle so that they can enjoy it, too; personal referrals are my best path to long-term growth. With that said, let’s get into it….

Front Seat

This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….

I'VE BEEN WANTING to write this column for a while now; it's one that could have been filed at the start of the summer, at the end of the summer or any point in between. I'm doing it now on the heels of him wrapping up the U.S. leg of his record-breaking World's Hottest Tour. My Twitter timeline is filled with folks gawking at his reported September haul of $123.7 million in touring revenues and subsequently also saying they never hear his music anywhere. Both certainly can be true, which speaks to the phenomenon that he is and trying to understand what's happened in 2022, his mainstream breakout year. I'll try to do some explaining there and also give my fellow hip-hop heads a breakdown of who he is, so ya'll can do more than say, "His music is bumping but I don't know what he's saying." Vamos!

Back Seat

Respect my mind or die from lead shower.

BY ANY METRIC AND MEASURE, 2022 has been Bad Bunny’s year. He’s dominated Billboard’s album chart, he’s the top touring artist of the year, he’s reigned as Spotify’s most streamed artist for the past couple years and earlier this week he led all artists with six American Music Award nominations. Next month it’s expected that his Un Verano Sin Ti LP will be nominated for a Grammy in the prestigious Album of the Year category.

It’s easy to recognize a king when his crown is glistening atop his head.

What’s really remarkable about his rise to superstardom, however, is how he’s done it; in 2016, for example, he was bagging groceries in a small Puerto Rican town and uploading his music to Soundcloud.

There’s this idea that Bad Bunny, now 28, is just Puerto Rican Drake, which makes it easy to understand him but it doesn’t do justice to exactly why he’s so beloved and dominant. There’s a good amount of truth to that and I’ll get to that below. But there’s so much more—and I’ll use a lot of rap names to put it/him in context throughout this column.

Back to Soundcloud. Bad Bunny was a Soundcloud kid. He first popped in 2016 with “Diles,” (it means, tell them) a slow, woozy come-on track. The remix to the former would feature some now well-known names in Farruko, Ozuna, Nengo Flow and Arcangel (who’s to Bad Bunny as Bun B was to Drake; Mambo Kingz/Hear This Music were like his Young Money/Cash Money; J Balvin was his Trey Songz; The Bronx his Miami and D.R. his Houston). A lot of his early material was like this topically, which could mirror Aubrey Graham. His other big record that year (really the one that cemented him) was “Soy Peor,” which touched on a romance gone wrong. Bad Bunny experimented on the platform, though, through a litany of one-off records, some traditional Reggaeton sounds like “Diles” and others where he would spit (Trap Bunny!) and help juice the then burgeoning Latin Trap movement. Like a lot of acts that blew up, you’ll even hear the common refrain about the old Bad Bunny, who rapped more often, versus the current incarnation, who’s more creatively expansive. Regardless, you can still scroll to the bottom of his Soundcloud account to find a lot of this early material.

The following year, in 2017, is when Bad Bunny really blew up (and got on my radar, personally). He went on a spree, releasing a ton of his own material and featuring on the records of others. And that boy was rapping rapping like J.Cole. Benito’s baritone delivery was in your face (“I control the streets without being a trafficker,” he spit in “Tú No Metes Cabra”) and his lyrics were brash (“The hoes get in the car easy like in GTA,” he says on Farruko’s “Krippy Kush”). And before Migos linked with Ric Flair for that drip, Bad Bunny stood shoulder to shoulder with The Nature Boy in “Chambea,” a cocky number full of taunts and disrespectful boasts (“Bastard you're a snitch, you're a reporter/I’m not Don Omar but I’m a gangster/That’s why I only believe in god and in my 4-0”). That man was a menace. For my money, a good place to look for the peak of this era was “Sensualidad” where Benito, J Balvin and Prince Royce were stunting on a resort golf course on some fly boy shit in the video and Bad Bunny absolutely floats on his verse.

And then in 2018 is where Bad Bunny exploded. You know, “I Like It,” the Cardi B number that put her in the stratosphere with the assistance of the Latino Gang wave. But it was the year of Bad Bunny’s debut album, a surprise drop on Nochebuena (Christmas Eve), which is to Latinos as the night before Thanksgiving is to white folks. Party night of the year. And it was soundtracked to X 100PRE (that translates to Forever from slang for Por Siempre.) What a time to be alive! (More on that in a second.) Bad Bunny’s debut album was transformational; he re-imagined Reggaeton and pushed the genre waaaay into the future with a mix of traditional sounds, synth chords, and influences drawn upon from all over the Caribbean and U.S. “Quien Tu Eres” is a fiery table setter, not only asking who are you, but signaling Benito is that guy and a new era has begun. On “La Romana,” he digs into his Dembow bag for a twin blast of generational shifting with El Alfa. “Estamos Bien” (“We’re Good”) might be the heart of the project, most notable for Bad Bunny’s TV debut on “The Tonight Show,” where he dedicated the song to Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

None of Bad Bunny’s albums are the same, each a unique pursuit of sound and concept. Think Kendrick Lamar. His sophomore set, 2019’s YHLQMDLG ( "Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana," which translates to "I Do Whatever I Want") was a throwback to Reggaeton of the past and highlighted by “Safaera,” which showcases a sample of Missy’s “Get Ur Freak On” into a milieu of all the inspirations Bad Bunny grew up with, English, Spanish and otherwise. He followed that up in 2020 with El Último Tour Del Mundo (The Last Tour of the World), an ode to alternative sounds of the 90s, and his current album, Un Verano Sin Ti (A Summer Without You), a cheeky take on summer breakups. There’s also his stab at his version of Watch The Throne and What A Time To Be Alive, the J Balvin joint project, Oasis, which drew on the African Diaspora to power its production. "Como Un Bebe" featuring Mr. Eazi is a jam.

Years after the fact, he’s still independent. Signed to his manager’s label, Rimas Entertainment, which is distributed by The Orchard. So he’s Puerto Rican Chance The Rapper in the way he’s keeping a large part of his bank by being able to leverage all these moves with his own power rather than the might of a major label. And of course, you know about the headlines for the way he plays with the idea of sexuality and gender representation, making him a bit like Kid Cudi.

Take all that and combine it with his love for Puerto Rico and his willingness to speak out and up against the governments of the island and the United States. Perhaps the best representation of this was his most recent video, for “El Apagon” (The Blackout), one of his top-tier bangers and the visual included a mini documentary about the raggedy power grid in Puerto Rico that’s a muck of private interests and greed gone wrong. That the video dropped the day before Hurricane Irma, which caused even more blackouts, and maybe the powers that be didn’t believe in the people but God Did. Benito did. And we do of him.

The Backseat Freestyle Bad Bunny playlist on YouTube, is here.

Trunk Music

Music, news, reads, podcasts and videos that I’m checking for.

  • Backseat Freestyle’s Hip-Hop Award Season 2020 MVP is back. Lil Baby returns with It’s Only Me, his follow-up to his breakout album, My Turn. It’s a long project at 23 tracks and it feels like it doesn’t take off until around track nine. But that doesn’t mean the early songs aren’t lit, even though Baby’s best material might be more downtrodden than upbeat. Overall, it feels like there’s more of an emphasis on Baby’s part to carry the weight solo, which he does with confidence. “Double Down,” “Stand On It” and “Russian Roulette” are standouts. [Listen] Related: Baby also is going international, connecting with Nengo Flow for the latter’s latest, “Caciques.” Plus he sat down with The Breakfast Club and Angie Martinez. [Listen] [Watch] [Watch]

  • A good listen this week is MAVI’s Laughing so Hard it Hurts projects. It has a breezy feel, but can get quirky when he wants to, like on “Baking Soda” or the brief “Known Unknowns.” [Listen]

  • There’s been a slow trickle of Juice WRLD posthumous releases and everytime I’m struck by how much more of his talent he had left to give. This team-up with Marshmellow, “Bye Bye,” makes me feel no less certain of that. [Listen]

  • Robert Glasper released Black Radio III Supreme Edition and his Mac Miller-assisted “Therapy pt. 2” is a smooth, jazzy bop meets boom bap offering. [Listen]

  • There’s a lot of stories I wanna see told next year, as a part of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, but at the top of the list is a proper Chief Keef doc. He’s still young, but he ushered in a generational shift, in tone and presentation that I’d love to have recognized with all the bells and whistles. In the meantimes, here, Sosa is back with “Racks Stuffed Inna Couch,” the first single from his forthcoming Almighty So 2. [Listen]

  • Mach-Hommy teams with Tha God Fahim for a new collab LP, Duck Czn: Tiger Style. I really could listen to Mach-Hommy all day. [Listen]

  • I'm going down to the Sixers game (season ticket holder over here, kid) this coming Thursday and I was excited because the 3 Headed Monster Tour was in town the same night. I was gonna hit the club for the after, for sure. But all the dates are now cancelled. As a consolation, though, Cam'ron, Ma$e and Jadakiss blessed us with "G.L.H." [Listen]

  • Hot new job title: Chief Music Office. [Info]

  • Looks like G.Dep could be coming home soon. [Info]

  • Behind the beats is an idea that a lot of outlets cover, but YouTube is putting a new twist on it with animation. I’m looking forward to the Snoop episode. [Info]. Related: TM88 sits with Consequence (formerly Consequence of Sound, a much better name) for their Behind the Boards feature. [Watch]

  • Big moves: Julie Greenwald gets a promotion at WMG and Live Nation Urban acquires a stake in Broccoli City Fest. [Info] [Info]

  • Taking a beat from her whirlwind rise, Ice Spice talks to RollingStone about her taste, critics and TikTik as a launching pad. [Read]

  • Billboard checks in on the (latest) rising Detroit hip-hop scene with Babyface Ray, Icewear Vezzo and Baby Money. [Read]

  • Kendrick Lamar covers W. [Read]

  • An XXL feature on J.I.D where they declare he “satisfies generations old and new,” which I think is accurate. [Read]

  • For the Grammy issue of RollingStone, Simon Vozick-Levinson catches up with Pusha T. [Read]

  • New York magazine: How Atlanta Created a Gang Stereotype of Its Hip-Hop Community. [Read]

  • My brother Maurice Garland spoke to Bone Crusher, who is going to host a new podcast, An Origin Story: With The ATL Greats, which kicks off on Tuesday, October 18, exclusively on Patchwork Studios YouTube channel. [Listen]

  • Nardo Wick dropped the deluxe to his Who is Nardo Wick? with 13 new track tagged onto it, including this Polo G collab, “G Nikes,” with visual to boot. [Watch]

  • High fashion meets high anxiety in Doechii’s Colors performance of “Stressed,” a vibe of a loosie from the TDE signee. [Watch] Related: Complex’s Jessica McKinney recently chatted with Doechii. [Read]

  • The good guy, with charm and a sense of humor, wins in the end of Stormzy’s “Hide & Seek." [Watch]

  • Tee Grizzley’s latest, Chapters Of The Trenches, arrived Friday and he’s showing out on the storytelling tip on the whold projects, particularly with a twin pair of videos in “Jay & Twan 2” and “Robbery Part 5.” [Watch] [Watch]

  • Latto is Vevo’s latest Lift artist, and she has a ton of newly imagined videos as a result of the honor. [Watch] Related: 7 Reasons You Should Be Rooting For Latto. [Read]

  • Speaking of Philly, Sy Ari Da Kid took a trip down I-95 for his "Strugglin' to Struggle" vid, which features a damn good verse from Freeway, a cameo from Gillie and the storefront of my personal favorite cheesesteak spot in the city, Ishkabibble's. [Watch]

  • This is my favorite joint of the week, Lil Yatchy’s “Poland.” It really is what it is, a warbly and woozy number with a video (shot in Manhattan, though) to match the song’s content. Waiting for him to eventually go overseas and capture a new visual (and hoping he adds someone like Lil Uzi vert to the remix.) [Watch] Related: Incillin with his take on the track for GQ. [Read]

  • New trailer for the “House Party” reboot, produced by LeBron James and written by Stephen Glover. Plenty of cameos, including LIl Wayne and the franchise’s original stars Kid n’ Play. [Watch]

Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by me, Jayson Rodriguez, for Smarty Art. If you have any comments, feedback or questions, feel free to email me: [email protected]. If you would like to discuss sponsoring an issue of the newsletter, contact: holler@ smartyartllc.com and check out the rates, here. And follow me elsewhere:

Podcast: coming soon