Bad Bunny’s story of origin is repeated often: at 19, he was bagging groceries in a small barrio in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, where he was born and raised. By 22, he tiptoed away from SoundCloud and forayed into the mainstream with his breakthrough hit “Soy Peor,” a trap-emo anthem for the brokenhearted rebuking all things love. By 2018, Cardi B’s rendition of “I Like It” had earned Bad Bunny his first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Today, Tito y Lysaurie's bobito is the most-streamed recording artist on the planet and that, compounded by his musical stylings, makes his narrative the stuff of legends.
Born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, Bad Bunny’s music genesis bore the constant questioning of whether or not he’d ever create a proper studio LP. But suspicions of whether he could go from offering a series of hit singles and high-profile collaborations to producing a full-length solo debut were put to rest with his Latin Grammy-winning X 100PRE. The album is a fantastically woven story of breakup and survival, while affirming personal agency in it all. Since then, Bad Bunny has performed on just about every major stage, including the Super Bowl, and has released four chart-topping solo albums, including 2020’s El Último Tour Del Mundo, which became the first-ever all-Spanish-language album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200. To top it all off, he has the nerve to make good music and look good while doing it.
Like past projects, his latest album, Un Verano Sin Ti, is a sancocho of genres, drawing from a spectrum of Caribbean and African rhythms. What he calls a "summer playlist" is meant to be enjoyed beachside. His best illustration of this is perhaps on the second track, “Después De La Playa,” where Bad Bunny sings live over Dominican mambo band Dahian el Apechao. The album, recorded in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, is riddled with references and colloquialism from the neighboring islands. Sonically, it invites the blending, or distortion, of bomba y plena sounds with EMD, like in “El Apagón,” a critique of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico, and the current Act 60 tax exemption-induced invasion of gringos on the archipelago, as well as a declaration that recalls reggaeton’s Puerto Rican roots. “Now everybody wants to be Latino,” he sings in Spanish. On “Me Porto Bonito,” Bad Bunny gives a nod to the early 2000s reggaeton boom and features Chencho Corleone of Plan B, while the following record, “Tití Me Preguntó,” incorporates a bounce typical to Bay Area hip-hop, or hyphy music.
Un Verano Sin Ti is a sancocho of genres, drawing from a spectrum of Caribbean and African rhythms.
While sonically distinct, Un Verano Sin Ti follows a similar formula from Benito's past successes. In true Bad Bunny form, he’s bigging up everybody from Mexico to Argentina to Chile on a variety of songs throughout the 23-track LP, which includes appearances from Colombian electro tropical band Bomba Estereo. The group’s “Ojitos Lindos” is currently at No. 3 on Spotify’s global chart and No. 1 in seven countries. The artist, who has shaken up reggaeton's ancient heteronormativity with his off-filter creativity in fashion, LGBTQ+ politics, and moody trap productions, continues to challenge misogyny.
“Andrea,” an indie-pop track titled after Andrea Ruiz Costas, a Puerto Rican woman who was murdered by her partner in 2021, speaks to ungoverned gender violence and growing femicide rates on the archipelago. It is the most poignant moment, one that coincides with the history of U.S.-sanctioned eugenics in Puerto Rico and the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade, which could influence abortion rights and access in the U.S. territory.
“This is about a woman who wants to live a free life in Puerto Rico,” Raquel Berríos of Buscabulla, who helped compose and perform the chorus, tells Refinery29 Somos. Referring to her partner Luis Alfredo Del Valle, she adds: “We worked on it insatiably. I have never worked on something so hard in my life, because I really wanted to write something powerful. It’s a love letter to Puerto Rico, a love letter to women, a love letter to the Caribbean.”
"It’s a love letter to Puerto Rico, a love letter to women, a love letter to the Caribbean."
Raquel Berríos of Buscabulla
Bad Bunny travels over to the English-speaking Caribbean in songs like “Me Fui De Vacaciones,” where he employs a combination of Jamaican reggae and steel drums calypso heard throughout Trinidad and Tobago. It’s on “Otro Atardecer” with The Marías and “Enséñame a Bailar” where the artist connects with West Africa, using afrobeats and featuring vocals by Nigerian singer Joeboy in the latter.
“Since forever I’ve made it clear to people that I’m never going to make a record that’s the same as another,” Bad Bunny told The New York Times about how he approaches making albums, and Un Verano Sin Ti is his clearest expression of that, instrumentally. He indubitably makes up in production wizardry (by the likes of go-to collaborators Tainy and MAG, in this case) for what he lacks in the novelty of his punchy lyrics. Those “te mojo los pantis” liners have grown to sound as monochromatic as some of Bad Bunny’s vocals throughout this particular album.
Un Verano Sin Ti’s most redeeming quality is on the production side. The few spins I’ve given the album tell me it’ll age nicely well into the summer. The overarching upset, here, is an album filled with Dominicanisms and its flagrant lack of representation, which makes it hard to listen to at first. Barring Miyabi and MAG — also on the production side and a necessary mention as producers often live in the shadows — the only Dominican feature is Dahian el Apechao. Benito has spoken truth to power in the past and prides himself on studying the underground and bringing those elements to an industry forefront. Yet, in a Latin music moment overwhelmingly informed by the bajo mundo movement of the Dominican Republic, Bad Bunny fumbled the ball on putting on for the culture’s current trendsetters.