You may have heard a couple of his songs in the club, or heard his name thrown around a couple of times on TV. But if you don’t know who J Balvin is, you’re missing out on one of the biggest Latin wavemakers to hit the U.S. since Daddy Yankee himself.
From the beginning, this 31-year-old Colombian trendsetter said he wasn’t interested in crossing over — he wanted the mainstream to cross over to him.
“I want to keep making history in Spanish,” he said in an interview with FADER. “I want to invite the mainstream into my world, and to my sound, and to what I’m doing. And I want mainstream artists to respect me, and accept Latino artists as equals, without us having to sing in English. I want them to know that I can compete globally with whomever, in Spanish.”
Over the entirety of his career, Balvin has succeeded in doing exactly that. But every great innovator has their humble beginnings…
J Balvin, born José Álvaro Osorio Balvín was born in Medellín, Colombia and his first exposure to music was far from Reggaeton. As someone who grew up on Metallica and Nirvana, Balvin’s edgy exterior is something that he’s brought to his demeanor today. But everything changed when he first saw Daddy Yankee.
“I was such a fan that I was copying his style, the way he moved onstage, his flows, his raps,” J Balvin told The New York Times.
At 18, he moved to the United States for a high school foreign exchange program in Oklahoma and travelled to New York to make his rap dreams a reality. From there, he ventured to Miami, but then ended up back in Colombia when he wasn’t having any luck. But little did he know, his career was just about to break.
On his return to his native Medellín, Balvin joined a production team called Infinity Music. Upon building a studio and recording his first couple of tracks, they went around showing different radio stations what they had. By 2010, J Balvin had made it big. In 2013, he had a 360 deal with Universal Latin subsidiary and began to conquer the U.S. Latin market. That year he also performed at the popular Latinx teen award show, Premios Juventud, placing him on the map for a bright future.
In Spring 2014, he released a song called “6 AM” with popular Puerto Rican singer Farruko, which was his first international hit. The song flew up the the charts in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. Upon the release of the deluxe edition of his album, La Familia B Sides, his bonus track “Ay Vamos” instantly sky rocketed to number one on the charts in 2015. That summer he released “Ginza,” the infectious hit that would be one of the longest-reigning number one tracks on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart. That year he was featured on Spanish remixes of popular U.S. songs like “Problem” by Ariana Grande, “Lean On” by Major Lazer, “Maps” by Maroon 5, “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, and plenty more. In 2015, he also became the first Latin artist to receive a Diamond certification from the RIAA for his “6 AM” and “Ay Vamos,” reaching 10 times multi-platinum.
By the end of that year, if the world didn’t know Balvin was the one to watch, they had already missed him.
With the release of his fourth studio album, Energía, in summer 2016 (which would later go on to win him a Latin Grammy), Balvin was officially unstoppable. He was honored with the Vision Award in the 2016 Hispanic Heritage Awards for “serving as a role model to youth and setting the music world on fire.” His third single from the album, “Safari” was a collaboration with artistic mogul Pharrell Williams and Puerto Rican newcomer BIA. This song helped him rise to the top of the charts once again in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe, going double platinum in Italy and quadruple platinum in Spain.
“When I went to LA to work with Pharrell we were in the studio for a week,” Balvin told Latina. “I explained to him how I wanted the world to see us as Latinos. I want to break those barriers and Pharrell knows about worldwide music. I wanted to invite him to our world and do reggaeton and sing in Spanish if you don’t mind. He said, ‘Yes, of course, let’s do it.’ He’s always willing to do different things and that’s what I love about Pharrell.”
As can be expected, 2017 has been nothing less than a success for Balvin. He was named the first Latin ambassador of New York Men Fashion Week earlier this year. He was featured on the The Fate of the Furious soundtrack with Camila Cabello and Pitbull with their hit song “Hey Ma,” as well as hitter “Mi Gente” with newcomer Willy William. These two songs were the top Latin tracks of the summer, rivaling even the most repetitive of songs.
As far as what’s next for the artist? He’s currently on an 18-city tour, but we’re sure he has plenty more up his sleeve. And through it all, he’s managed to maintain the same humble, down to earth exterior he had when he started.
“It’s not hard,” he said to The Washington Post. “When you know that these are blessings that not everyone has it lets you be more thankful. Few people have this gift, so we need to behave well.”