Bad Bunny reportedly upstaged baby Jesus on Noche Buena—the Latinx Christmas. But in all actuality, it was less of an upstaging and more of a collaboration for the ages. Benito Martínez Ocasio, the 24-year-old poster boy for Latin trap—whose rise from grocery-store clerk to pop music luminary came in less than three years—dropped his full-length debut, X 100PRE (“Por Siempre” or “Forever”), on December 24, the most revered of Latinx holidays. The truly faithful momentarily broke from the pernil and coquito, gathering to take in the gospel of San Benito. After all, Noche Buena comes once a year, but a Bad Bunny debut album is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Fortunately, the Puerto Rican singer didn’t waste anyone’s time. X 100PRE immediately staked its claim as the guiding light for música urbana (a catch-all term for the contemporary Latinx urban-music movement), and it’s helping dismantle pop music’s prefab, anglicized formula. It’s an album that, at times, is agonizing and hopeless—Bad Bunny pursues fading memories and stokes his desperate longing for intimacy—but its bright moments shine at just the right intervals to keep it from plunging into the melodramatic. Combined with its bold genre exploration, X 100PRE makes for an audacious listening experience.
The album opens with somber trap number “Ni Bien, Ni Mal,” in which Bad Bunny tries his best to put on an air of emotional indifference, while declaring he’ll refrain from breaking down and phoning his ex. This sets the tone for the album. Even with the occasional club-ready single, like the Diplo-produced “200 MPH” or the confrontational “¿Quién Tú Eres?,” it’s clear this is an album about both loss and the nostalgia that comes with it.
Even though X 100PRE’s overall mood is introspective, the modes with which Bad Bunny explores those spaces display vast sonic diversity. “Otra Noche en Miami” resembles something closer to dream-pop than, say, one of his earlier Latin-trap hits, like “Chambea.” The pop-punk-flavored “Tenemos Que Hablar” humorously finds Bad Bunny devastated to learn that his significant other “needs to talk,” as he slowly realizes that he was no saint. On the album’s most anthemic song, “La Romana,” Bad Bunny takes the listener on a trapchata-fueled romp through the city of La Romana, DR, before shifting gears into a Dominican dembow heater featuring the genre’s patron saint, El Alfa.
It’s this kind of open format and sentimental push-and-pull that defines Bad Bunny’s coming reign. Honest reflection alternates with fleeting moments of hip-hop braggadocio serving as overstated cover for underlying depression. X 100PRE at times struggles to fully define its identity, yet it shows Bad Bunny’s ability to capture complexity—mirroring his own public contradictions, which include weaving back and forth between body-positive ally and problematic machista. He’s growing, but even at his most controversial, Bad Bunny is aware, and always striving to do better.
X 100PRE also plants the flag for urbano’s place in pop music and opens up the movement for further experimentation. Bad Bunny is pulling pop music toward him, while shattering the notion of what urbano can be. With this album, Bad Bunny strengthens his claim as urbano’s global ambassador, and in doing so, he’s forcing an entire industry to adapt to him, rendering the idea of a “crossover” moot.
That’s no small feat, considering the brevity of his career. Bad Bunny’s work as a feature artist on megahits like “Te Bote” or Cardi B’s “I Like It,” coupled with the strength of his own singles, quickly put him on a surefire trajectory to market success. But stand-alone Bad Bunny songs or guest features were nothing more than vignettes. We were getting only part of the picture, and those who’ve paid attention from the beginning knew there was more in store.
Crafting a cohesive collection of songs opens artists up to more complete forms of storytelling, and Bad Bunny fully gave himself to that process. Choosing to hunker down with mostly one producer—reggaeton legend Tainy—to sculpt an album experience like this speaks to Bad Bunny’s deep longing for intimacy. It’s a personal story, and Tainy accompanied him almost every step of the way.
A gleaming example of this close partnership can be found in one of the most powerful stretches on the album. “Como Antes,” “RLNDT,” and “Estamos Bien” make up what can only be described as a closing trilogy of sorts—one last jaunt through Bad Bunny’s fully disrobed psyche before handing the final curtain call to his smash-hit collaboration with Drake, “Mia.” The songs almost seamlessly blend together to form a mini-narrative within the album, focusing on sentimentality, depression, and resilience, respectively. On “Como Antes,” Bad Bunny laments the loss of childhood innocence, realizing that things will never be the same, while “RLNDT” faces incapacitating depression head on. Its cinematic background choir cradles the album’s darkest moment, while Bad Bunny wonders if his guardian angel even bothers to care anymore. “Estamos Bien” continues with the choir vocals, but pulls the listener out of the darkness into what feels like a sudden respite—though anyone who’s battled with depression knows how abruptly these brief cathartic moments emerge. It’s a transition that illustrates the ghastly instability of living with depression, giving those issues a nuance that’s often overlooked, particularly in Latin trap.
Bad Bunny easily embedded himself in the top echelons of pop music and dominated both Latin and mainstream charts with a deluge of strong singles and features. But with X 100PRE, he set out to prove the album format was also his to master. He didn’t take the easy route, which could have seen him release a bloated 30-track song dump meant to boost his streaming numbers, as is quickly becoming the norm. Instead, he delivered a reflective and at times groundbreaking exploration into his artistic flexibility, rapidly recalibrating pop music’s criteria in the process. Like him or not, Bad Bunny is the pop star for our times.