Music Review: Oasis By J. Balvin & Bad Bunny
The two urbano superstars bro down over trap and dembow beats on a goofy but incredibly fun summertime album.
As Alejandro “Sky” Ramirez wrote J Balvin’s verse on “Un Peso”—a standout on his new collaborative album with Puerto Rico’s Bad Bunny—the Colombian musician recalled an old song from the Argentinian rock band Los Enanitos Verdes that his family used to drink and party to back in his hometown of Medellín. Their 1994 hit “Lamento Boliviano” was drenched in self-medication and singer/bassist Marciano Cantero’s romantic pathos offered the kind of lyrics that get screamed back at you when sung to packed stadiums: “Y yo estoy aquí, borracho y loco(And here I am, drunk and crazy)/Y mi corazón idiota, siempre brillará” (And my idiot heart, always shining). For J Balvin, Sky flipped part of the original hook to turn Balvin from the heartbroken to the heartbreaker: “Y tu corazón idiota siempre me extrañará” (“And your idiot heart will always miss me”). Over the course of a single day, what began as a half-serious gag—what if we got Cantero in the booth?—ended with a phone call from the Argentine asking for stems. “It was kind of a joke in the studio,” Sky told Rolling Stone. “But they take the jokes very seriously.”
“Un Peso” captures the appeal of Oasis; frothy music made by serious talents. The reigning princes of urbano spend much of the album’s 31-minute runtime promoting tropical hedonist pursuits: too-tiny bikinis, excessive alcohol consumption, ostentatious displays of wealth, and unprotected sex. They bro down over dembow beats and pack as many dancing women as possible into their music videos. It’s goofy, but incredibly fun—a soundtrack for beach BBQs and ad hoc fire-hydrant water parks, summer vibes made manifest.
The risk of not taking yourself too seriously is that plenty of the lyrics reveal themselves to be cringe-worthy upon close inspection—“Voy pa’ adentro como Pelé (¡Gol!),” or, “I’m going inside you like Pelé (Goal!),” Balvin sings on “Mojaita”—and much of the record can best be described as ’manos being ’manos. When Bad Bunny sings lines like “Ese booty es un paraíso como Bora Bora” (“The booty is a paradise like Bora Bora”), you can almost hear him smirk. It’s par for the course for the handful of the duo’s pre-Oasis collaborations, and whether you find this charming or gross likely hinges on your capacity for the crassness prevalent in much of urban music of any language.
Of the two stars, it’s the 25-year-old Bad Bunny whose voice looms largest on Oasis. His nasal Auto-Tune croon christens every song he appears on, regardless of the style he’s working with. The 34-year-old Balvin, ever the chameleonic wave-rider, is more content to go with the flow. Balvin verses can often feel like guest features on his own records—look no further than Beyoncé’s star turn on the “Mi Gente” remix—or as in the case of “Un Peso,” are sometimes written by someone else.
To be fair, few can do the sadboi vibes quite like el conejo malo. Bad Bunny has mastered the moody lament, soundtracking the comedown from the club in addition to the perreo anthems. The latest example is Oasis standout “La Cancion,” a jazzy, romantic ode that slows down the classic dembow riddim and showcases a lonely trumpet reverberating within the arrangement’s ample negative space—a production choice directed by Bad Bunny himself. It’s reggaetón, it’s romantic, and it’s jazzy, combining familiar elements into something fresh and new.
Most of the production is handled by Sky and his mentor Marco “Tainy” Masís, the legendary Puerto Rican reggaetón producer who helmed much of Bad Bunny’s phenomenal X100PRE and J Balvin’s Vibras. The production crew seamlessly weave together acoustic elements (“Yo Le Llego”’s upright bass, “Un Peso”’s ukulele, “La Cancion”’s trumpet), trap-style synthesizers, and dembow beats into a coherent pan-Latin aesthetic. This is the sound of the new urbano latino.
Bunny and Balvin even tip their cap to Africa—the original source of nearly all the sounds miscegenating on Oasis—tapping Nigerian Afrobeat all-star Mr. Eazi for “Como Un Bebé,” their take on a “Banku” bop, the smoothed-out signature style Eazi named after the heavy Ghanian comfort food. It’s a fitting end to a record devoted to celebrating good times, a healing balm providing temporary relief from the violence and oppression that they’ve addressed in their communities. When Bad Bunny implores us to “Baila pa' mí” (“Dance with me”), we comply, powerless to resist.