José Álvaro Osorio Balvin (born May 7, 1985), known professionally as J Balvin, is a Colombian reggaeton singer. Balvin was born in Medellín, Colombia. At age 17, he moved to the United States of America. He moved to Oklahoma and New York to learn English and was influenced by the music he heard there. He then returned to Medellín and gained popularity performing at clubs in the city.
His breakthrough came in 2014 with the single "6 AM" featuring Puerto Rican singer Farruko which peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. The song, along with the single "Ay Vamos", bolstered sales of his album La Familia (2014). In 2016, he released Energia, which included the hit singles "Ginza", "Bobo", "Safari", and "Sigo Extranandote". In June 2017, J Balvin released the single "Mi Gente" featuring Willy William. On 1 August 2017, "Mi Gente" topped the Global Top 50 on Spotify, and later reached 1 billion views on YouTube. The song, and its remix featuring American artist Beyoncé, helped J Balvin achieve international fame. In January 2018, he released the hit single "Machika" featuring Jeon and Anitta.
Though his music is primarily reggaeton, J Balvin has experimented with a variety of musical genres in his work, including electronica, house music, trap, and R&B. His original musical inspirations were rock groups such as Metallica and Nirvana. He has collaborated with artists such as Pharrell, Major Lazer, and Sean Paul. Despite working with many English-speaking artists, J Balvin continues to sing almost exclusively in Spanish, and hopes to introduce Spanish-language music to a global audience. He is also noted for his eclectic and colorful fashion sense.
J Balvin was born into a middle-class family in Medellín, Colombia on May 7, 1985. His father was an economist and business owner, and he grew up in a large home in the hills outside the city. He grew up listening to rock groups such as Metallica and Nirvana, and states that he incorporates the grunge aesthetic into his personal style, having a Nirvana tattoo on his knee. He developed an interest in reggaeton after listening to Daddy Yankee. He recalls that “I was such a fan that I was copying his style, the way he moved onstage, his flows, his raps", comparing him to the reggaeton equivalent of Jay-Z. His father's business went bankrupt, and the family lost their home and car, requiring the family to move to a poorer neighborhood. On this period of his life, J Balvin notes, “When I would go to the barrio, people saw me as a rich person, but when I’m around rich people they see me as someone from the ghetto. It’s all perceptions. I like moving between worlds. I feel equally comfortable in both.”
When J Balvin was 17, he participated in an English-exchange program in Oklahoma, but was disappointed by the experience, saying, “I was expecting the U.S. that everyone knows from Hollywood”. Soon after the program, he moved to New York City to further study English and music, living with an aunt on Staten Island and working as a dog walker. During his time in New York, he became fascinated by the business savvy of New York rappers 50 Cent and P. Diddy. J Balvin worked various jobs in New York, Miami, and Medellín, including working illegally in the United States as a roofer and house painter. He ultimately decided to return to Colombia and began performing at various urban clubs in Medellín and increasing his social media following. He enrolled at the prestigious EAFIT University in Medellín for seven semesters, studying international business. At age 19, he began to seriously pursue a career in music and adopted the stage name J Balvin “El Negocio”, meaning "The Business" in English.
He met his DJ and business partner David Rivera Mazo in a freestyle battle on the street in Medellín. The two became fast friends and started producing and promoting their own music without a record label. J Balvin's early songs were described as "basically poor imitations of commercial reggaeton from Puerto Rico", but he soon adopted a more relaxed, minimalist style in his music. He signed to EMI Colombia in 2009 and soon after released the single "Ella Me Cautivó", which charted at number 35 on the Billboard Tropical Songs chart. He released his debut album, Real, in 2009. In 2012, J Balvin released a mixtape featuring many of his early hits in Colombia, including "En Lo Oscuro" and "Como un Animal." His first international hit was the one-night-stand-themed "Yo Te Lo Dije", and signed with Universal subsidiary Capitol Latin a year later.
In February of 2014, J Balvin released a new track entitled "6 AM", featuring Puerto Rican singer Farruko. J Balvin described the lyrical content of the song as the "Latin version of The Hangover", where the two singers attempt to remember what happened during a night of partying. The song debuted at number 43 on the Billboard Latin Airplay chart in February and reached number one in May. His album La Familia reached number ten on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart, spending 122 weeks on the chart in total.
Shortly after, J Balvin released his second track in the United States, "Ay Vamos", which solidified his mark in the Latin urban market. It won a Latin Grammy Award for Best Urban Song. This was a bonus track on the deluxe edition of J Balvin's album La Familia B-Sides. The music video is one of the most watched Latin music videos of all time, at over one billion views. The song went to number one on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart in 2015. The remix, featuring Nicky Jam and French Montana was used in the soundtrack to the film Furious 7. J Balvin performed the track at the 2015 Premios Lo Nuestro and the Billboard Latin Music Awards. J Balvin has been featured on remixes of "The Way" and "Problem" by Ariana Grande, "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, "Maps" by Maroon 5, and "Stuck on a Feeling" by Prince Royce. J Balvin was the first Colombian singer to record with "The Prince of Bachata" and establishing itself as an international artist.
J Balvin swept the urban category at the 2015 Premios Lo Nuestro, including "Urban Artist of the Year", "Urban Album of the Year", "Urban Song of the Year" and "Urban Collaboration of the Year". On February 12, the nominees for the Billboard Latin Music Awards were announced, and J Balvin was nominated 13 times, of these nominations, eight were in the same category twice "Ay Vamos" and "6 AM", being the most nominated Colombian and the first urban artist from Colombia. J Balvin won New Artist, Latin Rhythm Song of the Year, and Latin Rhythm Song Artist of the Year, where he dedicated the award to his home country of Colombia.
In June 2015, it was announced that J Balvin had cancelled his performance on Miss USA 2015 to protest Donald Trump's inflammatory comments insulting illegal immigrants, saying, "During [Trump's] presidential campaign kickoff speech last week [June 2015], Trump accused illegal immigrants of bringing drugs, crime and rapists to the U.S." His live performance had been scheduled for July 12, 2015 in Louisiana, which would have been J Balvin's first performance on national mainstream television.
On January 16, 2016, J Balvin premiered his new single "Ginza" from his upcoming album, at the Premios Juventud. Later that week, he premiered the music video on Vevo. The music video broke the record for the most views for a Latin music video in the first 24 hours, at over two million views. Since then, the video has racked up over 600 million views. The song reached number one on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart for the week of October 17, 2015. The song also set a new Guinness World Record for the longest stay at number one on the chart. J Balvin became the first artist to receive a diamond certification in the Latin field from the RIAA, denoting digital sales of 600,000 units for his songs "6 AM" and "Ay Vamos". Andrew Casillas of Rolling Stone wrote that "with its deliciously liquid beat, ["Ginza"] among the finest three minutes in reggaetón history."
On 24 June 2016, J Balvin released his fourth studio album Energia. Energia debuted at number one on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart, signifying his first time topping that chart. It had the third-best debut sales of any Latin artist in 2016, after Juan Gabriel's Los Duo 2 and Banda Sinaloense MS de Sergio Lizarraga's Que Bendicion. It also debuted at number 38 on the all-genre Billboard 200. The album featured collaborations with Daddy Yankee, Juanes, Pharrell, and Yandel. He launched 3 hit singles from the album, "Bobo", "Safari", and "Sigo Extranandote", which all reached the top 10 of the Latin charts. "Bobo" spent a week at the top of the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. Mario Prunes of Allmusic described Energia as "an album that knew it was going to be an international blockbuster almost a year before its release", due to the success of "Ginza". Rolling Stone ranked the album number four on the magazine's list of the 10 Best Latin Albums of 2016.
In promotion of the album, J Balvin embarked on the Energia Tour, traveling with several special guests including French Montana, Zion & Lennox, Bad Bunny, and Steve Aoki, the latter of which appeared as a surprise for fans during the last stop of the tour in Miami. That same year, J Balvin featured on "Cuando Seas Grande" by Spanish musician Alejandro Sanz and American singer Sofia Carson´s "Love is the Name". He launched a partnership with SoundCloud and Buchanan's Whiskey in a project called Es Nuestro Momento, where fans can access J Balvin's previously unreleased a capella vocals and create personalized remixes of his songs. Buchanan's Whisky also served as a sponsor for the Energia Tour in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
On 30 June 2017, J Balvin released his new single along with the official music video "Mi Gente" featuring Willy William. On 1 August 2017, "Mi Gente" became the number 1 song in the world according to Global Top 50 on Spotify. It soon reached 1 billion views on YouTube. In September 2017, the song was remixed with American artist Beyoncé. J Balvin described the remix´s creation as unexpected, and explained that “Someone on her team told me that Blue loved the song, so I asked her half-jokingly if she thought Beyoncé would want to jump on the remix. To my great surprise she said yes, and the rest is history. We couldn’t feel more honored to have the queen herself be a part of the track.” The remix reached the top ten in the United States, giving Balvin his first USA top ten single. J Balvin and Willy William released six more "Mi Gente" remixes with Steve Aoki, Alesso, Cedric Gervais, Dillon Francis, Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano, and Henry Fong. Despite the song's success, "Mi Gente" did not win any awards at the 2017 Latin Grammy Awards, with many awards going to Luis Fonsi's hit "Despacito". At the ceremony, he performed "Mi Gente" as well as "Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola" alongside Bad Bunny and his remix of "Unforgettable" with French Montana.
On 19 January 2018, J Balvin released his new single along with the official music video "Machika" featuring Jeon and Anita. His collaboration with Nicky Jam, "X", was released on March 1, 2018 and the music video received 288 million views on Youtube in less than a month. Nicky Jam stated that he attributes the success of "X" to J Balvin's contribution. He also appeared on Cardi B´s Invasion of Privacy album, featuring with Bad Bunny on the song "I Like It".
J Balvin announced via Instagram on April 9 that his upcoming album, entitled Vibras, will be released on May 25, 2018. The two lead singles from the album are “Machika” and “Ahora”. On April 23, 2018, J Balvin announced the dates for his Vibras tour revealing the 27 cities where he will be performing.
Critics have contrasted J Balvin's musical style from the first internationally popular wave of reggaeton led by Daddy Yankee. Marlon Bishop of The Fader described his vocal delivery as a "gentle drawl", differing greatly from the rapid-fire, aggressive delivery of earlier reggaeton acts. He generally sings over his beats as opposed to rapping, and favors a more melodic, pop-influenced style. Describing his music's production, Bishop writes, "Instead of the hard-edged, maximalist beats of the first wave, Balvin’s tracks are moody and spaced out". He frequently works with Medellin-based writer/producers Alejandro “Sky” Ramirez and Carlo Alejandro “Mosty” Patiño, whom he often name-drops in his songs. He has been credited with popularizing a new style of reggaeton based in Medellin, along with Maluma and Puerto Ricans who have relocated to the city to become involved in the reggaeton scene, such as Nicky Jam and Farruko.
In addition to the primary inspiration of Daddy Yankee, J Balvin has cited both salsa musician Héctor Lavoe (left) and rapper Snoop Dogg (right) as influential for him and his music
Though he cites Daddy Yankee as his biggest musical inspiration, J Balvin's earliest influences were rock bands such as Metallica and Nirvana, as well as salsa legend Hector Lavoe. He has covered Nirvana's hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in live performances. As a teenager, he listened to hip-hop artists such as 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G, Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and Onyx. He also cites albums by Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd and Puerto Rican reggae band Cultura Profética as his "desert island albums." Pop singer Camila Cabello has cited J Balvin as a musical influence.
His public image was described by Bishop by saying, "J Balvin’s not a bad boy, he’s a good guy with a well-tended naughty side." He often interacts with fans on social media sites such as Snapchat and Instagram, and cites these platforms as essential for his success. His musical partner Mazo explained, “We wanted to make music that was clean enough for your grandma to like, but sensual enough that the streets would like it too." His lyrics have been described as more vulnerable than typical reggaeton lyrics, discussing interpersonal relationships, exemplified by the single "Ay Vamos". For this reason, he has been compared to Canadian artist Drake, a comparison with which J Balvin agrees.
On the issue of misogyny in reggaeton, J Balvin notes, " have mothers, sisters, relatives. Part of what we did is change that misconception that reggaetón is machista and misogynist. On the contrary, women are our biggest fans, and they inspire us." He also refrains from singing about his country's violent past, saying that doing that exacerbates stereotypes about Colombians and that the country has made vast improvements since the days of Pablo Escobar. Instead, he discusses everyday life in his songs. Luis Estrada of Universal Music Latino and Capitol Latin says of Balvin, “He breaks every rule of what people think reggaeton is, and they love him for that...He doesn’t take himself too seriously.”
Despite being fluent in English and frequently collaborating with English-speaking artists, J Balvin plans to only sing in Spanish. His goal is to make reggaeton a globally popular genre without having to sing in English to attain crossover success. He explains, "I want to keep making history in Spanish. 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." American artist Pharrell instead sings the hook in Spanish on "Safari", and J Balvin described having more American musicians singing in Spanish as one of his "biggest dreams". However, he recorded his first all-English song with Pitbull and Camila Cabello for the soundtrack to The Fate of the Furious, and explained that he is open to the idea of singing in English if the opportunity presents itself.
J Balvin has called fashion “his life’s passion, on the same level as music.” He appeared as an ambassador during the 2017 New York Fashion Week, and has called for greater representation of Latinos in the fashion world. The musician also appeared in Ovadia and Sons' Spring 2017 catalogue. He utilizes eccentric accessories such as cowboy hats, colorful tracksuits, and ripped jeans. Isabela Raygoza described his aesthetic at the 2017 Latin Grammys as a "Latin raver Eminem" due to his neon blonde hair and brightly colored athletic clothing. His style often combines streetwear traditionally associated with reggaeton artists and classic luxury brands. J Balvin is influenced by musicians such as Kanye West and Pharrell who have made forays into fashion. Discussing Pharrell's influence, J Balvin explained, "I don't dress exactly like him, but I want to be like him in the cultural way. He opens the doors for a lot of new fashion designers and creates his own style. It's all about love with him and he's the culture."
J Balvin has spoken out about the Venezuelan economic crisis and the situation occurring at the country's border with Colombia, where thousands of Colombians have been forcibly deported. He called the situation "deplorable" and created the social media campaign #LatinosSomosFamila (We Latinos are Family), encouraging fans to sign a petition to support the displaced victims. The petition was soon signed by other prominent Latin artists including Colombian singer Maluma. J Balvin's campaign was launched shortly after cancelling his performance on Miss USA 2015 in protest of Donald Trump.
In August 2016, the singer was involved in a plane crash while leaving the Bahamas. While returning from a vacation with his family, the plane failed to take off properly and crash landed shortly after departing from the runway. He posted a photo on Instagram of the small private plane after having landed in the bushes. Nobody was injured in the accident, and J Balvin called it "a miracle."
J Balvin experiences panic attacks and meditates to control his anxiety. When his anxiety was at its worst, “I forgot about my happiness. I forgot about José (J Balvin's given name).” He is known for his tattoos and got his first tattoo when he was twelve years old. His mother suffers from the rare genetic condition acute intermittent porphyria, which causes seizures, chronic pain, and mental health difficulties. He has the word "Familia" tattooed on his chest in her honor.
Unlike many popular reggaeton singers who move to the United States upon gaining popularity, J Balvin continues to live in his hometown of Medellin, explaining, "It keeps me real. I'm gonna be real everywhere I go, but I'm with my people, I'm connected to my roots – I'm in my country! I don't need to live somewhere else. I respect the ones who make it and leave their home base, but I'm good in Colombia."
• Real (2010)
• El Negocio (2011)
• La Familia (2013)
• Energía (2016)
• Vibras (2018)
Sources: Last.fm, Wikipedia
J Balvin in the news
|Songs by J Balvin|