J Balvin: The Latino Life Preserver

J Balvin: The Latino Life Preserver

The contradictions begin with his first name: José — a common name for an uncommon man.

Although José Álvaro Osorio Balvín, better known to the world as J Balvin, is the singular artist responsible for revitalizing an urban genre, which had grown monotonous after its initial 2004 boom, he carries himself with a quiet humility. You ask Balvin about his global impact and he shrugs.

“Humility is the key to success,” he says, simply. It was a lesson he learned from being the opening act for Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias in 2014. It’s a lesson that colors his every decision.

The self-awareness is very impressive for a middle class Colombian kid who was in a rock band as a teen covering songs by Nirvana, Metallica and the Offspring.

Over his decade-plus career, Balvin has amassed megahits (“Mi Gente,” “I Like It,” “Ginza,” “Ay Vamos,” etc.), billions of music video clicks and streams. He’s one of the main reasons English language artists are collaborating with Spanish language artists to create bilingual hits. For years the mainstream music industry was waiting for a Latinx artist to “cross over” to it, but when Balvin hit, the industry came to Colombia, welcoming him with open arms, despite the fact that he predominately raps and sings in Spanish.

More than all of the awards and accolades, however, he’s been a flag bearer for a genre, a culture, and for unity among his people. It doesn’t matter if you’re Mexican, Cuban, Jewminican, Nuyorican, El Negocio, Balvin will collaborate with you (providing you have skills, of course) and the result will be an instant club banger.

As we celebrate his birthday, today on May 7th, we not only pay tribute to his firsts (performing on The Tonight Show, getting a Beyoncé feature, etc.) but also to his gentle spirit. J Balvin was first and he made sure he wasn’t the last.

Que Dios bendiga al reggaeton y a José.

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