Review: Bad Bunny's latest album a rap-heavy treatise on fame and an ode to his 'real fans'

It is what every artist wants and so few manage: distinction. In a heartbeat, Bad Bunny ‘s idiosyncratic baritone — instantaneously recognizable in both in his somber singing and stadium-sized raps. There is no question when Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio’s records are playing.

Then it is even more immediately impressive that he chooses reinvention — repossession of his past sounds and a modern refitting — that the popular Puerto Rican musician is still as distinctive as ever. “Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana,” El Conejo Malo’s 22-track, fifth solo album (translating to “Nobody Knows What Will Happen Tomorrow”) is a more restrained ride than the album that preceded it, but in some ways, no less dynamic.

Those expecting a continuation of Benito’s sunshine-y 2022 album “Un Verano Sin Ti” — one of The Associated Press’ top albums of the year — should prepare for a different listening experience. (And isn’t change the muse of great art?)

On this album, reggaeton offerings are limited (dembow fans won’t be disappointed, rather, they might just find themselves hitting play on “PERRO NEGRO” and “UN PREVIEW” more than some of the other album cuts.) Where the musician previously mastered weaving a myriad of sounds — perreo next to rock, bomba and merengue into EDM and hip-hop — “Nadie Sabe” strips Bad Bunny’s magnetism to its foundation and builds from there.

It’s why much of this album recalls Bad Bunny’s early days: the Latin trap of his debut album, 2018’s “X 100PRE” — like in “MONACO” and “GRACIAS POR NADA.”

Conceptually, a lot of this album deals with the trials and tribulations of newfound fame — the humanity it strips away in place of power and wealth. Returning to an earlier format is an experiment in reclamation, the actions of an artist who plays by their own rules but simultaneously finds attraction in returning to a time period of control. As he announces in the choir-assisted, six-minute-plus opener (“Este disco no es pa’ ser tocado ni un billón de vista / Es pa’ que mis fans reales estén contento’” (“This album is not meant to be played and get a billion views / It’s so my real fans are happy”).

Simplifying his approach doesn’t mean sacrificing his innovations. Those aren’t hard to find: “VOU 787” utilizes the synth that opens Madonna ‘s “Vogue” (Madge gets a name check in a later verse). “BATICANO” teeters on BDSM synth-wave — that is, if the genre used lyrics about the Teletubby character Tinky Winky in a NSFW fashion. “HIBIKI” similarly explores a kind of techno-house; “Where She Goes” is Jersey club.

The penultimate track, “ACHO PR,” a reference to the Puerto Rican slang for “muchacho,” or “boy,” — is a love letter to his island, his people, and the reggaetoneros that paved the way for him: including feature spots by Ñengo Flow and reuniting the former duo Arcángel and De La Ghetto.

Love for his island is abundant on this album, as it always is: the record features those Boricua idols, but also the current and next generation of Puerto Rican talent in Eladio Carrión, Young Miko, Mora, Bryant Myers, Yovngchimi and Luar La L.

However, “ACHO PR” doesn’t have the same immediate effect of, say, “El Apagón” from “Un Verano Sin Ti.” Bad Bunny has made a name for himself as a true understander of both party and political songs — a creative identity not unrelated to the affirming resilience of the Puerto Rican people, who make art and find joy in a country whose struggle for self-determination dates back generations, and not just to the U.S. invasion of 1898. But the fight on “Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana” is less about systemic failings and more about fame.

Lyrically, Benito’s focused on his interior struggles, no doubt informed by his Puerto Rican-ness, a unique identity both exploited and celebrated in the same breath. But because he looks inward on “Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana,” it makes for a sometimes-distant listen.

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The real fans will love it. They’ll also question what comes next.

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