When Bad Bunny and J Balvin first linked up in 2017’s excellent “Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola,” it might have been easy to lose them in the wave of collabs sweeping the Latin charts. But when the two crossed orbits the following year on Cardi B’s bilingual summer jam, “I Like It,” their effectiveness as a duo became impossible to ignore. By the time they followed that with the one-two punch of Balvin’s magnum opus, Vibras, then Bad Bunny’s Boricua manifesto, X 100PRE, these artists had established a league of their own.
Of course, it takes a village to make a hit record. Behind the astronomical success of Bad Bunny and Balvin has been a team of dedicated producers who’ve alchemized the artists’ globally-minded visions into snackable works of pop urbano. Puerto Rican reggaeton veteran Tainy and his Colombian protégé Sky both elevated the artists’ 2018 masterworks with their own arty touches. So when Bunny and Balvin started courting the idea of making a joint LP, the newly released Oasis, it was only natural that the two producers would play a role, along with Miami newcomer Albert Hype, London-based Nigerian duo Legendury Beatz, and guest vocalist Mr. Eazi. The crew talked to Rolling Stone about how they seamlessly incorporated an array of seemingly disparate influences — from their childhood love for rock en español to the West African style known as Afrobeats — into one intrepid reggaeton album.
Sky: I was working on Balvin’s solo album, in April or some shit. We did around 40 songs. When we were finishing that, this [project] popped up. We were like, “Shit — we need another concept, another sound, another route for this.” This was in like, May. We got in the studio for one week and basically made the whole thing. The production and the writing took less than two weeks. The rest was mixing it and going back and forth on the details.
When we finished the Balvin album, I got like one week in my crib just fucking around with beats. I made [“Mojaita”] then; it was super rough. I liked it a lot — it was super roots reggaeton. I played it in the studio for Bunny, and he went nuts. I think it was the second track we did for the project. The lyric, if you listen to it, is like opening the album: It starts by saying, “Welcome to Oasis.”
Tainy: When I heard it, it just sounded so perfect. It didn’t need anything [else]. It has that classic reggaeton feel. It feels a little bit nostalgic, but at the same time it’s new. Everybody agreed that this was the opening track for this project.
- “Yo Le Llego”
Albert Hype: I was in my studio down in South Miami. I was in the B-room, which I like better — there’s sunlight coming in. I was just making beats, things that could probably work for Cardi B. I had this guitar riff on loop and it probably took 20 minutes to make the beat. I’d be lying if I thought when I finished that this was going to be huge. After that I made four or five more beats.
I was asked by Cristobal Brito from Rimas Entertainment [Bad Bunny’s label] for a pack of beats, so I sent one over. I just kind of forgot about it. Months later, I got a call that Bad Bunny had hopped on “Estamos Arriba” with Myke Towers. Two weeks later they hit me up again that he hopped on another one. It was only later on [when] I found out it was going to be on a joint project with Balvin. I don’t know if you believe in God, but the only way I can explain this is God.
Tainy: I worked a bit on the production of the drums. There’s a part where it feels a little more like a salsa, that’s one of the things they wanted. That’s the Latin community coming together on that track.
Albert Hype: When they told me Tainy was going to hop on it, I was going to be happy with whatever — he could have kept just a hi-hat, and I would’ve been happy. He’s a legend.
- “Cuidao Por Ahí”
Tainy: I was working on an idea for Balvin at the beginning. We sat down with Jhay Cortez, and he started laying melodies and coming up with these concepts for the song. When we had our first meeting of everyone in the studio — me, Benito, José and Sky, sitting down and coming up with ideas, seeing what we had that could fit [a joint album], figuring out the plan — that was one of the tracks that I showed them. It had that thing, that style that we didn’t have in the project. Bad Bunny came in and did like a crazy verse. A friend of his, who’s not an artist, recorded her vocals [“Dale, papi!”] and just sent them over.
Then there was the high octave on the hook [from Balvin]. [The lower register] is where he really sounds comfortable, that’s where his voice sounds best. But I think we really pushed him on this project. I think he learned things about himself that he probably didn’t know.
Having Bunny in the studio, having him bring more concepts, really sparked more things in [Balvin]. We know vocally Bunny has that [vocal]; people before didn’t know Balvin could hit that range — or even try. And we found his voice really has a full tone. I told him it’s something I haven’t heard from him before — something that he should keep on doing.
- “Qué Pretendes”
Sky: I wrote and produced that one. That record is the only record that was already there — that was the record that I think started the idea of [Balvin and Bunny] doing a project together. That was from the days of “Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola,” the first featuring Balvin and Bunny. [“Que Pretendes”] easily had a year and a half, or two years of just sitting there on my laptop.
It’s reggaeton, but it’s a little sophisticated. Balvin goes a little bit higher than he’s used to [on that track, just like he does on “Cuidao Por Ahí”]. At first that song was in a lower key. When Bunny got on the song, it was cool, but I felt like the song needed a little push, because Bad Bunny is always so high in his songs. I needed a balance between the two [singers]. So I raised the key of the song. And then you listen and you hear José stepping up a little bit more.
The song was made months ago, but I didn’t change much of it. That shows me the song was still fresh.
- “La Canción”
Tainy: That was one of the beats that Benito brought. In the beginning, we didn’t have the trumpet. We had already sent the album to mastering. Benito’s doing his thing, flying around; same with Balvin. They listened to the tracks. But when [Bunny] listened to it, he didn’t like it as it was. He always felt it needed a trumpet to get to where he had it in his mind.
That’s where I came in. I called up my friend, Richie Lopez, who brought in a couple trumpet players. We tried some stuff on it until we got some takes that we liked. We went back and forth between two options. Benito gave me his input on the melody, where it should play and where it should not play. Now it feels like a combination of jazz and reggaeton. It could have been done [before], but I personally don’t know of a track to compare it to. I’m happy for that, especially because we had to do it all last minute.
- “Un Peso” featuring Marciano Cantero of Los Enanitos Verdes
Tainy: I started creating that idea. I had a couple of ukulele loops. I was just trying stuff.
Sky: That may be my favorite track on the album. We were in this big-ass studio in Miami that has four rooms. We were doing another song that we were cutting, but I took a little break and went to Tainy’s room. He was doing this track with only the ukuleles and some minor percussion.
Tainy: Sky heard it and was like, “Yo, I have a chorus for that.” So I was like, “Ok, I’ll keep working on it.”
Sky: The only person I’m shy to show shit to is Bunny. His concept is so strong, always. He’s always on his shit, he knows what he wants, what he doesn’t want. I get like, ‘Oh shit — is he gonna like it, is he not gonna like it?’ I showed the idea to Tainy; Tainy liked it. Then I went to the other room and sang the idea to Bunny.
Tainy: It sounded amazing. But I didn’t know what anybody could sing on it — what could they talk about?
Sky: We figured the song had a little bit of Spanish rock, the old Argentinian rock from the Eighties and Nineties. We started talking about the old groups. When I was nine, I used to listen to those songs. I come from a city [Medellín] where rock is very popular. My dad, my mom, my uncles, they used to party to that, drink to that. When I was writing José’s verse I ended up with a line that Enanitos Verdes sang on their most famous song, “Lamento Boliviano.” [The line being, “And your idiot heart will always miss me.”] That’s when we said, “Let’s get that singer to collaborate with us.”
It was kind of a joke in the studio. But they take the jokes very seriously. José got on the phone and talked with a guy from Universal, an O.G. from Argentina. By the end of the day, Marciano was already asking us to send the stems. It was one day’s homework. It’s a fusion for [different] generations.
Sky: Bunny brought that in. They told me to redo the drums, work on the production of it. Tainy put some sauce on the end. It was a pretty simple song. It’s the most simple one [on the album]. It’s not showing a lot, but it’s the essence of Bad Bunny when he went out doing romantic trap music.
I love the lyrics that one. For me that’s the best J Balvin verse on that song. If I’m not wrong, it’s more than 16 bars. It’s long as fuck. All the lyrics are punchlines. They’re talking about the concept — “I hate you,” putting stuff on the table that she did and he found out about. It’s so real how he puts in the words. You can identify real quick with that.
- “Como Un Bebé” featuring Mr. Eazi
Mr. Eazi: [Balvin and I] toured together with Michael Brun. Then Balvin and his team flew me down to Miami. We were just making music, and that was when he first hinted at the joint project. I played him some stuff, and this is one of the ones he was feeling.
Legendury Beatz: There was a period where we were making a lot of South American sounds, because everything was sounding Spanish. And this one was one of many songs in a folder called “African South American bounce” or something silly like that. The South American sound is very repetitive in terms of the bassline, always a loop, and that four-to-the-floor bass drum pattern as well. That’s prominent in reggaeton. Those were the elements my brother and I were thinking about when we focused on creating that crossover African stroke.
Mr. Eazi: This was the most four-to-the-floor Afrobeats [song that I played Balvin]. I didn’t expect them to like this. I swear to God I thought it was too intense for people that are not from Nigeria. I thought this was the most Nigerian pop song. Those drums, that pattern, they’re very traditional.
I didn’t even want to play it for [Balvin]! I was like, “why don’t we do this other one?” He’s like, “No, let’s merge these worlds.” I was shocked. I feel this is the first time there is pure Afrobeats from Nigeria in the [Latin] pop scene.
It was a truly collaborative effort. Balvin would be like, “How would you do this? Would you leave this part?” Even when we got a verse from Bad Bunny, it wasn’t, “This is my verse, this is it.” [It was,] “Do we think we want to add anything?” We bounced back and forth until we got the arrangement.
Legendury Beatz: Reggaeton, salsa, they all have their roots in Africa. We’ve always been trying in terms of production to have people come to the source, mess around with pop music with authentic African producers and artists.
Mr. Eazi: For Balvin and Bunny to put that record on there shows where the world is at. It’s only going to open the conversation. Millions of people are going to listen to that project, hear that bounce. People who have never heard of Afrobeats are going to be like, “Yo, what kind of groove is this?”