From the first moments of his latest LP, El Último Tour Del Mundo, Bad Bunny declares the world his. “Yo hago lo que me dé la gana,” he reminds us of his growing influence. “¿Quién dijo que no?” It’s a hard assertion to dispute: During a pandemic that decimated large swaths of the music industry, his star has only risen. YHLQMDLG, released in March, flirted with the top of the pops and dominated the Latin charts; he’s graced awards-show stages and the covers of Western media’s storied publications; he’s evolved into a vocal ally of marginalized communities, with a willingness to acknowledge and rectify his mistakes; and with the release of El Último Tour Del Mundo, he’s made history with the first-ever No. 1 Spanish-language album on Billboard’s album chart. No other artist had more Spotify streams in 2020.
For El Último Tour Del Mundo, Bad Bunny transports himself a decade into the future, imagining the music he’d play on his final world tour in 2030. It’s not his best record, but that’s almost beside the point. You’ll still find vestiges of his particular nuevo reggaetón sound on tracks like “Te Mudaste” and “Dákiti,” even if the latter is one of its weakest examples, pummeling the dembow riddim into submission with a thumping four-on-the-floor that’s devoid of any actual flavor. But by track four he takes a sharp left turn from the rap and perreo that defined previous LPs in favor of a morose, introspective vibe that pulls from British post-punk and the rock en español of Central and South America as much as it does the hip-hop and R&B of the American South.
For better or worse, El Ultimó Tour Del Mundo’s rock sound leans heavily on producer Marco “MAG” Borrero (and, to a lesser extent, Borrero’s human riff machine Mick Coogan), best known for crafting pop hits for the likes of Flo Rida, Bebe Rexha, and Selena Gomez. The collaboration doesn’t always work; tracks like “Te Deseo Lo Mejor” and “Antes Que Se Acabe” suffer from a saccharine sound that’s generic enough to blend in with Top 40 radio. But when it does, it’s sublime. “Yo Visto Así” and “La Droga” inhabit the same universe of distorted emo rap as the late Lil Peep and Juice WRLD, with grunge guitars ringing out over rumbling trap beats. And “Maldita Pobreza,” a poor man’s lament that effortlessly bounces between buoyant new-wave riffs and booming 808s, evokes Café Tacvba, New Order, and modern-day traperos in equal measure, offering a glimpse of the brilliance that can result from Benito’s experimentation.
These rock tendencies don’t come completely out of left field. Bad Bunny has previously dabbled in pop-punk (“Tenemos Que Hablar”) and metalcore (“Hablamos Mañana”), and even recruited Los Enanitos Verdes’ Marciano Cantero for his and J Balvin’s interpolation of the Argentinian rock band’s classic “Lamento Boliviano.” Each record served to expand the boundaries of urbano, Latin America’s catch-all for the myriad genres in “urban” (i.e. Black) music, eventually stretching it so thin as to render it transparently irrelevant. The new urbano—or el movimiento, as some have taken to calling it—is inclusive, a tent big enough for fans of Soda Stereo and strip-club beats, Pisces Iscariot and pro wrestling, Daddy Yankee and drag queens. Plenty of artists have tried to seamlessly integrate an international aesthetic, treating their tracklists like grocery lists and collecting sounds from around the world without a genuine connection to the music. Bad Bunny succeeds where they have failed because those influences come from within. He didn’t pull the Puerto Rican holiday song “Cantares de Navidad” from a spreadsheet of Google trends; it’s the music of his life. When it’s real, you can feel it.
In that sense, El Último Tour Del Mundo gets at the core of what makes Bad Bunny so appealing. “Maldita Pobreza” isn’t just a trap-rock fusion experiment, it’s a reminder that Benito is less than half a decade removed from bagging groceries in Arecibo, daydreaming of exotic Italian sports cars. He toes the line between rap braggadocio and vulnerable everyman with relative ease—even while crooning about alien sex. Standing on top of the world, with access to abundant fame, wealth, and critical success, he appears free of any pressure to conform, even to previous versions of himself. He’s a beacon of light in barrios around the world, an example for kids with secret skirts or Smashing Pumpkins CDs of what being yourself can look and sound like. When he says he does whatever he wants, we believe him. Maybe we can, too.
Catch up every Saturday with 10 of our best-reviewed albums of the week. Sign up for the 10 to Hear newsletter here.