“La Romana,” one of the standout songs from Bad Bunny’s invigorating debut album, “X 100PRE,” begins with bachata guitar — nimble, quick, leaning toward the traditional. Before long, it’s bolstered by a booming, viscous Latin trap beat, and the 24-year-old Puerto Rican rapper begins his trademark exultations.
For a couple of minutes, he continues this way, a blend of excitable and boastful. Then comes the switch: a quick sigh, followed by a dembow beat almost twice as fast. El Alfa, the Dominican star of dembow — the close cousin to reggaeton — arrives for some tongue-twisting rapping, and Bad Bunny returns with palpable urgency and attitude.
This union of two of Latin music’s best-known stars is a wild romp. And it underscores what has made Bad Bunny so valuable over the last couple of years. He is a chameleonic figure, adaptable to almost any style, with a broad, blurry-edged voice that melts at the margins.
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In 2018 alone, he applied it to dozens of songs, including “Mia,” a tender come-on alongside Drake; “I Like It,” Cardi B’s neo-boogaloo stomper that became the No. 1 song in the country; the “Te Boté” remix, the reggaeton posse cut that was the summit meeting of some of the genre’s leading talents; and “Esta Rico,” a rather silly, but not ineffective, collaboration with Marc Anthony and Will Smith. His was the most pivotal pop voice of 2018, the common currency that everyone wanted to trade in.
It’s almost surprising that after that year, Bad Bunny would release something as mundane as an album. He has demonstrated how in the modern pop economy, depositing a little of yourself on other people’s songs can be just as effective a takeover strategy as asserting your place at the center — maybe even more so. (“X 100PRE” arrived as a surprise release at the top of Christmas Eve on streaming services.)
But Bad Bunny, album artist, stakes out even more territory on “X 100PRE”; despite his seeming ubiquity, there remain areas that he’s yet to explore. If this diverse album is any indication, he’s eager to get to them.
His experiments start with pop-punk, on “Tenemos Que Hablar,” with its sneering guitar, which parallels the flirtations with the genre from SoundCloud rap stars like Juice WRLD. And they continue on “Otra Noche en Miami,” which combines 1980s synth-pop melancholy with Drake-style melancholy for an utterly modern downer about how a glamorous life is no replacement for love.
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And then there are the sounds Bad Bunny has made his name with: the sad reggaeton of “Solo de Mí,” or the ominous hip-hop on “Caro,” or “Si Estuviésemos Juntos,” which begins as an ambient mood piece and ends up a tragic reggaeton ballad.
Better than any album in recent memory, “X 100PRE” speaks to the fluidity of contemporary Latin music: how several genres are in regular, high-level dialogue, and how the optimal performers for this moment — think Ozuna, or J Balvin — find common threads, vocal approaches that span rhythms.
“X 100PRE” is produced largely by Tainy, a versatile veteran of the 2000s reggaeton explosion, and La Paciencia (Roberto Rosado). (One of the few exceptions is “200 MPH,” a buoyant club number produced by Diplo.) The music is rich with low end, serving as ballast for ethereal, sometimes claustrophobic synths. There’s little breathing room on these songs — both Bad Bunny and his music seep into all the available space.
Often, the mood is cloudy. But Bad Bunny withholds the biggest of the previously released songs here for the end of the album, when the euphoric “Estamos Bien” arrives like a healing sunrise after an agonizing night. And “Mia,” his sweet-voiced Drake collaboration, is tacked on at the end, almost an afterthought. Those songs demonstrate how Bad Bunny is capable of reaching for the universal, a deployment of firm pop star instincts. But on this album, he has many moods, portending many more still to come.