J Balvin’s Hip-Hop Connection Includes Life Advice From Pharrell
Colombian-born artist J Balvin is arguably one of the biggest artists in the reggaeton genre these days. While his music has earned him Latin Grammys and a loyal fan base, it's also allowed him to expand his brand.
The singer was given the title of the ambassador of Men’s New York Fashion Week this year, a first for a Latin artist. The 31-year-old’s music and style is not only captivating those in Latin America, but it's breaking barriers and gaining the recognition of listeners and fashionistas worldwide.
A native of Medellin, Colombia, J Balvin kicked off his music career in 2009, with the release of his debut project, Real. From there, the artist, born José Álvaro Osorio Balvin, would go on to release a slew of projects and receive plenty of acclaim in his country. By 2013, his music transcended into other Latin American countries as well as the U.S., where he's been able to collaborate with the likes of one of hip-hop's best, Pharrell.
Last year, with already five albums under his belt, J Balvin went on to release his most buzz-worthy and successful project to date, Energia, which showcased his ability to easily work with non-traditional reggaeton sounds. His lead single for the project, "Safari," featured the Latin sensation working alongside hip-hop's most revered producer Pharrell, up-and-coming rapper Bia and Sky. The song not only proved to be a hit among those in Latin American, but it also crossed over to non-Latin markets, helping further Balvin's career on a global scale.
Looking to continue breaking the stereotypes of reggaeton artists in music and fashion as he's done so far, Balvin's goal is to work with more major players in the world of hip-hop and R&B. The singer has already collaborated with the likes of PARTYNEXTDOOR and Wale on some unreleased material.
XXL caught up with the megastar in New York City last week to talk about a number of subjects including his friendship with Pharrell, his love for hip-hop, future collabs and his fashion sense. Check out the full interview below.
XXL: How was your experience as ambassador of Men's New York Fashion Week?
J Balvin: First and foremost, I was really grateful and thankful because I was the first Latino to be named an ambassador at New York Fashion Week and that really means a lot for the reggaeton culture and the urban culture. Not only that, it was a statement for Latinos and I was so blessed to be a part of it.
Speaking on fashion, you're considered one of the most fashion-forward reggaeton artists of today. How does it feel to know that you helped change the stereotypical look of a reggaeton artist?
I think the change in styles not only happened in reggaeton, but it also happened in hip-hop. I wear the clothes I wear because I feel comfortable with it, you know? It's not like I want to change everything about me, I'm just being me. When you try to be cool, you're not cool. You just have to be yourself and follow whatever feels comfortable and right for you.
I think at one point artists were a little bit scared to just change the stereotype of how reggaetoners look like, but nobody made the first step, you know? But now that we made it I see all my colleagues with the different color hair. When I started wearing oversized shirts they were making fun of me, but now everyone wears the oversized shirts. So I think it's cool and positive that I'm doing me and I'm being happy and I'm opening the doors for a lot of young kids who want to be themselves.
Where do you find your inspiration when it comes to your everyday style?
I like to look at a lot of fashion blogs to stay up to date with the trends, but definitely Pharrell Williams is someone that I'm influenced by when it comes to fashion. I don't dress exactly like him, but I want to be like him in the cultural way. He opens the doors for a lot of new fashion designers and creates his own style. It's all about love with him and he's the culture.
Speaking on Pharrell, you actually recorded a song with him last year called "Safari." How was that experience for you?
It was amazing. I didn't know he was that special. Like I knew he was a great producer and a great artist, but as a person he's really humble and real. That's what I loved about him when we worked together. I love the way he is and he's taught me a lot of things. Last time I went to Paris with him to the Chanel show with Karl Lagerfeld and I told him, "I want to learn from you! Don't give me nothing. Give me the info," you know? I just want to learn from him and what's good is that he's open to share with me all the knowledge that he has.
How long did you guys spend at the studio recording the song?
It was amazing! We recorded for like seven days -- morning to night, and it was just amazing, man. A dream for me and an experience I'll never forget. We have lot more new songs coming out too. "Safari" wasn't just the first one. I really love Pharrell. I love what he does with the I Am Other crew and his label. Like the stuff he's doing with Bia is gonna be really good!
So what's the best advice you've gotten from Pharrell?
Be you! I remember on my way to Paris to the Chanel show I was like, "Yo, I don't know how to behave. Like what am I supposed to do with all these top of the top people?" And he was like, "Bro, just be you. That's the reason why you're working with me and that's the reason why I'm taking you there. It's because you are you." And that's what I did and it was amazing out there.
The other advice he taught me was, one day I called him, "Yo, master!" and he was like, "I'm not a master. I was, I am and I'll forever be a student," and that right there stuck to me.
Besides having worked with Pharrell, who else have you worked with in hip-hop?
I've worked already with French Montana on the "Ay Vamos (Remix)." But I'm about to record something for Kap G when I get to my house back in Colombia. I'm also currently meeting a lot of rappers in the industry, so let's see what happens from here.
Anyone else in hip-hop or R&B that you want to work with?
I'm a big fan of Big Sean and I'd like to do something with him for the culture. I also want to work with Drake, of course. There's something in the talks with Future too but we've both been busy. Wiz Khalifa is someone else I want to work with. But I'd love to work with a lot of rappers both, new school and old school.
That's dope you want to work with old school artists as well. What old school artists did you grow up listening to?
I've always been a fan of hip-hop since I can remember. I love the culture, the music and the lifestyle. When I was growing up in Colombia we were listening to a lot of Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Onyx. A lot of 2Pac, of course and B.I.G. To me, the legends in hip-hop will always remain legends, but you know its good to see the young artists do it now as well.
Last year, you were at the recording session for Kanye West's The Life of Pablo album. How was that experience for you?
I was there when they were recording the song "Ultralight Beam." I was there with Justin Bieber, Swizz Beatz, Big Sean, Chance The Rapper and Kanye. I was just blessed to be there and be part of that history. I just there watching, learning and trying to get as much info as I could from those guys.
Do you see yourself recording a full studio album in English?
Yeah, but I'm not in a hurry. I want to take the Spanish as far as I can take it. I think I'm eventually gonna do the English thing, but right now I'm not in a hurry. I want it to be organic and real. I'm not trying to rush things to be more famous because I don't give a fuck about being famous. I want to be successful. You can be the dumbest guy in the world and you gonna be super famous for being dumb, or you can be really successful and be really famous if you do things the right way.
So what should we expect from J Balvin in 2017?
I just recorded something with PARTYNEXTDOOR; It's for one of his projects that's coming out. And I also worked with Wale on a song. So I'm looking forward to when those songs come out.
How do you want to be remembered?
I really want to make history as a Latino artist to show the world that music has no barriers and want to bring all these guys from hip-hop and R&B to our world. You know, like Drake on a reggaeton song or maybe even Rihanna. But it's all about them feeling my vibe. That's all I want. All the songs that I've done with different artists has been because of my idea of the music.
It's not because I have a label behind me doing the connections and I don't really like that because it's like a blind date. I want people to respect and love what I do when I work with them, so for instance The Weeknd is someone I really respect and want to work with. I think we can both do something really good together that would be for all cultures.
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