Hip-Hop Junkie: Reggaeton Star Nicky Jam Imagines a Latin Trap Freshman Class
Nicky Jam is a byproduct of classic hip-hop. Coming up in Lawrence, Mass., Nicky (born Nick Rivera Caminero) got put on to the game at the ripe age of 11 thanks to MCs like LL Cool J and Jay-Z. Since then, Nicky Jam has applied what he's learned from hip-hop OGs to become a pioneer in urban Latin music.
On a scorching hot day in Miami, the Dominican and Puerto Rican artist is inside of the Sony Music Latin offices rocking an all-black outfit with a matching hoodie, track pants and his signature black snapback cap. After spending the last two years collaborating with a handful of artists from Bad Bunny to Will Smith, the 38-year-old reggaetonero has been busy preparing his next studio album.
“'Te Robare' with Ozuna is the first song off my new album,” Nicky Jam tells XXL. “Obviously, before the album comes out I'll have another single. It'll be a bit more commercial with some ‘X’ vibes. I'll probably have another dance, too. It's funny, like, I'm not really the dancing guy and one of my biggest songs has a dance to it.”
Nicky Jam has spent the past two decades churning out urban Latin hits like “Travesuras,” "El Perdón" and the aforementioned "X,” which features J. Balvin. Despite his catalog full of multiplatinum records, the veteran reggaeton artist admits that the music of today’s young, Latin trap and hip-hop artists is what fuels him to create international hits while he develops his budding acting career.
Along with his eighth studio album, the Miami resident is also set to star in the upcoming film Bad Boys For Life with Will Smith and Martin Lawerence. Before he began production on the film in the 305, Nicky Jam had already worked with the Fresh Prince on the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia anthem “Live It Up” and the remix of Jaden Smith’s banger “Icon.”
XXL sat down with Nicky Jam to talk about his hip-hop influences, and working with Will Smith on set and in the studio. He also shares his thoughts on which artists would make the cut for a hypothetical Latin trap Freshman class.
XXL: How has hip-hop impacted your music career thus far?
Nicky Jam: Hip-hop is what started everything. It's like the father of the culture of our music. Listening to classic albums like Jay-Z's The Blueprint gave me an idea of how to do my albums in the Spanish market and give my fans that kind of vibe. Hip-hop really has influenced me in every way.
Your impact on the Latin music industry is reminiscent of Hov's impact on hip-hop, especially when you returned from a nearly 10-year hiatus with your 2017 album, Fenix. What has changed about your creative process in the last two years?
Music changes. People change. A lot can change, but what I try to do is look for that sound that's going on in the moment. I try to look for those writers that are killing the game right now. See in our world, it's not like hip-hop with all these ghostwriters. We don't have all that. We don't rap. We're not rappers. So sometimes we combine our writing with other writers that have a more young, fresh mind to come out with something fresh for the audience.
You've been definitely been cranking out music with young, urban Latin artists Ozuna, Anuel AA and, most recently, Fuego. Your latest song with him "Good Vibes" sounds reminiscent of Drake and The Weeknd's collaborations back when they working together frequently. Were they an inspiration for that song?
Well actually, my boy Gio from L.A. He's my best friend since he was 15. He started out doing beats a couple of years ago and he showed me that beat. I'm like "That beat was fire!" Right now we have a track called "Ven Y Hazlo Tú" coming out. It's me, Anuel, J. Balvin and Arcangel. But when Gio played me the beat, I liked that beat. I called Fuego, and Fuego started messing with it and threw some melodies on it. Then we just made the song and it just felt right. It does have that [Drake and The Weeknd] vibe but we didn't listen to their songs before. We just thought it was a style.
When you create a song, you can bring that style to the table. From that one song comes a style of music, and four or five other songs come out with that same vibe and style. You can say the song "Unforgettable" from French Montana and Swae Lee, for example. After that song came out, a lot of songs with that vibe [dropped].
Speaking of Swae Lee, you recently did the remix to Post Malone and Swae's song, "Sunflower." Was that originally intended for the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack or was it just for fun?
My boy Gio, he's doing so well with beats that they actually gave him the opportunity to do a remix with a more urban, dancehall type vibe. After he did the beat, I said that I wanted to get on it. He had to call Post Malone's people and Swae Lee's people to tell them, "Hey Nicky wants to jump on it." They said, "Hell yeah!" I got on to the song, and they got Prince Royce to hop on it too.
Your latest hits have attracted people around the world. Will Smith posted a video doing your dance last year. Now you'll be working with him in Bad Boys For Life. Describe your first time meeting Smith and his son Jaden. Was it before or after the World Cup collaboration?
Before. When I came out with "X", Will loved the song. He was on set for another movie he was doing, and Miguel—his manager—was talking to my manager at the time. He was like, "Yo, Will loves what Nicky does. I think he's going to post a video of him listening to the song saying that he listens to the song before he goes on set." I'm like, "Yo, if he does that, this song is going to go crazy." It's one thing to have people from my genre to support, but when you have an icon like Will Smith supporting, it's different. After he did that, I felt like I was in debt to Will Smith for life. I was just telling Miguel how grateful I was and after that, they gave me the opportunity to do the World Cup song.
After they showed me the beat, I told them that I'd only do it if I could put Will Smith on the track, and he got on the track. Will Smith was so excited. He was more excited than me. For me, it was big and definitely something on my bucket list but who would've thought for an icon like him that it would be big for him as well. After that, we developed a friendship and now we're on the same set for the same movie.
It's a highly anticipated movie. You're about to share the same set with Will Smith, Martin Lawerence and DJ Khaled. Describe your role in the film. Is it more than a cameo?
This is big. I'm one of the stone-cold killers in this movie. I got a big scene where I'm doing some crazy stunts: Motorcycles, shootings, jumping out of a huge helicopter. You can say this will be my biggest break into Hollywood right now. I did XXX: The Return of Xander with Vin Diesel but that was more of a cameo.
XXL is currently preparing to choose its 2019 XXL Freshman class. If there were a Latin Trap version, which artists would you nominate?
I'd pick Ozuna, Anuel Aa, Bad Bunny, Darell, Rauw Alejandro, Alex Rose, Myke Towers, Miky Woodz, Bryant Myers, Karol G and Becky G. There's so many bro, but I think I'm good with them.
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