Ask any younger Puerto Rican the place they have been and who they have been with when Unhealthy Bunny dropped his first album again in 2018. It was Christmas Eve, and to many, it was a present to his island.
I used to be in a automobile in Puerto Rico once I listened to “X 100PRE” for the primary time, vibrating with a childlike pleasure. Inside seconds, my buddy who was driving stopped at a parking zone so we may totally benefit from the rhythm of every track, diving into the lyrics that appeared coded particularly for these from the island.
Since then, it’s develop into a ritual to hearken to his albums on the evening they drop. I listened to “Un Verano Sin Ti” alone in mattress. “YHLQMDLG” was extra of a group occasion; I hosted a listening celebration in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so my Puerto Rican buddies and I may devour the album collectively and consider all of the tracks intimately. Regardless of Unhealthy Bunny’s colossal crossover into the mainstream, these recollections resonate as a result of his work will at all times signify one thing completely different to our group.
“For these of us within the diaspora, his music is a method to hook up with dwelling. It’s comforting to hearken to him discuss with locations I used to go to once I was residing on the island,” stated Aurora Santiago Ortiz, assistant professor of Latinx research on the College of Wisconsin-Madison. Students and teenage TikTokers alike specific a way of intimacy with the music, which speaks to us as solely a neighborhood can.
One line particularly from certainly one of his early hits, “Tú No Metes Cabra,” serves as a prophecy of types: “la nueva religión, yo soy la nueva period” (the brand new faith, I’m the brand new period). For Puerto Ricans, Unhealthy Bunny has served as a cultural touchstone, however to the world now, he’s a ubiquitous pop icon. The person is in every single place you look: billboards, award ceremonies, journal covers and Hollywood. Lots of of followers of all ethnicities inked his signature coronary heart on their bodies to have a good time a brand new album.
In the course of the previous yr, whereas your entire world has develop into enraptured by Unhealthy Bunny, he’s been streaming incredible numbers — all whereas solely talking Puerto Rican Spanish, retaining a vital a part of his id.
“I at all times knew that I may develop into an enormous artist with out altering my tradition, my slang, and my language. I’m Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, from Puerto Rico to the world,” Unhealthy Bunny stated after he was named Artist of the 12 months at MTV’s Video Music Awards.
Rising up, I used to be made to really feel that Puerto Rican Spanish — notable for its mixture of Taíno (Indigenous) and Spanish sounds with African pronunciations comparable to “Rs” typically pronounced as “Ls” — was inferior to that of different Spanish-speaking nations. To witness a Caribbean dialect as soon as stigmatized by each Latinos and non-Latinos develop into a part of the mainstream cultural material is big. It’s an indication to the youthful generations that you just don’t really want to vary who you’re to slot in, as different artists have carried out prior to now.
For us, Unhealthy Bunny won’t ever be pop. He’s a cultural storyteller, a modern-day folks artist narrating the complexity of l. a. puertorriqueñidad. See, Boricua tradition is perceived as too American for the remainder of Latin America and too Latino to be thought-about part of U.S. society, a dichotomy that makes it difficult to navigate life each inside and out of doors the island. The blended id is usually seen as an excessive amount of and never sufficient all on the identical time, which takes a toll on our self-worth. Unhealthy Bunny’s phrases and swagger make us really feel seen at our strongest and susceptible. Although his music resonates globally, he’s talking about la brega, one thing solely Boricuas can really perceive as a result of we’ve skilled it.
For me, the lyrics to the songs “Como Antes” and “Estamos Bien” are unmistakably Boricua and provoke a sure nostalgia for individuals who grew up within the ’90s. Lyrics from the latter — “La Mercedes en PR cogiendo boquete” — describe the numerous potholes Puerto Rico’s roads are infamous for. The road is a reminder of the island’s shoddy infrastructure, an indication of neglect by the bigger U.S. system.
Additionally in “Estamos Bien,” he raps, “Pa’ casa no ha llega’o la luz,” describing the on a regular basis actuality of unreliable electrical energy, which is handled extra as a luxurious than a primary necessity by the powers that be. The lyric feels particularly poignant this week, because the island, at the moment with out energy, reels from Hurricane Fiona’s wrath.
In the identical track — a observe that spans rage and pleasure — Unhealthy Bunny raps about “Las peleas de boxeo, to’ los celebration de perreo.” Rising up in Puerto Rico, three occasions have been handled as a nationwide celebration and trigger for unity no matter one’s circumstances: any sporting occasion the place our personal represented la isla — on this case, boxer Tito Trinidad; the Miss Universe pageant; and naturally, parties de marquesina. For us, regardless of the circumstances, partying is a radical act of resistance.
For us, Unhealthy Bunny won’t ever be pop. He’s a cultural storyteller, a modern-day folks artist narrating the complexity of l. a. puertorriqueñidad.
Whereas Unhealthy Bunny tells the world of our struggles and successes, we Puerto Ricans are those who can course of the nuance of his tales.
“He’s one of many few artists who unapologetically speaks in his music about his tradition and id, no matter whether or not others can perceive him or his references,” stated David Hernández, a music trade government in Miami. “The world can’t perceive most of it however he doesn’t care. On high of that, individuals truly be taught them with the intention to perceive him.”
On this method, Unhealthy Bunny is our ambassador to the world.
Written amid fixed blackouts in Puerto Rico, Unhealthy Bunny’s current ode to the island, “El Apagón,” serves because the anthem of a technology fed up with the difficulties of coping with a crumbling infrastructure and an incompetent authorities whereas residing in a tropical paradise. That’s the duality of “Puerto Rico está bien cabrón,” a prime instance of this stability between having fun with life’s easiest pleasures — love, intercourse, going to the seashore, partying — and teetering on the sting of social collapse.
The lyrics of this track should not simply rallying cries to defend the patria; they’re folks music. Past being the voice of a technology, Unhealthy Bunny amplifies the dialog of a specific group inside Latin America, one which has lived by an financial collapse, survived Hurricane Maria, earthquakes and political corruption. It’s a technology that’s been denied alternatives, and sometimes, a unified voice.
“Oftentimes once we take into consideration folks music, we take into consideration ‘El Topo’ or ‘La Canción Protesta.’ These have been examples of folks music within the moments during which they have been created,” stated Jorell A. Meléndez-Badillo, assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean Historical past on the College of Wisconsin-Madison. “Unhealthy Bunny is the music of Puerto Rico post-2006, when the present financial disaster started. [He’s a] reflection of Puerto Rico’s actuality, and his music a sonic archive of what Puerto Ricans are going by immediately — even when he’s speaking about ‘dar tabla.’”
The artist himself apparently agrees. “I by no means made a track considering, ‘Man, that is for the world. That is to seize the gringo viewers.’ By no means. Quite the opposite, I make songs as if solely Puerto Ricans have been going to hearken to them,” Unhealthy Bunny informed author Carina Chocano in a current GQ interview. “I nonetheless suppose I’m there making music, and it’s for Puerto Ricans. I neglect your entire world listens to me.”
All through the island’s historical past, Puerto Ricans have used varied musical genres to specific their frustration with the programs that oppress them. Salsa introduced consideration to discrimination and poverty throughout the Nuyorican group, bomba has traditionally performed a task within the island’s protest actions, as has plena, which originated as a method to recite every day information and sometimes satirize native politicians. It later developed into an important a part of the group’s expression, higher recognized immediately as “the newspaper of our individuals.” Reggaetón, many can argue, has been a political instrument since its inception.
Unhealthy Bunny might not be utilizing the normal devices of güiro and cuatro or reciting décimas. However he’s writing a historic account of what we’re feeling and witnessing immediately. Once I was a baby rising up en la isla, my dad and mom took me to festivals within the native plazas to witness our trovadores. With that very same intention, I do know I’ll play Unhealthy Bunny’s “Andrea” for my future children.
Like pleneros, Unhealthy Bunny, the eldest son of a truck driver father and a schoolteacher mom, is a jíbaro from Vega Baja. And that chamaquito is now chronicling — and exporting — our tradition worldwide.