About 10 years ago, J Balvin was a hot young star in his native Colombia on his way to headline a concert in the remote state of Chocó. Nicky Jam was his older opening act, a once-promising Puerto Rican reggaetón artist intent on reviving his career in another country after struggling with drugs and alcohol. When they met on the chartered private jet taking them to their gig, Balvin was starstruck. “He really had been one of the inspirations in my career,” says Balvin, now 31. Recalls Nicky Jam, 36: “He told me he was my fan, that he was where he was thanks to my music and Daddy Yankee’s.”
Today, Balvin (born José Álvaro Osorio) and Nicky Jam (Nick Rivera Caminero) are not only peers, they’re leaders of reggaetón’s new generation. Together, they’ve taken an underground Puerto Rican genre once dismissed as a fad and helped transform it into the soundtrack of a globalized Latin music revolution. In the past three years, they have each logged eight top 10 hits on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, more than any other artist in that period, and both placed two videos among the 100 most-viewed of all time on YouTube. Meanwhile, their Instagram followings have both shot past 15 million. Nicky Jam notched his first-ever No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart in January and wrapped up his first European arena tour in April. Balvin has already earned five new Hot Latin Songs hits this year (for a career total of 15), and his album Energía is in its 41st week in the top five of the Latin Rhythm Albums chart.