A rare positive byproduct of the global pandemic was the explosion of creativity among Latin artists. In lockdown from Argentina to Madrid, artists turned to their home studios for comfort, their sudden luxury of time allowing for a rare, extended moment of inspiration.
Little wonder that so many albums finally found the space to breathe, develop and simply come to be. And while some of the albums on this list — including J Balvin’s Colores and Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG — were conceived of and/or released pre-pandemic, many others were borne out of solitude and introspection, resulting in material that was often deeply personal and cathartic.
It made for a particularly difficult choice of picks, but our staff has managed to traverse the experiences of many genres in many countries to present you with our choice 25 favorites. While many albums here topped charts, these are personal picks, in alphabetical order by artist name.
Arcangel, Los Favoritos 2
In this sequel to Los Favoritos, released in 2015, Arcangel stays faithful to his key to success: recruiting colleagues from the old and new schools of reggaetón to deliver thought-out tracks. The intro, “Payaso,” and outro, “Favorito,” where he gives his best advice to the younger generation of artists, are the album’s only solo tracks. Instead, Arcangel delivers a wave of fiery collaborations with the likes of Maluma, Ozuna, Rauw Alejandro, Myke Towers and Cosculluela. Experimenting with fresh reggaetón fusions, some of the tracks that should be fan playlist favorites include the Sech-assisted “Amantes y Amigos” and “Un Año Tarde” in collaboration with Maluma, where we see Arcangel adapt to a more pop-urban beat. On “Emilio y Gloria,” Arcangel teams up with Wisin & Yandel to describe a love that’s as real as that of Latin power couple Emilio and Gloria Estefan. — JESSICA ROIZ
Alejandro Fernández, Hecho en México
Alejandro Fernández’s return to mariachi, the genre closest to his heart, features new songs written by a wide range of exciting new writers, from Joss Favela to Edén Muñoz, and is produced by Aureo Baqueiro, known for his pop fare. The resulting album sounds authentic but contemporary, as highlighted by the exuberant yet evocative “A Qué Sabe El Olvido;” lines like “What does forgetting taste like? What a stupid question, it tastes like you” are tailor-made for late-night singing in a bar in the most classic of ranchera traditions. Fernández traverses many moods with finesse and power, backed by exquisite arrangements. The must-listen track, “Mentí,” alongside dad Vicente Fernández, could have veered into nostalgia — but instead, it’s vintage heartbreak bravado, performed with taste and gusto. — LEILA COBO
Anuel AA, Emmanuel
Anyone who thought Anuel was merely a thuggish rapper who lucked into a No. 1 album will have doubts assuaged by Emmanuel, an ambitious set brimming with attitude but also musicality. Emmanuel goes from trap and reggaetón to urban ballads; from explicit content and malianteo (street slang and songs about street life) to love and deep introspection, set to arrangements that run the gamut from sparse to richly orchestrated with acoustic instrumentation and strings. Listen carefully to “No llores mujer,” a cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” featuring Travis Barker and produced by Anuel’s father, Jose Gazmey, who also plays bass here. As macho as Anuel is, in Emmanuel he’s not afraid to bare his soul, something he didn’t do in his debut. — L.C.
Bad Bunny, YHLQMDLG
This past Leap Day, Bad Bunny surprised fans with the release of his sophomore album YHLQMDLQ — short for “Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana” (I Do Whatever I Want). And in true Bad Bunny fashion, the Puerto Rican artist indeed does just that with an edgy 20-song set that includes collaborations with Daddy Yankee, Jowell & Randy, Sech, among others. YHLQMDLG made history, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200– the highest debut at the time for an all Spanish album at the time (though since then, Bad Bunny topped the chart with El Ultimo Tour del Mundo). But the album’s old-school perreo, romantic reggaeton, and Latin trap bangers with a global appeal — not to mention truly groundbreaking tracks like “Yo Perreo Sola,” which re examine gender roles in thought-provoking fashion — are what makes it truly transcendent. — J.R.
Black Eyed Peas, Translation
The Black Eyed Peas placed all bets on Latin and on familiar melodies and samples for their comeback set, Translation, which debuted at No. 3 on the Top Latin Albums chart. Featuring a brew of Latin collaborators including J Balvin, Ozuna, Shakira and Becky G, among others, the sample-heavy album delivered two No. 1 Hot Latin Songs hits that ruled over half the calendar year: the Corona-sampling Balvin collab “RITMO” and Ozuna-assisted “Mamacita,” which borrows the melody of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita.” And while BEP’s Latin intentions may have elicited some skepticism, the market, and their collaborators, embraced the their still-enduring global fusion appeal. — G.F.
Chilean singer-songwriter Cami (real name: Camila Gallardo), nominated for best new artist and best contemporary pop vocal album at the 2019 Latin Grammys, continues making waves with her powerhouse vocals. This year’s Monstruo nabbed a Grammy nomination for best Latin rock or alternative album, and consolidates Cami as an artist with an impressive artistic trajectory. On the set, Cami flaunts her musical trademark to the world: empowering and relatable lyrics that can easily become anthems, and rhythmic fusions that include cumbia, alternative rock, pop ballads, and Andean music. — J.R.
Camilo, Por Primera Vez
Latin pop of late has become the realm of the 35-and-over crowd, as reggaetón and trap are voraciously consumed by younger audiences. Enter Camilo, whose sweet, mid-tempo love songs and equally sweet, high-pitched tenor remind both teenagers and their grandparents that it’s cool to fall totally in love. Branded first and foremost as a songwriter, the young Colombian’s debut album establishes that fact from the get-go, beginning with the profoundly intimate “Medialuna” (the title a play on words that obliquely references his young wife and muse, Evaluna Montaner), where he sings accompanied only by his guitar. From there, catchy pop songs with a light reggaetón beat and fanciful lyrics (witness “Tutu” alongside Pedro Capó, and later Shakira) make you want to sing along. — L.C.
Carlos Vives, Cumbiana
This May, Carlos Vives delivered the stunning soul-searching Cumbiana, an album that takes the Colombian star on a personal journey to find the “lost world” of cumbia, perhaps Colombia’s most venerable musical export. Featuring star-studded duets with Alejandro Sanz, Rubén Blades and Jessie Reyez, Vives is on the search for the indigenous, African and European roots of Colombian music. The end result is an experimental album that thrives on reggaetón, trap, flamenco, cumbia, vallenato and Vives’ distinctive tropipop. — G.F.
The Colombian trio’s sixth studio album is a beautiful made-at-home set that houses 11 eclectic tracks that are pop-forward, but still place ChocQuibTown’s distinctive fusion of Afrobeat and music from Colombia’s Pacific coast at the forefront. Featuring collaborations with Becky G, Manuel Turizo, Rauw Alejandro and more, the 11-track, quarantine-born set kicks off with the slowed-down “Vuelve (Come Back),” which finds lead singer Goyo yearning for her ex to return. The album then speeds up with anthemic dance songs that tread between reggaetón and pop, such as “No Vuelvas A Mí,” “Fresa” and the Becky G-assisted “Que Me Baile.” — G.F.
Christian Nodal, AyAyAy!
The 21 year old Nodal made history as the youngest artist to replace himself atop the Regional Mexican Albums chart with AYAYAY! For his third studio album, Nodal did not shy away from experimental fusions, dropping a norteño-tropical hybrid (“No Es Justo Por El”), a mariachi-tinged country song (“Se Me Olvido”), and even his own version of the ‘50s classic doo-wop single “Tonight I Fell in Love” by The Tokens with “Anoche Me Enamore.” One of the notable surprises on the album is “Venganza Cumplida,” where he explores traditional salsa melodies. Blending traditional instrumentation with norteño style vocals, few albums have moved mariachi forward so convincingly in recent years. — J.R.
Los Dos Carnales, Al Estilo Rancheron
Los Dos Carnales’ second full-length studio album is a testament to the group’s intent of elevating their “humble” norteño sound with contemporary appeal. Al Estilo Rancheron delivers back-to-back anthemic norteño narrative ballads reminiscent of the 80s traditional norteño sound, led by an accordion, but with the addition of four-string bass guitar, bajo sexto (sixth bass) and drums for a rich, nuanced sound. In the 14-track set, brothers Poncho (27) and Imanol (21) use their contrasting vocals to emotionally narrate the struggles of immigrants and Robin Hood-like tales via corridos. — G.F.
Eslabón Armado, Tu Veneno Mortal
Regional Mexican music’s version of a boy band arrives in the form of Eslabon Armado, the trio of teenagers who scored its first top 10 entry on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart with its debut, Tu Veneno Mortal. That’s no easy feat for a group that formed less than a year ago, but the youthful point of view captured fans with ultra-romantic sierreño tracks that from beginning to end, narrate a teen’s heartbreak. All songs are beautifully built around the band’s now distinct fusion of traditional acoustic guitars with the electric bass. — G.F.
Feid, Bahía Ducati
Born and finished during the coronavirus quarantine, Feid dropped Bahia Ducati, a 10-track production that marked his second album of 2020 following FERXXO (VOL. 1: M.O.R). Feid stands out in the crowded urban scene for his more romantic, danceable approach, and in this album, he brings both lyrical charm and vintage urban rhythms. But the good vibes — this album sounds like it was curated to make you forget your quarantine blues and dance for the rest of the year — is what lands it on this list. Check out sensual urban bops like “FERXXO x ÑEJO,” feel-good reggae fusions like “Jamaica” with Sech and “XX (Remix)” with Dalmata. And of course, let’s not forget the star-studded “Porfa (Remix)” with J Balvin, Maluma, Nicky Jam, Sech, and Justin Quiles, which became Feid’s first No. 1 on Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart. — J.R.
Fito Páez, La Conquista del Espacio
The Argentine singer/songwriter’s album, released on his birthday, is equal parts a nod to the Beatles sound Páez so identifies with, and eclectic experimentation. The common thread is the beautiful melodies, lush and thoughtful arrangements, and Páez’s trademark casually emotive delivery. La Conquista ranges from the triumphant, joyful title track to “Gente en la calle,” a duet with Lali whose lilting melody and almost ’70s-style arrangements contrast somewhat shockingly with lyrics that talk about homelessness. In the middle, the bluesy rock of songs like “Las cosas que me hacen bien” and the impish “Nadie Es de Nadie” help add up to an album that covers all the Páez bases — but with a fresh, imaginative outlook. — L.C.
J Balvin, Colores
This 10-track set is J Balvin’s most ambitious album yet, musically and visually. Packed with back-to-back hits such as the edgy, futuristic pop anthem “Blanco,” heart-wrenching ballad “Rojo” and hard-hitting reggaetón track “Negro” — the three tracks on the album that also best showcase Balvin’s versatility as an artist — Colores proved Balvin is not a go-to collaborator, but can deliver hits on his own. Released in March, Balvin’s Colores won best urban album at the 2020 Latin Grammys, and scored the Colombian superstar a No. 2 peak on the Top Latin Albums chart. — GRISELDA FLORES
Jona Camacho, Memento
The up-and-coming Colombian singer-songwriter Jona Camacho leans on funk and ’90s R&B tunes for his debut album Memento. Offering an escape through his fresh beats and youthful, raw lyrics about love and lust, Jona Camacho’s first LP — recorded between Bogotá, Colombia, Mexico City and Los Angeles — showcases his vocal abilities and songwriting prowess. A standout on the album is the Vanessa Zamora-assisted “Te Choca Te Checa,” an ultra-nostalgic track which Camacho and Zamora navigating a far-from-perfect relationship. — G.F.
Junior H, Atrapado en un Sueño
Atrapado en un Sueño (Trapped in a Dream) brings singer-songwriter Junior H’s promise to the forefront of the Regional Mexican scene. The self-taught guitarist from Guanajuato, Mexico, Junior pours his heart out with infectious corridos tumbados, mesmerizing requintos, and lyrics about ambition, optimism and the street life in songs such as “Dicen” and “Mente Positiva.” On the Top Latin Albums chart, the seven-song set debuted at No. 5, making Junior the youngest act since Natanael Cano to score a top 10 on the listing. — J.R.
Kany García, Mesa Para Dos
After winning a Latin Grammy for 2018’s very personal Soy Yo, the Puerto Rican singer/songwriter looked outward for Mesa Para Dos (Table for Two). Although the album was recorded entirely during lockdown, every track is a duet, highlighting García’s extraordinary versatility. It opens with love found in “Lo que en tí veo” (What I see In You), a slow, evocative duet with up and coming Argentine blind guitarist and singer Nahuel Pennisi, and ends with love lost in “Titanic,” which highlights the more introspective side of collaborator Camilo. In the middle, the joyful “Búscame” with Carlos Vives is a delight, and the militant “Acompáñame” (alongside Goyo and Catalina García) is a call to social action on behalf of those oppressed, set to a cumbia beat. The biggest gem is “Se portaba mal (She Misbehaved)” with Mon Laferte, an eye-opening and compassionate look at domestic violence victims. — L.C.
Maluma, Papi Juancho
Papi Juancho, whose title riffs off Maluma’s nickname of “Juancho” (short for Juan Luis), features a handful of duets with old and new school reggaetón stars, from Ñejo y Dálmata to Myke Towers and Yandel. But the bulk is pure Maluma, ranging from romantic to raunchy street, experimenting with new, acoustic sounds and, as usual, boasting perhaps the best lyrics in contemporary, commercial Latin music. Maluma recorded most of the album during quarantine and sought to highlight is most personal feelings. It includes “ADMV,” a ballad that reflects on growing old next to the one you love, and also “Hawái,” the blockbuster single that makes clear this kid from Medellín is a global act. — L.C.
Myke Towers, Easy Money Baby
A complete 180 turn. Myke Towers has come a long way since the release of his debut album El Final del Principio in 2016. Here, Towers proves unafraid to step away from the underground rap scene that made him, taking the risk of experimenting with new commercial sounds. The end results stays true to the freestyling that characterizes his work, while also showcasing his singing abilities. In addition to his head-bobbing and hip-shaking tracks, which include the Brazilian funk-inspired “Una Noche Mas” and the flirty play-on-words in “Parcerita,” Towers pays homage to some classics: In “Girl,” he gives 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” a reggaeton twist, and “Tú” is his urban version of Manu Chao’s “Me Gustas Tu.” Towers also attempts something remarkable for a new reggaetón act: Out of 21 tracks, there is only one collab, the Farruko-assisted “Si Se Da.” Nonetheless, Towers clocked his first leader on the Top Latin Albums chart as Easy Money Baby debuted at No. 1 in February. — J.R.
Nathy Peluso, Calambre
Forget the saucy, sexy allure of so many female reggaeton acts. Rising Argentine artist Peluso is a new brand of Latin urban: seductive, but fierce and unapologetic. The Latin Grammy-nominated Calambre is a box full of surprises, showcasing Peluso’s vocal and rhythmic versatility. Primarily known for her hip-hop-meets-neo-soul vibe, here she experiments with perreo fusions as heard in “Amor Salvaje,” old-school ’90s rap (“Sugga”), infectious salsa beats (“Puro Veneno,”) and a heartfelt hip-hop-tango blend in the closing “Agarrate.” — J.R.
Ozuna loves acronyms. But ENOC, which stands for El Negrito Ojos Claros (The Black Kid, Light Eyes) is his nickname. This 20-track tour de force veers from the righteous anger and braggadocio of the opening “Enemigos Ocultos” — which features a staggering six guest artists and runs over seven minutes — to the beautiful, island-inflected “Del Mar,” which features Doja Cat and Sia in their first-ever Spanish language collab. Ozuna goes pop with the Camilo collab “Despeinada,” and proves his mettle as a singer and a composer with the final “Gracias,” his thank you to God and life, where he sings beautifully over guitar. It’s a fully self-aware set from possibly the most talented urban act today. — L.C.
Ricardo Arjona, Blanco
Arjona didn’t conceive Blanco as a pandemic album — but it’s fitting that this lovely, acoustic set, with a graphic treatment that’s all in black and white, came out in the middle of lockdown. Like so many things Arjona, Blanco is thoughtful and witty, full of phrases to be discovered and savored. It’s a brand of pop that’s become rare, but when it comes around, we have to treasure it. — L.C.
Ricky Martin, Pausa
Ricky Martin’s first set since 2015 features collaborations with Sting, Carla Morrison, Pedro Capó and Diego El Cigala, among others. Packed with introspective, poignant and melancholic lyrics, the Grammy-nominated six-track EP is born from the need to heal through music. Martin opens his set with “Simple,” a stunning collaboration with Sting – who sings in Spanish – which sets the tone for the rest of the album: simple yet forceful and grand. He closes with “Cántalo,” a previously released collab with Residente and Bad Bunny that’s a thought-provoking and powerful song of resilience, in addition to being an ode to salsa. In a year full of strife, it reminds us that thoughtful and engaging can coexist. — G.F.
Sech, 1 Of 1
Hunkered down in Panama, in the midst of the pandemic lockdown, Sech released his 21 track sophomore studio album, featuring collaborations with Daddy Yankee, Ozuna and Arcangel, to name a few. Compared to his debut album, Sueños — which includes bangers like “Otro Trago” and “Miss Lonely” — 1 Of 1 puts Sech’s life story and roots in perspective. In songs such as “Panama City,” and “Se Va Viral,” where Nando Boom makes a surprising comeback, Sech pays tribute to his reggae plena roots, fusing it with reggaetón, dancehall, and dembow. In “Siempre,” a song he penned during quarantine and the final track he added to the album, he describes his journey from construction worker in Panama to global superstar, providing a rare glimpse at another side of reggaetón and its roots. — J.R.