When Jhay Cortez was a shy 12-year-old, his only friend was reggaetón legend Don Omar — at least through his headphones.
“That was the artist that made me want to be an artist,” says Cortez of Don Omar, from his home in Luquillo, Puerto Rico. A self-described “geek,” Cortez did not socialize much with other kids his age, but instead spent his time studying the music of reggaetón legends like Omar, Wisin y Yandel and Arcangel. “At 12, I already knew who made their beats, who recorded [and] who mixed [their songs],” he says. “[Their music] really fuels me until this day.”
While it’s common across genres for new school artists to praise veterans and icons, reggaetón culture takes it a step further, with younger artists regularly getting in the studio with genre pioneers, releasing hits that resonate across age groups and fan bases. The result is often fruitful for all involved — younger artists having the privilege and co-sign that comes with working with their idols, and genre mainstays continuing to engage younger audiences, boosting sales and keeping their sound current.
In the last year alone, countless cross-generational collaborations have landed in the top 10 of the Hot Latin Songs chart. Myke Towers alone has three, including “Mi Niña,” with Los Legendarios and Wisin, “Travesuras,” with Nio García, Casper Magico, Ozuna and Wisin y Yandel, and “La Curiosidad” with Jay Wheeler and DJ Nelson. Other prominent Hot Latin collabs include “Safaera,” by Bad Bunny, Jowell y Randy and Ñengo Flow, “Sigues Con Él,” by Arcangel and Sech, and most recently for Cortez, “Fiel,” with Los Legendarios and Wisin.
“Fiel,” was released in February and shot up to No. 1 on both the Latin Rhythm Airplay chart and Latin Airplay on June 12. The accompanying music video has surpassed 156 million views on YouTube, with the track itself amassing 324 million listens on Spotify alone, and over two million video creations on TikTok.
Considering reggaetón is a young genre that originated in the early ’90s, its most established veterans are only in their mid-40s, making them both active and ever-relevant in the music scene today. As a result, emerging artists are eager to collaborate with the very reggaetoneros who took the genre mainstream two decades ago, something that is further cemented by a culture centered around generational respect.
“One of my greatest accomplishments is being a fan of an artist and being able to have a worldwide hit with that artist,” says Cortez. The already star-studded “Fiel” is shining even brighter, with a remix featuring fellow Puerto Rican favorites Anuel AA and Myke Towers, that dropped last week.
“I want to help [young artists] be great and for [them] to help me grow my business. It is a job where we both do our part,” says Wisin. “I believe that the new generation is full of success, full of talent and [the veterans] have a lot of experience that has established us in the movement for over two decades.”
Cortez and Wisin’s collective success is not an exception to the rule, but closer to the rule itself. In 2020, just before the doors to Puerto Rico’s famed party hub La Placita de Santurce closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bad Bunny dropped his groundbreaking album, YHLQMDLG (an acronym for “I do whatever I want”). The critically acclaimed album was the highest charting all-Spanish-language album ever, the biggest streaming week ever for a Latin album, and the largest week for a Latin title since Billboard began tracking albums by equivalent album units in December of 2014. And while YHLQMDLG had many standout tracks, among day-one reggaetón fans, there was a clear favorite: “Safaera.”
“The mission of ‘Safaera’ was to teach a new generation the reggaetón-perreo culture,” says Randy, a collaborator on the track.
“Safaera” is a bold return to the roots of reggaetón, stepping away from popified renditions of the marquesina-made genre, opting for a nine-section, sample-heavy perreo mix. Arriving weeks before the pandemic, “Safaera” became a little vacation, teleporting listeners in the midst of a worldwide lockdown. At the very end of the album’s creation, Bad Bunny called upon his longtime friend and collaborator, DJ Orma, and OG producer Tainy to produce “Safaera,” with early reggaetón favorites Ñengo Flow and Jowell y Randy also appearing as featured artists on the five-minute musical experience.
“We found out [Bad Bunny is a fan of ours] when we went to his birthday,” says Jowell. For the last two years, he and Randy have surprised El Conejo Malo at his birthday parties, performing the young star’s favorite Jowell y Randy tracks. “He tells us we have to sing ‘Guayeteo,’ and ‘Hola Bebe,’ those are his favorite songs. From there I realized that he knows all of reggaetón and its history.”
During his and Randy’s birthday party performance, Jowell says both Bad Bunny and Calle 13’s Residente were front row dancing perreo with their girlfriends all night long. “To see them having a great time with our music fills us with pride,” he says.
After their initial in-person encounters, the trio began collaborating, leading up to “Safaera” and Jowell & Randy’s latest album, Viva El Perreo, executive produced (remotely) by Bad Bunny himself. The collaborative album was born out of a drunken conversation at Bad Bunny’s birthday party, where the multi-hyphenate offered to work on the project himself, says Jowell. While neither Jowell nor Randy thought the album would materialize, a text arrived four days later from Bad Bunny, with three songs already prepared for the album: “Tóxicos,” “Bien Arrebatao” and “Perriando.”
Jowell admits to being “a little stubborn” when it came to another musician to be so involved in the shaping of the album.“But we have opened our minds a lot at this stage to take on lyrics from another producer, [direction] from composers and another type of rhythm,” he says. Among the songs that the pair felt most reluctant about were “Se Acabó La Cuarentena “and “Anaranjado” featuring J Balvin (and written by Bad Bunny, delivered via voice notes), due to their lean away from puro reggaetón.
“We didn’t want [those songs] on the album,” says Randy. “But they helped us modify the album a bit, and be able to get it on the radio, because normally no song was on the radio.”
And it paid off. Viva El Perreo peaked at No. 5 on the Top Latin Albums chart, and remained on the chart for 10 weeks. It generated 106 million on-demand song streams in the U.S., according to MRC Data. The album greatly surpassed their previous project, La Alcaldía del Perreo, which peaked at No. 23 and only lasted a week on the charts. Viva El Perreo out-performed all the duo’s albums, with the exception of El Momento. “Se Acabó la Cuarentena,” a VEP track featuring Dominican dembow singer Kiko El Crazy, has amassed nearly 14 million TikTok creations with an accompanying viral dance.
“We made [Viva El Perreo] not only thinking about our loyal fans from the mid-2000s when we started,” says Jowell. “It’s an album that we made also thinking about the new generation.”
“I feel like a new artist,” says Randy. “To be collaborating with these young artists makes us feel young.”
While Jowell & Randy expressed immense gratitude for Bad Bunny, the pair also acknowledged the indispensable contributions of reggaetón pioneers to the genre. “It’s as if they were our children; they wouldn’t have been born if they didn’t watch us break into the music,” says Randy. “This is the genealogical tree of reggaetón. For me, being a part of that is priceless.”
After “Safaera” came a number of cypher-like collabs among cemented icons and newcomers, including Karol G’s “LEYENDAS” featuring Nicky Jam, Wisin y Yandel, Ivy Queen, Zion and Alberto Stylee. Reggaetón-pop up-and-comer Rauw Alejandro has also accumulated his fair share of OG collabs, including “Química” with Zion & Lenox, “Una Noche” with Wisin, and “Que Le Dé” with Nicky Jam. While Alejandro’s sound has taken a sharp turn into a far poppier realm, the 28-year-old singer notes iconic reggaetón artists as his early influences.
“When the new generation and the old school get together, everything happens so naturally. I think that’s one of the reasons why reggaetón is worldwide right now,” says Alejandro. “They opened the door for us. I respect them all, I’m a big fan. They’re my idols.”
Alejandro points out Wisin y Yandel as his biggest reggaetón influences, naming the duo’s 2005 album P’al Mundo as one of his favorites of all time. “I have a great relationship with [Wisin y Yandel]. They’re like mentors,” says Alejandro. “They give me the best advice ever. They have so much energy, so much love for what they do and that gives me more motivation. I love Wisin like a big uncle.”
Like Alejandro, Cortez also has a mentorship dynamic with Wisin and Don Omar, who he’s worked with extensively on the songwriting front. “[The collaborations] are just teaching [young fans] that [the genre’s pioneers] were us like before we were even thinking about being artists,” says Cortez. “Just three days ago, I wrote to [Don Omar] and I told him thank you for the work you do for the culture and for the genre.”
Both Alejandro and Cortez noted the early struggles endured by reggaetón veterans and the ways in which they walked so emerging reggaetoneros could run. “It’s easier for us now,” says Cortez. “We could be pegado for a year and be flying private planes. To be flying private planes back then, they really had to be an icon. They really paved the way for us so it’s nothing but respect. Everything was working against them, they really did the hard work for us.”