When Nicki Minaj raps, people listen. With nearly 85 million Instagram followers, the Billboard record for most Hot 100 charting singles ever by a female artist, and dozens of RIAA and BPI sales awards, nothing she does goes unnoticed or unrewarded. Despite not dropping an album of her own this year, Minaj nonetheless reaffirmed her dominance in the rap game as she blessed the likes of ASAP Ferg, Lil Uzi Vert, and Yo Gotti with coveted custom verses on their tracks.
One such feature stands out from the rest, not so much for its particularly high quality or lyrical cleverness, but rather because of its bridging of two contemporaneous waves of trap music, one in English and the other in Spanish. Following the high school Spanglish of her intro, Minaj imbues the official bilingual remix of Puerto Rican artist Farruko’s hit single “Krippy Kush” with the sort of reliably risque, relentlessly boastful bars her fans have come to expect from her. This pair of seasoned representatives of their respective urban music traditions are also joined by two of 2017’s biggest trap stars, 21 Savage and Bad Bunny.
Up until this point, Bad Bunny may have seemed unfamiliar to you, a vague recent recollection of it maybe bouncing around in your brain like a movie or TV show you saw referenced in a tweet. Even if you dutifully keep up with the comings and goings of contemporary hip-hop, there’s a good chance you’ve missed out on Latin trap or trap en espanol, the current prevailing Spanish language strain of rap music popular not only in Latin America but, quite notably, in the United States as well.
With many of its best known artists hailing from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, Latin trap is a homegrown phenomenon and, maddeningly, the year’s most underrated and overlooked rap story. Here you’ll find the same sort of damaged romantics, nihilistic hedonists, and criminal minds known to trapaholics. One need not speak the language to understand its appeal, with beats that would sound entirely at home on a Gucci Mane or French Montana track. Even the R&B overlap is represented, with cuts like Jhay Cortez and Darell‘s “Se Supone” skillfully balancing that accessible part of the trap pop equation.
If Latin trap has a Future or Quavo however, keeping in mind such comparisons are reductive and cheap, it’s Bad Bunny. A formidable force on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs, the multi-metric chart meant to measure and rank the stateside performance of Spanish language music, the artist born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio logged as many as seven simultaneous singles either a lead or featured artist in recent weeks. His voice dominates streaming platform playlists dedicated to the genre like Apple Music’s Trap Kingz and Spotify’s Trap Land, from the anthemic yet moody “Soy Peor” to the breezy Thugger-esque pop of “Sensualidad.” Counting “Krippy Kush” and his co-credit on the Becky G crossover “Mayores,” Ocasio has had two tracks simultaneously charting on the Billboard Hot 100. And like a certain Migo, he’s accomplished this takeover without dropping an album of his own yet.
The music created by Bad Bunny and other Latin trap artists is doing big numbers, too.
According to Nielsen Music, consumption of the wider swathe of Latin music is up by 66% over last year. Obviously, the Luis Fonsi x Justin Bieber smash “Despacito” played some role in that, but it hardly accounts for it all. Looking at the RIAA’s Latin awards category in 2017, sales and sales equivalents have begun to bring scores of certifications for Latin trap songs, including tracks like Noriel’s “Amigos Y Enemigos” and Brytiago’s “Netflixxx,” the latter featuring a Bad Bunny verse.
As with other urban genres, streaming factors significantly into Latin trap’s success. With some 12.5 million plays globally, “Sensualidad” came in at No. 21 on Spotify’s most streamed songs last week. Ozuna’s “Se Preparó” garnered close to 10 million streams there (No. 42), with Bad Bunny’s latest solo single “Chambea” gathering stream with over 4.6 million plays. The platform’s aforementioned Trap Land playlist boasts over 612,000 followers, a rapidly rising figure. All of which makes it strange that Latin trap hasn’t largely been reported on.
Though it may look like it from the outside, this is not a new Latin explosion, some gimmick to be latched onto and discarded in short order. As of the 2015 Census, Hispanics comprise an estimated 54 million people in the United States, representing 17 percent of the country’s population. That alone presents evidence of powerful potential for the growth of Spanish language music into the mainstream, especially considering the tastes of bilingual Latinx millennials.
This year has seen a relentless rollout of Latin trap collaborations: Fat Joe amid the crowd on Farruko’s “Liberace” remix in January, Cardi B’s bilingual “Bodak Yellow” redo with Messiah in August, Quavo with Bad Bunny and Colombian pop singer Karol G on “Ahora Me Llama” in October, French Montana with Maluma on “GPS” in November. Even before Minaj and Savage showed up on Bad Bunny’s “Krippy Kush” remix last month, the original track (released in August) had already made huge moves scarcely noticed by the music press. To date, it has amassed some 86 million plays on Spotify—a figure the remix will take some time to catch up with. The official music video racked up a staggering 538 million YouTube views in four months, with the remix’s lyric video doing 28 million plays of its own in just three weeks. Once the anticipated proper clip for the remix drops there, it could go supernova. So how come nobody is talking about it? Decades after kitsch hits like “Rico Suave” and “The Ketchup Song (Aserejé)”, it seems Spanish language music still faces bias and prejudices from English-speaking audiences, even in a year where “Despacito” proved omnipresent to the point of near normalization.
Failing to consider Latin trap artists outside the confines of Latin-specified charts, or lazily dubbing Post Malone tapping Nicky Jam and Ozuna for a “Rockstar” remix as “a reverse ‘Despacito,’” grossly undermines the diverse reality of multi-ethnic artistry in rap music today. What truly sets “Krippy Kush”—and any number of current Latin trap singles—apart from “Despacito” is just how much this music sounds like the English language hip-hop currently dominating the charts and the clubs. The guttural verses of Bryant Myers remind me of 21 Savage’s menacingly low tone, while the chameleonic reggaeton vet Daddy Yankee croon-raps over “Vuelve” like Ty Dolla Sign would. Released a few weeks ago, “Tacos Altos” brings together Arcangel, Farruko, Noriel, and Myers for a trippy blend of glitchy snares and fluid flows with an R&B-leaning chorus.
As befitting the subject matter, Latin trap even has its own incarcerated stars, with fan favorite Anuel AA assured to challenge the crowded field of talents once his prison sentence over federal gun charges ends. Not unlike Gucci Mane, his verses continue to flow into new tracks while away, particularly remixes like his star-studded “Sola” and Bad Bunny’s “Tu No Metes Cabra” redo.
The abundance and quality of Latin trap singles coming out is staggering, with seemingly endless combinations and permutations of its artists dropping on a weekly basis. Given the calibre of artists on all sides of hip-hop presently, it seems entirely within the realm of possibility that one of 2018’s biggest hits could be headlined or co-headlined by a Latin trap star.
You can find Gary on Twitter.