Second-generation Colombian and second-generation reggatoñero, J Balvin has continually sought creative and commercial expansion in his music. The explosive impact of 2015's chart-topping global crossover "Ginza" was a lead-in to the following year's full-length Energia, whose dazzling array of styles topped the Latin charts and remained there for 99 weeks, helping set the stage for the Luis Fonsi-Daddy Yankee game changer "Despacito." Balvin's and Willy William's "Mi Gente" ended the reign of that single after a 35-week run, topping charts in two successively released versions -- the one here and the Beyonce remix. The video has amassed nearly two billion views. In addition, Balvin and Bad Bunny were collaborators on Cardi B's wacky boogaloo single "I Like It." Just prior to Vibras' release, Balvin and Nicky Jam collaborated on the number one "X/Equs." Finally, Balvin's and Michael Brun's "Positivo" was selected by Telemundo as the network's official theme for the FIFA World Cup. In other words, he has been riding a wave that shows no signs of cresting.
Vibras is Balvin's worthy attempt to reach Anglo audiences on his terms, not with the canny fusions of urban styles, EDM, and pop he delivered on Energia, but through unabashed reggaeton without concessions to the English language. Working once more with producer Sky Rompiendo el Bajo (Alejandro Ramírez), the set moves reggaeton in new directions with its arresting and often intoxicating multi-hued sonic rainbow. The brief opening title track features Carla Morrison's hovering lead vocal atop nature sounds, dubwise snares, a hand clap loop, and an orchestral organ before giving way to the spiny club strutter that is "Mi Gente," with its skittering percussion and impassioned vocals. Single "Ambiente" offers Balvin's subtle late-night loverman croon assisted by sampled marimbas, pianos, dub bass, and a sound system trap kit. Speaking of sultry, L.A.-based Spanish flamenco, singer Rosalía inhabits the lyric on "Brillo," with Balvin atop an inverted dub mix. It gives way to a spacy interlude of drifting synths and atmospherics before Balvin's rap singing signifies the pillowy electronic bolero soul on "En Mi." There's hard reggaeton here too: The celebratory "No Es Justo," with Zion & Lennox, adds ballast and weight to Balvin's tenor, while Wisin & Yandel bring the boast and tribute with harder beats and sharper edges in "Peligrosa" amid chunky trap, trippy reggae, and dancehall meeting the squall and swirl of Sky's production. Balvin saves the best for last with the inclusion of the smash single "Machika," featuring Brazilian singer Anitta and Aruban newcomer Jeon in a scorching urban reggaeton jam. Sirens, telegraph key synths, trap, and dembow beats frame the trio in full-flexing, party MC mode. Balvin leads the battle on this exercise in bouncing club swagger. His ambition on Vibras is grand: He's banking on 21st century reggaeton crossing the language barrier in pop to the tune of global domination. Whether he succeeds doesn't matter; Vibras is more consistent and varied than Energia. Its songwriting, performances, and production are truly inspired, making for an utterly compelling listen and one of the essential soundtracks of summer.