There’s a classic Chapelle’s Show sketch in which Dave Chappelle and John Mayer enter a barbershop to “study” the effects of certain music and rhythms on black and Latino people. Electric guitar solos do nothing for anyone in the room, a steady drumbeat from Questlove automatically elicits rap freestyles, and electric piano gets all the Latino folks dancing.
It was a similar scene Saturday night as thousands of fans gathered at the American Airlines Arena for the Nicky Jam and Plan B concert. People were dancing in the aisles from the moment they entered the arena, double cups in hand, as commercials for upcoming concerts by Maluma, Bad Bunny, and Silvestre Dangond played on a loop before the performances began.
First in a lineup of reggaeton royalty was Plan B, the sex-obsessed duo that has pioneered the hip-hop-based Latin-hybrid sound since a debut release in 1999. They mostly played songs from 2014's Love and Sex, but there was little of the former and plenty of the latter. They opened with “Candy,” followed by “Fanática Sensual,” both describing Plan B’s fantasy women, perpetually sexually available nymphomaniacs sitting by the door waiting for their men to arrive home for one purpose. Flanked by scantily clad, twerking, undulating dancers, the 45-minute, career-spanning set was a massive hit with fans. But it was difficult to imagine the show going on any longer on one single note.
Next up was DJ-turned-hitmaker Alex Sensation, whose “Que Va” featuring Ozuna continues to climb the Latin music charts while his newest collaboration with Bad Bunny “Fantasia” has garnered nearly eight million views on YouTube in only three days. Sensation played a mix of today’s biggest reggaeton hits and threw in some “Bodak Yellow” and Beyoncé’s remix of “Mi Gente” for good measure. Before ceding the stage to Nicky Jam, he shouted to rapturous applause: “Everyone here who is proud to speak Spanish!”
Headliner Nicky Jam’s set began with clips of him winning awards over the past couple of years — an apt intro to a tour he’s chosen to call El Ganador. The montage quickly alluded to Jam’s struggles as a troubled youth growing up in Puerto Rico. The videos might have been preview clips of a 13-episode scripted bio-series based on his life and starring the singer that is set to premiere on Netflix and Telemundo this summer.
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In a genre that is often stereotyped as purely sexual fare devoid of substance, acts like Nicky Jam stand out. He’s a versatile singer and skilled rapper, and though he’s a staple of any family barbecue party playlist, he’s always been more comfortable than his peers at tapping into life’s darker moments, like heartbreak and unrequited love.
He opened with “Hasta el Amanecer” and warmed up by running through a marathon of hits including “Si Tu No Estás” and “El Amante,” whose keyboard intro he played center stage before launching into a string of songs with other artists. Though he brought out Plan B early on in his set for their collaboration “Por el Momento,” he oddly performed his remix of their song “Fanatica Sensual” without the duo despite Plan B’s earlier performance of the original version of the song. Likewise, Shakira was sorely missed during his performance of their runaway hit, “Perro Fiel.” Jam ambled around the stage semi-awkwardly while a backing track played her vocal parts.
Shortly before Jam's set ended just past the hour mark, Sony representatives awarded him a pair of plaques certifying diamond status (more than 10 million copies sold) for two of his latest singles. At a time when platinum plaques (1 million copies) are more difficult to come by, reggaeton is beating the odds, and artists such as Nicky Jam, who view themselves as representatives of the Latino culture that created the genre, are finding plenty of reasons to celebrate as their fans dance in the aisles.