J. Balvin may be an up-and-coming superstar, but el Colombiano's already living that reggaetonero life -- topping Billboard charts, going Platinum with his debut album, La Familia, and partying with mamis till "6 AM."
Yesterday, though, José Álvaro Osorio Balvín was all "Tranquil[o]" at the Biltmore Hotel in anticipation of his first international TV performance and awards ceremony at the BankUnited Center for Premios Juventud.
After almost two hours, el músico finally made his way to the lobby to chat with Crossfade about his hit single "6 AM" with fellow reggaetonero Farruko, his "dream come true" in touring with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias this fall, and LeBron James leaving the Miami Heat.
Crossfade: I guess I'll start off with the basics. How'd you first get involved with music?
J. Balvin: Basically, when I was 10 years old I started playing guitar. I was looking for a type of music I felt comfortable with, so I started with rock because that was the music they were playing at the time, and the guitar was the thing that I would listen to everywhere. So I started playing guitar and started playing covers, Metallica covers.
And now you're this huge reggaeton star.
[Laughs] Yeah, but I still love rock. And then I went to New York to live for a while, and then I fell in love with the hip-hop movement. That was the music that I was looking for. When you're growing up, you look for a type of music you can identify yourself with and finally, I fell in love with hip-hop. Then I started doing Spanish hip-hop and then I was like, you know, I need something like some type of music that can reach to other people who don't listen to rap. So I fell in love with reggaeton when it was an underground movement. Finally I started doing reggaeton and I do both. That's how it started, a long time ago. Now it's gonna be like 15 years.
So do you consider yourself more of a reggaeton artist or more of a Spanish rapper?
You can call me whatever you want as long as you like my music it doesn't matter! [Laughs] Because I do reggaeton too, you can call me a reggaetonero. I do hip-hop, so you can call me a rapero. I'd rather have people say you know, 'I like J. Balvin music.' That's what it's all about.
You said that when you were younger you played the guitar and Metallica covers, but then you moved to New York and got into hip-hop and rap. Who were your influences at that time?
Well, at that time it was 50 cent, he was really hot then, Eminem. Back in the day I used to listen to Kriss Kross, Nas, some old school and new school too, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and that's pretty much it.
Before you became J. Balvin you were in a group. How'd you end up as a soloist?
I had a hip-hop group, but it was like their hobby. They weren't living it as a lifestyle. They were just like, 'There's nothing to do, let's go to the studio,' and I wasn't like that. It was something that I really wanted to do. They started school and I went to college too, but was always focused on music and saw myself as an artist, not as something I did as a hobby. So they quit, basically, and I was alone. I was like, 'OK, if I don't have a group and I don't know how to sing, I'm gonna learn to sing,' and that's how I started as a soloist. They left me by myself. And that's when I decided I'm gonna do it right. I'm gonna start singing and now, here we are.
Now you're J. Balvin.
Started from the bottom now we're here, right? [Laughs]
What are some of the most important musical lessons you've learned?
Wow, be patient. That's basically one of the biggest ones. I think that's the number one rule, you know? Be patient and disciplined and keep dreaming all the time. As long as you're dreaming, you're gonna be working for that.
"6 AM," that song has blown up. It's held multiple number one positions on Billboard, and the video is pretty funny. What do you think has made it so successful?
You know, it's because people feel represented by something. I'm talking about everybody's experience. You know, maybe they haven't lived that yet, but they love the situation and if they have, well, they're always gonna be represented by the song. That's why I think it's so popular because I'm speaking to the whole world and they feel they really like it.
So tomorrow you're gonna be putting on the first national TV performance of "6 AM" and you're nominated for three categories including Favorite CD for La Familia. There's a lot going on, but what are you looking forward to the most?
Well, I'm looking forward to killing it on the stage. It's our momentum. It's just that moment and that's it. You either kill it or you stay home. So we definitely gotta kill it and represent and make history. That's what we wanna do because I'm a new artist here and everybody's waiting to see what were gonna do. It's also gonna be the first time I'm gonna be with Farruko on TV, so we both are putting our energy together to make a bomb.
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You'll be back in Miami in October with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias. You must be very excited to be opening for two legends. That's like a huge deal.
Yeah, that's gonna put me up on a whole new level. That's like my Ph. D. I'm gonna be like a sponge getting all the info they have. I'll be so quiet listening to everybody like, 'OK, he likes this, he does this,' because I wanna be at their level one day. So I think it's one of the most powerful experiences I'm gonna have and it will definitely put me on another level because people are watching me. I'm gonna be with them on the same stage, the same arena and people are gonna see me like, 'OK, he's doing good.'
Yeah, that's gotta be great move for your career.
Definitely. And it's gonna give me more credibility and publicity and there's gonna be a lot of people who are going to see it. They'll have to see me whether they like it or not, so I'm gonna do my best to make it happen and make them fall in love.
How'd you find out you were gonna open for them?
Well, you know it was in a dream, I was dreaming. [Laughs] No, I'm joking. I received a call. They called me, the people from the label that they had a surprise, but I wasn't expecting that. I thought it was something different. It's still a dream come true because it's a big opportunity and I can't miss that. I'm gonna make it happen.
So should we expect a J Balvin solo tour in the future?
Yes, definitely. I think next year. We're setting everything up to make it happen next year. I think it's gonna be successful. Watch out. [Laughs]
Music aside, you started a foundation to help kids with cancer. Can you tell me more about that?
It's all about helping these little kids through the process and medical situation they're going through. I don't know, life put me with a lot of kids that have cancer and that's the way I give back the love and all the blessings that I've been getting. We've been really busy working on the music but we're trying right now to start the whole foundation and make it bigger and build a big house in Colombia for the kids where you can take them and they can be with nature and the animals. It's called La Familia, just like my album and the tattoo I have with me [on my chest]. It means everything to me.
In your "Tranquila" video, you're wearing a Miami Heat hat. Are you a big fan?
Yes, but it's all about fashion. At the time, I just wanted to have the Heat cap. I do love Miami and I do love the Heat, no matter what happened.
Are you sad LeBron's going back to Cleveland?
No, I'm not sad because it's all about his happiness. You can't be selfish that way, if you wanna go back home and be happy. He already made it. So you can't judge him for that. If he wants to be happy, what are you gonna say?
So I'm gonna ask you a tough question: Are the women hotter in Colombia or Miami?
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Premios Juventud. With J. Balvin, Pitbull, Romeo Santos, and others. Thursday, July 17. BankUnited Center, 1245 Dauer Dr., Coral Gables. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $59 to $79 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Call 305-284-8686 or visit bankunitedcenter.com.
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