Bad Bunny’s ‘X100PRE’ Is A Love Letter To Nineties Kids from Puerto Rico

When Bad Bunny dropped his first-ever album X100PRE, it spread through the internet like good gossip. It was Christmas Eve in 2018, the same year that Bad Bunny had exploded as a global megastar — appearing on The Tonight Show and singing during Alesso’s set at Tomorrowland — despite being an independent artist with no full-length project under his belt. What he did have was nearly hundreds of successful trap hits and a following he had named “La Nueva Religión,” which would go on to make him the most listened to artist in the world a few years later. But that fateful night, he co-opted Jesus’ birthday to cement his own legacy.

Five years later, X100PRE is still remembered as the album that introduced the world to Bad Bunny. From the ukulele sounds of the album’s opener “Ni Bien Ni Mal” to the hybrid bachata-dembow in “La Romana” and the sad boy anthem “RLNDT,” it was clear that, after years of viral hits, Bad Bunny yearned for something deeper. And X100PRE, a 15-track album primarily produced by reggaeton wunderkind Tainy, was Bad Bunny’s way to present himself for exactly who he was: a Nineties-born kid from Puerto Rico

According to Bad Bunny, the album was the product of a dark period in his life. Having found the fame he so longed for, he retreated in 2018 to his hometown of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, and shuttered his social media accounts. He was trying to “understand why I wasn’t happy with all this success,” he said in an interview with Puerto Rican podcaster Chente Ydrach. Through nostalgia-colored sunglasses, he decided to tell the story of his life growing up in Puerto Rico, where he went from elementary school heartthrob to communications student and Econo bagger before he was propelled to fame with his single “Diles.” The first sign of Bad Bunny’s resurgence came with “Estamos Bien,” a gospel-inspired trap track that gets both spiritual and political, denouncing the lack of power months after Hurricane Maria and thanking god for his monetary success. In the video, Bad Bunny and his crew descend upon a beach in Puerto Rico, where the homeland crowd embraces the artist as a hero that’s returned home. Months later, around Christmas time, Bad Bunny finally announced his debut album.

X100PRE may have received worldwide acclaim, propelling Bad Bunny to the top of Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart, but the work had a smaller audience: other ‘90s Puerto Ricans kids like Benito Antonio. “The album is a reflection of my childhood, everything I liked,” Bad Bunny said in an interview following the album’s release. It’s because of its intimate portrayal of Puerto Rican boyhood that so many of his homeland fans hold the album like a scrapbook of their childhoods. There’s no experience like listening to the biggest artist in the world narrate memories from your youth in paris de marquesina, playing tazos in “Como Antes,” or reading the title of song about losing oneself named after a child that also went missing when you were little (“RLNDT”). (It was also Puerto Ricans who could first decipher how to pronounce the album’s title, a riff on “Forever,” because they remembered scribbling it onto their notebooks non-stop while bored at school or to profess their love to a girl they liked on the bleachers.)

And to understand this feeling you need to know one thing: The Puerto Rico Bad Bunny grew up in was world’s apart from the one we know today. We were, as journalist Ana Teresa Toro described in the New York Times, “a happy colony.” There was a governor who danced the macarena and we enjoyed the deceiving prosperity of Section 936, a tax exemption for manufacturing companies that wore off by the time Bad Bunny was 11. Dayanara Torres won our third Miss Universe crown and Felix “Tito” Trinidad became the national hero of sports as he climbed to the top of men’s boxing. San Juan-born Ricky Martin made the whole world dance to the beat of his “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Coming out of barrios and caseríos, a new genre called “reggaeton” started gaining so much popularity that it’d soon become the island-wide soundtrack, leading to poorly lit garage parties and the emergence of national superstars like Daddy Yankee, Wisin & Yandel, and Tego Calderón. There wasn’t any talk of bankruptcies or debt, of Wall Street vulture funds or PROMESA. By all accounts, we were okay, hanging on the promise that, tied to the United States, our future would be prosperous — a fantasy that burst around the time Benito Antonio became Bad Bunny.

That’s exactly the Puerto Rico painted in Bad Bunny’s X100PRE. “Ser Bichote,” for example, is a tale of a young boy dreaming of money and fame, one he thinks he can only get by becoming a “bichote” — or drug lord. Using a sound from Daddy Yankee’s movie Talento de Barrio and a salsa sample, an older Bad Bunny then ponders why young Puerto Ricans dream of becoming “bichotes:” “They close schools while drug spots emerge,” he sings, simultaneously attacking former Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s policy of school closures around that time. Later, in “Como Antes,” Bad Bunny sings a love letter to an old flame, while he remembers that just like his love, his childhood is also gone. “Nothing is like before,” he sings, as he recalls the perreo parties, the Blockbuster movie nights, the afternoons filled with The Simpsons on Univision at 4 pm and La Comay on WAPA at 6 pm, and the boxing night parties to watch “Tito” Trinidad or Miguel Cotto. “But nothing changes, it’s still today,” he sings. 

It’s the raunchy “Cuando Perreabas” that evoke more poignant memories of the perreo-filled childhood ‘90s kids lived in Puerto Rico. While Gen Xers may have been in their late teens and early 20s, ‘90s kids enjoyed reggaetón’s heyday as much younger teenagers and children. 

When Bad Bunny dropped X100PRE, Nina Vázquez, a reggaetón historian and educator, remembers she was sitting on the floor wrapping up presents. As she was listening to the album, she remembers feeling “transported to being a kid again in Puerto Rico.” It was “Cuando Perriabas” that made her think of reggaetón’s heyday, one she constantly references in her work today, in large part thanks to her lived experience as a 1997-born Boricua. “Whenever I hear that song it brings me back to those Saturday nights I was at my grandparents’ house and my aunts were getting ready blasting reggaetón and doing their makeup,” Vázquez says. She also says the song brings up memories of herself dancing innocently in some corner at a party de marquesina or at home: “I think about the visualizer he made for that song,” Vázquez says, referring to the song’s visual that features young kids grinding on a wall. “I think about all those times, when I used to mimic my aunts in the mirror.” The album, Vázquez says, was the first time she felt a Puerto Rican reggaetón artist was able to encapsulate her own childhood: “It was like he took my youth and he was like, ‘Here it is,’” she says. 


It was around that time when Bad Bunny released X100PRE that Sofía Viera, a lifestyle and music journalist, had just moved from Puerto Rico to New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.Viera and their family were living in a Motel 6, while they were attending Rutgers University. They remember listening to the album in a public bus: “It felt like home,” Viera says. “It made me regret having longed to leave Puerto Rico for so long.” Today, in part because of the awareness of Puerto Rican issues brought by Bad Bunny’s success, Viera reports on queer and cultural issues on the island. 

Four albums later, it’s still hard to listen to Bad Bunny’s X100PRE without feeling emotional. The album is an amalgamation of memories, references, and stories that transport Puerto Rico’s millennials to their childhoods, feeling an unmatched akin to its author, the young choir kid who is now a mover in the world stage. “Other artists speak of a life I’ve never had and will probably never see,” says Vázquez. “But X100PRE speaks of a life I had and every time I listen to that album I feel super proud to be Puerto Rican, to have lived there.”