It’s deceptively simple to think of J Balvin as a geographically singular figure in reggaeton, the lone boy from Medellín atop a sea of YouTube streams and New York Fashion Week appearances, calling out to his ever-growing pool of “Mi Gente” all the way to the bank. But songs subject to as much fine-tuning as those of the ubiquitous Balvin machine require a full house of talent; songwriters, producers, stylists, and all the myriad music industry roles. This is a positive for fans of Balvin’s lighthearted anthems. It means there exists a cache of his sound’s creators and that maybe, someday, one of them could be the next radio-ready reggaeton superstar.
Salomón Villada Hoyos, also known as Feid, is banking on it, and can tell you where to find one such clubhouse of influencers; Icon Music, a sprawling studio in the forests of Antioquia that regulars call “la finca.” Icon is home to Feid, emerging Colombian producers like Wain, Jowan, Rolo, and Pardo, as well as Infinity Music alum Mosty, the producer and engineer who is part of the crew responsible for Balvin’s biggest hits. These days, it’s ground zero for what Feid calls “the Medellín drip,” the appealing, romantic sound much beloved by global audiences.
Feid’s role in the Medellín movement has varied. For years he showed his worth as a songwriter. After selling songs to Reykon (Feid’s first songwriting credit for another artist was 2014’s “Secretos”) and Colombian star Sebastián Yatra, Mosty invited him to jump in the studio with Balvin. “I said, ‘here we go,’” remembers Feid, clapping decisively. “I’m packing my bags, ciao.” When the team leaked a preview of the delicate, yet perreo-inspiring banger that session produced, fans mistakenly assumed that the hashtagged Instagram filter on the post was the song’s title. The crew decided to run with it. Soon enough, “Ginza” was devouring streaming stats and had introduced “si necesita reggaeton, dale,” as the motto of a new generation of the genre’s commercially minded superstars. Feid the songwriter was so in demand that it was tough to set aside enough time to work on his own tracks.
But last year, Feid got Balvin to jump on one of his own projects. The lyrics of “Que Raro” upbraid an ex-lover trying to get back in with the protagonists now that they’re on fame’s radar. At the end of the song’s video, Feid walks out into a massive stadium show. Balvin welcomes him on stage. They are both dressed in white, both handsome, both happy. “Buenas noches, Feid,” says The Business. The co-sign pummels you over the head — this time, the Medellín crew is ready to support Feid’s star turn.
In Colombia, Feid is already a known quantity, a 25-year-old multi-instrumentalist with two solo albums under his belt. His 2017 LP Así Como Suena (the title being one of his mottos, a lesson on pronouncing his artist name and simultaneous reflection on being real) is a 17-track project on which he worked with 15 producers. The album includes features from local reggaeton heartthrob Reykon and Puerto Rican reggaetonero Jory Boy plus “911,” Feid’s EDM-tinged collab with Colombian singer Nacho and his biggest hit so far. Despite the variety of beatmakers, many of the songs follow an auditory profile familiar to fans of Medellín’s universally appealing takes on reggaeton that have managed to steal some shine in the Latin music industry away from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Colombian producers have created a sound that has proven irresistible to a world looking for relief from complicated political realities.
But building on his national fame is not Feid’s goal in 2018. It would be wrong not to mention that Así Como Suena opens with “Sorpresas,” a song whose lyrics locate the singer in Miami, reading press clips from Puerto Rico. The singer’s international intentions are on full display. “This year I really only have one objective and it is the American public,” he says. “Not necessarily just Latinos, but the American public.”
Accordingly, when Feid came by Remezcla’s Brooklyn offices in early February, he was in the middle of a cultural scouting trip. The singer, who has studied music through University of Antioquia extension classes, possesses a methodical desire to understand the way the rest of the world listens. “I want to break through this year,” he says. “That’s why I’m coming so much and getting so much into the center of the cities that I visit because I want to understand how they consume music. In New York, in Medellín, you have to understand the sites of culture to give them music.”
These trips are far from Feid’s first study sessions of United States sounds. “I’m always listening to different genres,” he says. “But what I listen to most is trap because it seems really particular to me. Everything behind it, all the culture, the music, the clothes, the slang, the crews, it’s really unique.”
For now, the game is reggaeton. But Feid has plans to make a trap album, maybe even becoming one of the artists who is creating Spanish-language songs with gringo trap producers, a door he’s already opened by linking with Richie Souf, an iLoveMakonnen and Future collaborator from Atlanta. And his image is undergoing a subtle evolution that may better position him for a trap career. Compare the squeaky clean clip for Así Como Suena’s “Morena” with Feid’s latest video for “Ahora,” in which the classically handsome Feid performs a rather extreme Mr. Steal Your Girl maneuver where his lover leaves her partner solo at their restaurant table for the time it takes to tryst with Feid parked in the convertible out back. “Tu eres buena pero conmigo eres mala,” he sings, absolving listeners for the sin of finding him irresistible.
He seems well prepped for the kind of global career he’s envisioning. Not only does he have one of the hottest teams in the world working on the farm to power his springboard. “Icon is a collective and a different way of making music,” he says. But he also has the clarity necessary to launch an attack on global charts. “I want something that the whole world is going to listen to,” Feid says. “However you want to see it, I’m ready.”
Feid’s Así Como Suena is out now.