Ozuna Sets His Sights on the Reggaeton Romántico Throne on His Debut Album ‘Odisea’

Lead Photo: Ozuna accepts an award on stage at Univision's 'Premios Juventud' 2017. Photo by Rodrigo Varela / Stringer / Getty Images North America
Ozuna accepts an award on stage at Univision's 'Premios Juventud' 2017. Photo by Rodrigo Varela / Stringer / Getty Images North America
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For anyone who doesn’t know much about Ozuna, the dramatic opener on his debut album Odisea works as a primer. The singer drops his entire bio, alternating between his laid-back flow and helium-high vocals to talk about his background growing up poor in Puerto Rico and how the reggaeton stars of the 2000s inspired him to become an artist. But, despite the success that has been brewing around the 25-year-old since he popped onto the scene in 2014, the future is unclear even to him. He’s surprisingly vulnerable as he sings, “¿Que será de mi?”

Odisea, out today, provides at least a few answers — the first of which seems to be that if anything, Ozuna will be responsible for re-injecting heaping doses of ooey-gooey romance into reggaeton. The genre’s sentimental side is well-documented, with one of the most memorable examples being Baby Rasta and Gringo’s 2000 mixtape Romances del Ruido, which captured reggaeton artists at their most lovey-dovey. Arcángel, De La Ghetto, and Don Omar have also offered sap over the years, releasing hits that are more concerned with handholding than perreo; reggaetoneros need love, too.

But with Ozuna, romance can get R-rated, as his breakthrough trap song “Si Tu Quieres” demonstrated in 2014. When he was coming up, Ozuna often floated in Puerto Rico’s trap-reggaeton circles, collaborating with newcomers like Bryant Myers and the always-controversial Anuel AA. In 2016, Don Omar called out emerging traperos for their explicit content, saying some of the genre’s overtly sexual themes were undoing progress that reggaeton pioneers had been trying to change throughout their careers.

Ozuna tones things down a bit on Odisea. He hasn’t scrubbed the music completely clean of sex and steam, but he does put love and longing at the center of most songs, like a swaggy emo kid. When he needs help romancing listeners, he pulls in other stars: Nicky Jam is on “Cumpleaños,” a song that follows the vein of Jeremih’s “Birthday Sex;” J Balvin joins in on the silky “Quiero Repetir.” De La Ghetto and Zion Y Lennox also make appearances, and even Anuel AA gets a little sweeter than usual for the lurching, lo-fi “Bebé.” The collabs are a testament to how other artists have embraced and co-signed Ozuna’s young career.

Ozuna also doesn’t shy away from heartbreak. “Una Flor” and “Tu Foto” see him doubling down on emotion, even if the lyrics start to feel a bit like fodder for a lovestruck high schooler: “Tengo tu foto, con el corazón roto/Siento que me estoy volviendo loco/Y si ya no te veo, me miro al espejo y no lo creo” is one of the less-inspired verses on the album.

Yet somehow, for Ozuna, wearing his heart on his sleeve works. He doesn’t shy away from emotion or difficulties in his music or in interviews, often addressing controversies head-on — and there have been a few already in his short time in music. Odisea dropped two weeks later than its original release date on August 11 amid a string of scandals: First, Ozuna made headlines for hitting a security guard at one of his shows in New York; then, he got mixed up in the fatal shooting of a drug dealer in San Juan. Ozuna says he’d just been visiting a few old friends near the scene of the crime, but police still searched his car and confiscated $6,000 and marijuana.

He hints at some of the challenges he’s faced in dexterous, spitfire verses, which show his strength as an emcee. That he can seesaw between rapping and singing so quickly might be Ozuna’s best quality. Odisea situates Ozuna at the nexus of reggaeton, trap, pop, and potentially much more. His versatility comes surging through, whether he’s leveraging his soaring vocals for a twinkling track like the addictive “Noches de Aventura,” or blurting out hectic verses on more trap-laced songs like “El Farsante,” where he does some of his rhyming work. It helps that he leveraged a variety of producers, including Yampi, Omega and Bless the Producer, to create an eclectic album.

Part of the diversity of Ozuna’s sound may also lie in the fact that he straddles two cultures, being part Puerto Rican and part Dominican. As a Puerto Rican, he’s a reminder that Medellín isn’t the only place where pop-reggaeton can excel — there’s still a place for a softer side of the genre on the island, even amid its booming trap moment. And while the majority of Odisea seems influenced by Ozuna’s surroundings and contemporaries in Puerto Rico, elements of the album are reminiscent of Dominican genres. Some of the lyrics throughout the album wouldn’t seem out of place on a bachata song, and Ozuna’s singing wouldn’t be hard to imagine on one, either — in fact, he recently collaborated with Romeo Santos for the gem “Sobredosis” on Santos’ recent Golden album. In interviews, Ozuna had said the former Aventura frontman was the one artist he had always dreamed of working with, and on their joint song, he offered a few baby-voiced notes that rivaled Santos’ own famously high delivery.

While there’s no bachata on Odisea, the range Ozuna shows off on this effort suggests there’s plenty more to come from him. Odisea is less a record about the journey Ozuna has been on and more of a testament that there’s a lot left for him to do.