With 18 Billboard Latin Music Awards, three iHeart Music Awards, a Latin Grammy, a Billboard Music Award, and billions of views on YouTube, it’s safe to say Nicky Jam is one of Latin music’s most prolific names of today. These past six years especially have seen him enjoy a mad rush of success and perform on some of the biggest stages around the world. However, getting to this point has been quite the rollercoaster journey.
Nicky Jam, 40, has been recording music for more than half his life. Born in Lawrence, MA, he quickly developed a love for hip-hop acts from the East Coast. Nicky Jam was 10 years old when he faced a culture shock after his family moved to the Río Hondo suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico, as he had no knowledge of speaking Spanish. He learned the language by listening to Caribbean hip-hop and reggaeton music. Nicky Jam’s break came at the tender age of 11. He was working at the Pueblo Xtra discount grocery store and rapping about the items he was bagging. Unexpectedly, he caught the attention of a customer who gave him the opportunity to record and release music through an indie label. Eager to be a star, Nicky Jam signed the contract immediately and didn’t realize he was given no advance money for his recordings. In 1995, his music career began at the age of 14 with the release of his EP …Distinto a los demás.
“Well, it happens in most industries, not just in the music industry,” he tells EUPHORIA. of the shady business deal. “When you’re young and naive, people will try to take advantage of you regardless. It’s something that we need to work against as a society. Greed can blind people and turn them into monsters capable of running over a young man or woman just because they don’t have enough experience or knowledge. Sucks that some people have to learn the hard way like that.”
Nicky Jam grew up around drugs as both his parents were addicts. He first took cocaine at 15 years old and developed an on-and-off addiction from a young age. While on the rise, Nicky Jam released his first two solo albums, Haciendo escante and Vida escante, in the early 2000s. He also formed a musical duo with his idol Daddy Yankee, called Los Cangris, around that time. Even though his future appeared bright from the outside, behind the scenes, he struggled both personally and professionally. It was so bad that he later criticized himself by describing himself as an “embarrassment of the Latin Caribbean music industry.” After he started to make a name for himself, his career soon started to decline. His battle of taking drugs and drinking alcohol led Nicky Jam to spiral out of control and be depressed. In the span of six years, he was also jailed twice. However, Nicky Jam found the strength to take control of the situation by getting his health and career back on track.
A big turning point for Nicky Jam was when he was asked to perform a concert in Medellín, Colombia, in the late 2000s. Nicky Jam might have felt like a washed-up has-been by his mid-20s in Puerto Rico, but he was made to feel like a king during this visit. It was here that Nicky Jam realized his self-worth and decided to stay in Medellín to try to get clean. And that he did. When questioned whether he ever thinks about how different life would be if he never made that choice to relocate, Nicky Jam says “Sometimes I do,” adding, “I’m also a big believer that fate catches up to you eventually. I do think that even if I hadn’t moved there when I did, I would’ve eventually ended up there one way or another.”
After being quiet on the music scene for many years, he released the singles “Voy a Beber” and “Travesuras” in 2014, which helped him sign a major record deal with Sony Music Latin. The latter was Nicky Jam’s first song to reach the top 10 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. That same year, Nicky Jam’s collaboration with fellow Latin musician Enrique Iglesias, “El Perdón,” saw him take home a Latin Grammy for Best Urban Performance. His popularity soon rapidly increased and it appeared everyone wanted a slice of the pie.
Second chances don’t come around often, but for Nicky Jam, he was blessed to be able to re-live his dreams on a level he had never experienced before. Originally only popular in the Latin markets, he is now considered a global name with plaques from all over Europe and the US. Looking back, Nicky Jam is grateful his career took off later as he was able to establish his sound and find himself on a personal level. “My past gave me insight that I didn’t know I needed,” he shares. “I lived through so much, learned even more, and everything I do now I do with a purpose. I’ve taken a little bit of everyone I’ve met through the years, and I’ve crafted my own sound based on that. I’m also not afraid to look for second opinions. I’ve learned that humility is a massive quality in this industry. Before I used to think I didn’t need anyone and whatever I created was perfect. Now I listen to constructive criticism, ask people for their opinions, try to put myself in others’ shoes, and I think that has been key in the success that I’ve thankfully been privileged to have.”
His comeback album in 2017, Fénix, not only was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award for Album of the Year but also saw him reunite with Daddy Yankee after many years of feuding. In 2018, he performed the official song for the 2018 FIFA World Cup with Will Smith and released one of his most successful songs to date, “X.” The uplifting dancehall track that features Colombian singer J Balvin has managed to go 35x platinum on the US Latin charts and has racked up more than 780 million streams on Spotify and 2 billion views on YouTube.
“[X] is one of the catchiest beats and you just feel like you wanna move as soon as you hear it,” Nicky Jam insists. “It just makes you happy, you know? It comes on, you start vibing, and before you know it … you have it on repeat. I think the little dance helped push the song to a new level too. This was before TikTok really blew up, so everyone was sharing it on Instagram or Insta Stories, and that’s all you heard if you were scrolling through. So, of course, you get curious, you wanna hear what people are talking about, what they’re listening to.”
In the meantime, Nicky Jam hasn’t limited himself to just doing music, as he’s ventured into acting. In 2017, he made his big-screen debut and starred alongside Vin Diesel in the box office smash XXX: Return of Xander Cage. The following year, Nicky Jam released a biographical television series, El Ganador, based on his life story. Last year, he returned to the big screen when playing the role of Lorenzo “Zway-Lo” Rodríguez in Bad Boys For Life. This year, he played the voice of Butch in the Tom & Jerry movie. “I’ve had a blast acting and it’s something I’d consider doing again,” he reveals. “I think I’d love to do something comedic next. It takes more training and practice, but I’m ready to put in the work.”
Nicky Jam is still riding the wave on the music scene with his new album, Infinity. The LP sounds like a celebration of his career as it showcases all the sounds he’s embodied throughout his journey as a musician. Going back to his roots, Nicky Jam kicks the record off with the old-school reggaetón flavor that fans fell in love with him for. As the album continues, he delivers raw rap verses and romantic and melodic slow-tempo songs that show off his vocals.
“Infinity is an album that has been almost two years in the making,” he says. “We started before the pandemic hit, kinda getting together some of the collaborations and recording some of the songs. Then towards the end of last year, we started dropping some of the music videos without really saying they were part of the album. We began with ‘Polvo’ with Myke Towers, then ‘Fan de tus Fotos’ with Romeo Santos. People really started embracing those songs, so we got to work to put the final touches to the album and release it.”
He continues: “This is an album in which everyone will get to see every single aspect of Nicky Jam. There’s hardcore reggaetón like the one I used to sing back in the day, but there’s also that modern urban sound that has become so popular today, and then there’s a ballad where I actually sing. Never in my life did I think I was going to fully sing in a song versus rapping. It’s an album that shows the versatility of the Latin urban movement and appeals to the generation that grew up when reggaetón was still an underground movement, and the one that grew up after reggaetón became a worldwide phenomenon.”
Nicky Jam openly admits he loves all the songs on the album, which is the way it should be. But, there is one that stands out to him. “I gotta say ‘Melancolía’ holds a very special place in my heart because I went against everything I’m known for and stripped my soul into a ballad that nobody was expecting and I let myself be more vulnerable than usual,” he expresses. “I’m pretty happy with the end result and I hope people embrace the song and dedicate it to their loved ones and sing it too.”
For over a decade, Nicky Jam has been drug and alcohol-free. He certainly believes it’s impacted his songwriting significantly. “I think it has definitely grounded me more,” he shares. “I feel like my songs before were a bit more superficial, versus now I try to be as authentic as I can. I feel like I put all my heart and then some more to my craft now, and I’m definitely more disciplined and focused than before.”
Latin music has always captured the hearts of millions around the world. However, in recent years, we’ve seen a number of non-Latin acts delve into the genre and put their own spin on it. “There’s this unique quality about Latin music, about the beat that it’s just so expressive and contagious,” he says. “It makes people feel. The beat catches the people’s attention regardless of language, but then the intention most artists put into their performance is what seals the deal. We’re full of feelings we’re not afraid to show, and people connect. And obviously, this reflects in the numbers: streaming, views … and who wouldn’t want to jump on those? It’s a no-brainer! We’re big on collaboration anyways, so if we vibe with someone whether or not they’re Latin or not, we’ll be more than willing to create something with them too.”
While most of Nicky Jam’s music is in Spanish, there are a handful of tracks he’s released in English, and there’s a chance fans can expect even more of that. “I’m happy recording in Spanish for now, but I wouldn’t say no to a bilingual or even full English collaboration,” he says. “There are so many great artists right now and if the right song comes along, I’m not gonna say no to it just because it’s in English.” Nicky Jam’s impressive career has seen him collaborate with a whole range of stars from Steve Aoki to the Black Eyed Peas. His next dream collab goes even beyond music — a clothing line with Supreme!
If there is anything to take away from Nicky Jam’s story, it’s that anything is possible and that there is hope for a second chance if you work hard enough. His advice for anyone wanting to follow in his footsteps: “To understand that each journey is different and unique, that just because others are doing certain things, getting certain numbers, or making a certain amount of money, doesn’t mean you won’t get there. Don’t get desperate. Keep working, keep hustling, keep learning, look around you and take in everything that’s happening, and most importantly, keep the faith.”