On Tuesday (May 15), Nicky Jam cemented his hitmaker status when he took the stage at the 2023 Telemundo Upfront Celebration, a private concert held in New York City. Spanning two decades of hard-hitting reggaeton bangers like “Hasta El Amanecer,” “X,” and the classic “Travesuras,” the singer-rapper — who arrived donning athletic clothes covered by a fly trench coat — held down the sweltering house for nearly two hours.
Born Nick Rivera Caminero, the half Puerto Rican half Dominican artist is considered one of the pioneers of reggaeton with over 20 years in the space. The 13-time Latin Billboard Music Award winner is known for his Hot Latin Songs No. 1 hits such as his Enrique Iglesias-assisted “El Perdón,” which topped the chart for 30 weeks in 2015, and “Hasta El Amanecer,” which ruled for 18 weeks. Currently, he’s making the rounds with his first regional Mexican song with Luis R. Conriquez, “Como El Viento.”
Ahead, he’ll star in the upcoming Peacock Original Reggaeton: The Sound that Conquered the World, executive produced by Daddy Yankee. According to a release, the doc will tell the story of “a grassroots music movement that grew from a local sound born in the barrios of Puerto Rico, into a global force heard around the world.”
“All I did was just sit down and talk about the years that I’ve been in the music industry and everything I know about reggaeton, the beginnings and the evolution and everything,” says Nicky Jam. “I just feel like a proud dad, like if I had a little baby and I was trying to make my baby be somebody, and my baby finally is somebody.”
Billboard Español sat down with the reggaeton rockstar at The Glasshouse in New York to discuss his starring role in the genre’s evolution and global takeover, stepping into regional Mexican music and more.
You are a pioneer of reggaeton and still at the forefront of it. How has that journey been, from seeing it in the streets to now being a global sound?
It’s a blessing to be one of the guys that knocked on doors for this genre to exist, and to see where it’s at today. I just feel like a proud dad, like if I had a little baby and I was trying to make my baby be somebody, and my baby finally is somebody. I’m happy that I have made a big contribution to this music industry, and I’m still here today. Young kids respect me, they respect my career, all I’ve been through and all [reggaeton] went through to be where it is today.
I was fascinated by your recent regional Mexican feature with Luis R. Conriquez. What do you think about the rise of regional Mexican music?
I love what they’re doing. I love their music. I connect with their music because it’s kind of like urban music. They come from where we come from. They talk about the same things we talk about. [Luis R. Conriquez] is a very humble guy. I enjoy doing music with him. When I did this song, it was before the phenomena [“un x100to”] with Bad Bunny [and Grupo Frontera] and everything that’s going on with Peso Pluma. I’m just happy for them. It’s something that’s growing. It’s like reggaeton at the beginning, that type of regional music. Regional music has been going on forever, but [now there’s] this new color of it.
It’s nice to see. It makes us learn about Mexican culture more, about that version of Mexico, because we all know different parts of it, telenovelas, their music, boxing… But this is like a whole new Mexico for us.
How was it, vocally, to sing regional?
Well, I’m very melodic, so for me, it’s not hard to get into any type of music because I can sing. Just having a feeling, studying what they do and just putting my vibe to it. The best way you could collab with different types of music is by giving it your own color.
You also have The Rockstar Show, where you’ve interviewed key players in Latin music, including Billboard‘s own, Leila Cobo. What led you to host your own show and what’s in store for its future?
I think it was the pandemic. I needed to work, so I started creating all these things, like with restaurants and hospitality [like La Industria Bakery & Café in Miami]. Apart from that, I wanted to do a show where I interview singers, colleagues and people from the industry. That’s why I came out with The Rockstar Show. We’re coming up with the third part of it, so we’re just happy. We’re starting heavy with a lot of heavy hitters. We have J Balvin, and a couple more.
What else are you working on now?
A new movie coming out with Universal and Westbrook, Will Smith’s company. I’m the main actor in this movie. We’re working on it, but we’re not done. It’s going to be my main act. A new album, two songs coming out soon, and the new chapter of The Rockstar Show.
You’re also set to headline a bunch of international festivals: Sueños, Baja Beach Fest and the Milano Latin Festival in Italy. What do you look forward to the most when you travel to these?
I just enjoy working and singing my songs in front of people. I make people reminisce about the reggaeton from back in the days and what’s going on today. A lot of people can’t go on stage and sing you songs from 20 years back and make you enjoy it like it’s 2001. That’s Nicky Jam.
On another note, you have some of the fliest tattoos in the game. Which was your last tattoo and what does it mean to you?
This one [pointing to a hummingbird on his thigh]. To be honest with you, I like being free, and the bird represents freedom for me. That’s why I did this one. I just love tattoos. I can’t stop. I’m going to keep getting more.
This story originally appeared on Billboard