When the Residente-J Balvin feud started, there was a sense of comedy to it. It began last fall, just after the 2021 Latin Grammy nominations were announced: J Balvin, who felt that reggaeton wasn’t represented enough in the award categories, suggested that reggaeton artists boycott the ceremony. In a scalding, sarcastic video posted on Instagram, Residente laid out why he thought that idea was stupid and disrespectful to people who’d been nominated. Then, he compared Balvin’s music to a hot dog cart — implying that Balvin’s hits are cheaply made, mass-produced junk food that people enjoy without necessarily respecting.
The analogy was brutal, but also hilarious. People cracked jokes and hot dog memes quickly took over the Internet. It helped that Balvin seemed to take things in stride by poking fun at himself. He released a picture of himself, photoshopped behind a hot dog cart, as a way to promote one of his songs, and then launched an entire line of hot dog-themed merch. There was bad blood, but it wasn’t quite Shakespearean levels.
That all changes with a new freestyle Residente has released as part of the Argentine producer Bizarrap’s popular “BZRP Music Sessions” on YouTube. Most fans already knew the song was coming: In an Instagram video Residente posted on Wednesday, he shared that Balvin had found out about the track and had desperately called everyone he could to try and talk Residente out of dropping it. “He called the producer, who’s a kid, to stop the track, but this kid has balls and he didn’t give in,” Residente says in the video. “They threatened to sue my label if I released the track. They asked for a call with the head of my label to stop me for releasing the track.” Residente said he didn’t care about being sued and promised he’d do what he wanted.
The blistering, eight-minute track came out on Thursday night. It cuts deep and it’s extremely personal, moving way beyond awards telecast and hot dog memes. The first five minutes are full of Balvin references — “$500 for a ticket, guys, jump around like an idiot dressed in colors?” — though they’re somewhat veiled. However, halfway through, Residente stops and asks a person off-camera what they think of the song. A voice remarks, “Truthfully, this is really shitty, but I might like it more if you diss Balvin.”
From there, Residente gets way more personal and direct, going after the low points of Balvin’s career over the last couple of years. Balvin, a white Colombian in a genre created by Black communities, has been called out repeatedly for a clueless attitude toward issues of race: He apologized last year after releasing the video for his song “Perra,” which showed him dragging Black women on leashes, and then issued another mea culpa months later when news broke that he’d accepted the Afro-Latino Artist of the Year award at the African Entertainment Awards. His message of positivity and a narrative of “Latino gang” unity has seemed at odds with his lack of awareness, and he’s also angered fans by waiting to speak out on complex issues, including the 2019 protests against Colombia’s government that ended in violence.
Residente drags all of that out into the open: “The country is struggling, people are being killed, and he’s uploading photos of Gandhi praying.” He gets to Balvin’s relationship with race — though Residente, who’s also white, has himself been lambasted on Twitter in the past for suggesting that white privilege doesn’t exist among Latinos. Still, he holds nothing back. “He’s an imbecile with dyed hair who put Black women with leashes on their necks,” he raps. “A white guy who lost his way, all divine, accepting his award for Afro-Latino.” He lands a scathing line a little later: “The worst and most grave thing is: This asshole is a racist and he doesn’t know it.”
At one point, Residente even suggests that Balvin’s public discussion of mental health is a sham, saying, “Asshole, you’re a liar, he pretends to be spiritual while using mental health to sell a documentary.” The attack is ruthless and the level of animosity is real. But ultimately, it all seems to stem from the fact that, to Residente, Balvin represents the very worst impulses of the Latin music industry. In his view, Balvin is a fraud, a sellout, and a racist who cares more about money than any real form of expression — an argument that hits at bigger conversations happening thanks to the successful commercialization of reggaeton.
To many, the globalization of the genre has led to a scene that’s uninspired and monotonous, characterized by greed and individuals interested only on capitalizing on reggaeton’s popularity. The number of reggaeton pop stars has grown, but so has the tension between who’s an artist and who’s just popular. Balvin hasn’t responded, but at this point, it’s hard to imagine what there’s left for him to say.