From Grocery Store Bagger to Spotify’s Most-Streamed Artist, Here’s Everything to Know About Bad Bunny’s Humble Beginnings
Bad Bunny, 27, is synonymous with acceptance, libertad, positivity, and really good songs for rambunctious, no-holds-barred perreo. The reggaeton superstar is officially Spotify’s most streamed artist for the second year in the row, with an impressive total of 9.1 billion streams. Beating out pop singers like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, Bad Bunny proved you don’t have to sing in English to be a global phenomenon — and we love to see it.
Born Benito Antonio Martínez-Ocasio, the artist and LGBTQ+ supporter recently explained to SPIN, “for me, Spanish is f***ing cool, more than English… we are in a time where I don’t need to change anything about myself — not my musical style, not my language, not my culture — to go far.” Saying “it feels great to do things [his] way,” it’s easy to see why Bad Bunny has become a cultural icon, always staying true to himself and his beginnings. With a total of four Latin Grammy awards, one “gringo” Grammy, and his recent album “El Último Tour Del Mundo” becoming the first fully-Spanish album to rise to number one on the Billboard 200 chart (via W Magazine), Martínez-Ocasio is quite literally on top of the world. That being said, his upbringing was truly humble — making his meteoric rise that much more inspirador.
As the Puerto Rican powerhouse described to W Magazine, he was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, a tranquil beach town in the western portion of the island. Benito lived a quiet yet somewhat-rebellious life with his younger brothers Bernie and Bysael, plus his truck driver father Tito and mother Lysaurie, a school teacher. The reggaetonero is from the barrio of Almirante Sur, describing it as full of humble, hard-working people. It’s clear he applies his family’s teachings to this day: Bunny told The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, “sometimes I can’t believe [my success]… but I work for it.”
Long before he was “El Conejo Malo” or the singer of hits like “Yonaguni” and “Dakiti,” Bad Bunny was simply Benito —according to W Magazine, he sang in his church’s children’s choir, would take part in freestyle rap battles in middle school, and would listen to his dad’s salsa collection, his mom’s merengue, his grandpa’s boleros, and all kinds of reggaeton and rock with friends. Growing up “around a lot of musical preferences” and feeling comfort in his balada-tinged home life, it’s safe to say that the young boy featured in almost all of YHLQMDLG’s music videos symbolizes Benito himself. The singer told Rolling Stone, “the boy simply is different from everyone. A group of boys bother him, they steal his bike… so he runs home, to his room, where he feels safe.”
Yes, although Bad Bunny is larger than life now, he was once shy. His brother Bernie told Rolling Stone, “[Benito] was born unique. Even before the music, he was loved by everybody.” Talking about the singer’s innate sensitive nature, he explained, “the first time we took a summer vacation, we went to the United States… I remember he cried the whole way… he was scared of planes.”
By middle school, Bunny started getting into music, singing “Mala Gente” by Juanes at a talent show in 2002 where he “didn’t move a single [muscle],” and according to his brother Bernie, playing with his CD’s instead of toys on Christmas day. Benito felt most comfortable in his house painted “the color of mamey” with a basketball hoop out front, telling Rolling Stone, “I wasn’t the kid who got involved in the streets… I liked to be at home with my family.” Still, he quit the church choir as soon as he became a teenager, and started making beats to rap over — getting inspired by a wide-range of artists like Hector Lavoe and the Bee Gees. By high school graduation, Martínez-Ocasio decided to enroll at the University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo, where he majored in communications and took audiovisual classes that may just inspire music videos like “Vete” today.
Choosing the name Bad Bunny after seeing a picture of himself as a child dressed in an Easter bunny suit, the artist started uploading songs on Soundcloud while working part-time as a grocery store bagger.
Quickly gaining attention from label Rimas Entertainment after posting the banger “Diles,” it’s easy to see the mechanism behind the reggaetonero’s massive success. Even keeping within a genre that has at times come under fire for being machista, Bunny has never been scared to break walls and accept himself: he told Allure, “going shopping with my mom was one of my favorite things because I would get lost in the women’s department… seeing the combinations, the colors, the cuts, the designs.”
With a penchant for playing with clothing and accessories, the rapper is just as known for his glitter-painted nails as he is for his recent WWE showdown with Mike “The Miz” Mizanin. But that shows his longtime love for costume, too. Bunny described his favorite childhood memory to Allure: “[I] had my own character for when my brother and I wrestled on our parents’ bed… I had my entrance music and outfit — a jacket that I took from my dad and underwear that we painted and decorated.” His love of watching wrestling at home with his family in Vega Baja influences his music to this day, saying “in wrestling, the fans love getting caught off guard. I like to create that same emotion with my music.”
From a shy boy and grocery store bagger to one of the most-streamed artists today, Bad Bunny can’t stop breaking boundaries. He’s not afraid to exclusively use Spanish in his songs, or have a staunch feminist stance, shown in the lyrics of “Yo Perreo Sola,” and his tributes to Alexa Negrón Luciano, a homeless transgender woman who was killed in San Juan in 2020. Benito is a cosmic and celestial figure in reggaeton (and he loves Walter Mercado, too) but as he explained to Vulture, “in a group of strangers, I am shy and quiet and reserved until I feel a little comfortable.”
There’s an element of who he once was in all of Bad Bunny’s songs, making him one of los artistas más autenticos today.