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De Colombia p'al mundo: How Feid became Medellín's reggaeton 'ambassador'

Feid's music is steeped in his Colombian identity, but on one of reggaeton's most important stages, he won Puerto Rico over.
Feid's music is steeped in his Colombian identity, but on one of reggaeton's most important stages, he won Puerto Rico over.

This summer, the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot (aka El Choliseo) in San Juan became saturated with neon green outfits, posters and lights. The bright hue signaled two headlining shows by Colombian artist Feid, who became the first artist in history to sell out the venue in an hour or less.

On an island that's birthed artists like Daddy Yankee and Bad Bunny — where reggaeton is an entire culture, not just a genre of music — Feid doesn't take that accomplishment lightly.

"For them, reggaeton is not pop music. It's music from the streets, music from people who run the streets for real," he says of the Puerto Rican fans. "Como que no puedes inventar allá nada. You cannot be a poser there; you have to be so real with people, and [either] they connect with you or not."

Feid's music is steeped in his identity, often referencing his hometown of Medellín, its colloquialisms and the vivid green color of the city's mountains and soccer jerseys in his imagery. And on one of the genre's most significant stages, he won the Puerto Rican crowd over.

"There's a whole lot of controversy about how some artists who are not from Puerto Rico are appropriating our slang," says local music journalist Juan J. Arroyo, who reviewed Feid's Choliseo performance for Rolling Stone. "He's someone who stays true to his vocabulary from where he's from, but at the same time, when and if he namedrops anything from [Puerto Rico] or uses a word from [Puerto Rico], you know it's coming from a place of respect where he did the homework and did the due diligence."

Arroyo partially credits that cultural understanding for Feid's fast growing popularity. In two years, he notes, the reggaetonero went from opening for Karol G at the Choliseo to breaking a new record in the venue's history. But this pop breakthrough — which includes nominations in five Latin Grammy categories this year, a new album and a collaboration with Bad Bunny — didn't come out of the blue; it's been nearly a decade in the making.

Feid started off writing and producing for other artists, working with stars like J Balvin, Nicky Jam and, most recently, Christina Aguilera behind the scenes. "A lot of people know me as a songwriter, but it wasn't my motivation," he says. "It's not like I was a songwriter and now I'm an artist. I was an artist that had to be a songwriter."

He began releasing his own music in 2014, but it took several years and albums to really find his footing as a solo artist. He hunkered down on making sentimental songs for the club, often featuring a slicker pop polish than the trap driven perreo emanating from the Caribbean. He also developed a signature look with his alter ego, El Ferxxo: a bleached mullet, wraparound Oakley sunglasses and oversized fits with a pop of that ever present Medallo greenery.

"When I was trying to be more myself, it was when people connected with me more," he says.

Last year, he rushed to officially release his album Feliz Cumpleaños Ferxxo:Te Pirateamos el Álbum ahead of schedule after it was leaked unexpectedly, which he alluded to in the title and on the cover. Despite the less-than-ideal timing, the record earned Feid his first Top 10 on the Latin Albums Billboard chart, peaking at No. 6, and led to an instantly sold-out tour across the U.S.

This time on his own terms, Feid dropped his sixth studio album on Sept. 29. MOR, No Le Temas a La Oscuridad, which translates to Love, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, has been his biggest record to date, reaching No. 4 on Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart. He says the title is an ode to the perseverance that led to his success.

"Most people just started hearing about me two years back, one year back, maybe this year," he says. "So for me, I was always shining in all that darkness."

Sonically, the album is his most expansive yet. It traces reggaeton's history back to dancehall, featuring the legendary Sean Paul waxing poetic in Spanish on "Niña Bonita," then traverses into tropical Afrobeats with an assist from Nigerian singer Rema on "Bubalu."

"He's singing in Spanish como si fuera una persona de Medallo, singing with slang, with acento, with everything," Feid says, beaming with pride.

"Luces de Tecno" brings renewed EDM energy to the second half of the album, while the rock-infused "Privilegios," alongside the band Cupido, lets Feid's vocals carry the album to a close. Though his roots lay in reggaeton, Feid says he's excited to push the boundaries and geography of the genre. He's also the only non-Puerto Rican artist with a feature on Bad Bunny's record-breaking new album, Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va A Pasar Mañana, on a song that pays homage to one of Medellín's hottest clubs, Perro Negro.

"I always felt like, como que el embajador de Medallo in a certain way because I wasn't afraid to say I'm from Colombia, I eat arepa con chorizo, I eat chicharron con frijoles," says Feid.

Although he's part of a bigger legacy of artists from the Colombian city, including collaborators Maluma, Karol G, J Balvin and Sebastian Yatra, Feid leans into the paisa swagger to anchor his sound and persona in an authentically singular way.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.