J Balvin, "Jose" (Universal Latin)

If there is one figure in pop music who has perfected the language of feel-good cultural affirmation, it is J Balvin. For more than a decade, the 36-year-old Colombian star has claimed he is on a mission to "change the perception of Latinos in music," using his rainbow aesthetics, smooth reggaeton textures and radio-ready trap hits as ammunition.

His sixth studio album arrives at a time when Balvin has finally established himself as a global celebrity. "Jose," Balvin's first name, is a 24-track behemoth that follows in the vein of other playlists-as-albums. But the album struggles to truly innovate: "Jose" is an itinerant, unfocused effort that offers an impressionistic inventory of the sounds that have established him as a force: pop-reggaeton, trap and EDM.

The majority of the album — including "Bebé Que Bien Te Ves" and "Fantasías" — falls within the sphere of ultrapolished, creamy popetón. It is an unimaginative formula, and one that Balvin has mastered. Elsewhere, he returns to Top 40 trap: On "Billetes de 100," he offers a self-mythologizing reminder that he can actually rap.

Some songs aim for novelty. "F40" is a self-assured blast of reggaeton bombast that shifts tempos, slowing to an irresistible, carnal crawl. And "Perra" is an audacious, X-rated venture into dembow, a street sound of the Dominican Republic.

It is only in the last third of "Jose" that Balvin takes a true gamble: For what may be the first time in his career, he gets vulnerable and deeply personal. "7 de Mayo," named for Balvin's birthday, is a chronicle of his rise from the streets of Medellín to eminence. Unfortunately, the song follows the formula of hip-hop origin stories too closely. It feels like Balvin is being forced to complete a tedious homework assignment, rather than reflecting earnestly on his personal hardships. "Querido Rio," a soft guitar ballad dedicated to his newborn son with echoes of Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," similarly falls flat, with its shallow lyrics and syrupy delivery.

For an artist who paints himself as pathbreaking, "Jose" feels remarkably safe.

Isabelia Herrera, New York Times

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