The Resilient Nicky Jam

Nicky Jam is considered “one of the architects of the Latino urban music movement.” as stated by Forbes magazine. Not many have the backstory as him, what would have seemed the end opened the door for a new beginning. After many had lost faith in his ability to be an artist, he found his voice again and achieved new levels of success far exceeding the expectations placed on him. Nicky Jam is transcendent in time and trends, spanning a career of nearly two decades; he is as relevant now as his breakthrough moment.

His childhood was far from easy and certainly not one he is particularly proud of. In his beginner days, Nicky could’ve been found free styling in the supermarket he used to work in. Absorbing his surroundings, as he wanted to invoke the same sexiness he had gathered from the parties he went to. After being discovered and signed, Nicky released his first album. The people of Puerto Rico welcomed the star with open arms and soon enough he was a hometown hit. Music was initially created “for fun” and as a method of therapy he enjoyed.

Photography by Erick Fernando

Nicky experienced a very fast rise to the top, which a few years after served as a reminder that it is also easily lost. He battled drug addiction, legal troubles and professional fallouts; little by little everything he cherished seemed to slip out of his hands. He disconnected from everything he knew and chose Medellin, Colombia as a city to be able to restart.

His decision was well placed as he began to gain momentum there as an artist again. The dominoes began to fall in his favor and it wasn’t long till he not only made a name for himself once again, he went far beyond expectations.

The Nicky Jam in today’s time has grown, learned and matured exponentially. He is human like all of us and uses it as his own philosophy. People make mistakes but having the capability to recognize those mistakes, accept the life lessons and rise to the occasion is where he prides himself heavily.

Life has been a rollercoaster and yet he doesn’t forget to be grateful for his blessings. Relying on his family as the foundation has been an essential go-to for him, also recognizing them as a source of inspiration and a passion to keep ongoing. In particular, his mother, who he had been separated from for more than twenty years, is clear about the value they bring into his life. There’s something extremely noble and wise about his quality and way of speaking. You can feel the honesty transcending in his words and delivery where they connect and resonate with fans and anyone struggling with their own demons.

Photography by Alvin Kean Wong
Styling by Norma

His approach and perspective to his career also align with the advice he passes on to the next generation. Someone as experienced and seasoned as him can offer insight on how to navigate properly. Stating artists need to be attentive to their surroundings as the right team can break or break you. Never forget gratitude for every stage, however large or small, and never stop working on your craft and keep your eye on the prize. The results will speak for themselves.

            Music has been a source of happiness for him and one he wants to pass on to his fans. To be able to feel and associate his music with whatever circumstance or moment they may be going to. Nicky Jam has already been noted as an inspiration to many for his music and his story as he has been very open and candid about his past. Removing any unnecessary cookie fluff, he breaks through that door and constantly allows the world to really see who he is.

            We can always expect and new (and great) music from Nicky and I may have even asked for that long time Daddy Yankee collaboration album fans have been waiting for. “The new album is coming soon. Very soon. We’ve been cooking up a lot of things and I can tell you that it’s the best one yet.” It’s coming!

            Aside from the much-anticipated album, Nicky has also set his eyes on Hollywood. Featured in next month’s Tom and Jerry as the unfriendly alley cat “Butch,” which will be released on HBO MAX and theaters simultaneously. While acting in a feature film is a different vibe from what he’s used to, he’s certainly very grateful for the opportunity and opens for many more roles to come. We can also expect him on Kevin Hart’s produced “American Sole” alongside Bad Bunny, another highly anticipated project in addition to “a few surprises in 2021.” Nicky Jam is resilient. He was never handed a silver spoon and thus had to navigate the world, as he best saw fit. He is an honest and gifted artist and most importantly, a human just like all of us are. Yet overcoming all the obstacles is where his story shines bright. Nicky has not only turned the page on a dark past; he has also opened a whole new world of opportunities.

Keep on shining Nicky Nicky Nicky Jam.

Photography by Erick Fernando

How is Nicky Jam different from your debut compared to the Nicky Jam we know today? I think both musically and personally I’ve grown tremendously from when I started until now. I’m not the little kid hungry for things he thought he couldn’t get, I’m not the naive young man with a lot of anger bottled up, waiting for the perfect excuse to explode, and I’m done blaming everyone else but me for my mistakes. I’ve risen to the challenges, I’ve worked on myself as a person and as a professional, and I’ve learned from my past so to not repeat the things that held me back. I’ve taken responsibility and my life has turned around, and I think you can also see that in my music. Back then it came from a very immature place, now it continues to adapt to my constant evolution, while still maintaining my essence.

What would you say is your foundation to fall back on? My family, my kids. They have been there for me all along, through the good times and the not-so-good times. They’ve celebrated my victories and encouraged me when things didn’t go my way. I’m lucky to have them.

You’ve had such a unique journey throughout your life that you’ve been full disclosure about and not only that, you’ve come out on top. What advice can you offer emerging artists to avoid mishaps in their careers? To watch the people you surround yourself with. They can make you or break you. Also to honor your commitments, to take responsibility for your actions, and to never think you’re above anything or anyone. Every gig is a good gig, every stage is a good stage no matter how big or how small. Keep working on your craft, but don’t compare yourself to anyone. And stay focused. Set a goal and work towards it with all your heart.

When can we expect a new album? Including the Daddy Yankee collab? The new album is coming soon. Very soon. We’ve been cooking up a lot of things and I can tell you that it’s the best one yet. 

Photography by Erick Fernando

Where does your passion for music come from? I was about 10 years old when I was peeking at a party and I saw people dancing to reggae music and they were grinding to it and all that and it was love at first sight. I was like “I want this for my life! I need this!” ‘Cause in the States people don’t dance like that, they were dancing separately, even Hip-Hop. This was sexy. So fast-forward a couple years and I was packing up groceries at a supermarket and I used to freestyle with every item I had, so I became a little celebrity, and one day a lady came and she said she wanted to sign me and I did my first album. 

At first I was doing music for fun, it was a therapy for me to feel good, ‘cause I was going through a lot of situations. My dad took me and my sister to Puerto Rico as a fugitive and left my mom behind in Lawrence, Mass. with her drug addiction and then she got deported to DR. We couldn’t contact her so as to not give away my dad’s whereabouts so I started making music as a way to try to become famous so my mom could find me. 

Eventually, she ended up finding me when I went to DR as a 30-something-year-old and after a performance someone said to me “hey Nicky, there’s a woman outside saying she’s your mom.” And when it happened, it was like a movie moment. So it worked! And that was it. From that moment, we never separated again.

What do you want your music to be known for? What’s the legacy you want to leave behind? I want my music to be a source of happiness to people. Or even just a way for people to be able to explore their different emotions. I want people to make my music theirs because once I put it out there, it stops being mine. I’d love for people to think of me and say “Damn, Nicky’s songs defined an era of my life” and evoke all the feelings, nostalgic, happy, even sad. 

What’s your philosophy in life? Making mistakes is human, but what sets you apart is learning from those mistakes and using that knowledge to become the best version of yourself.

The world is in a re-set moment culturally, racially and in so many other ways. How are you playing your part in highlighting and being a part of this change as an artist? I am stepping back and listening, learning, observing, and figuring out my place in these conversations and how my voice can be used to further the change we need to make. 

Now that you’re jumping into the movie business including Tom Jerry, how was that experience versus creating music? It’s a whole different vibe, and if you had told me 10 years ago that I was going to be doing Hollywood movies, I would’ve said “Get outta here!” because I wouldn’t have believed you. But I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I remember for “Bad Boys” for example, I was hanging out with Will Smith when we did the World Cup song in 2018 and he mentioned he was doing Bad Boys For Life so I said “man, I’d love to be in that movie” and he gave me the chance to audition and I got the role. Now with Tom & Jerry I get to be a cartoon character, and I’m also working on the Kevin Hart-produced  “American Sole” with Bad Bunny, where I play a bad guy, but it’s not the type of bad guy you’re thinking about. Honestly, if Hollywood called and told me they want me to play an alien, I’d do it. 

Are there any projects you can tell us about? Like I mentioned before, there’s Tom & Jerry, American Sole, a brand new album coming out soon, there might be a sneaker collab too, and more surprises in 2021.

The definition of Contrast is ‘to be strikingly different.’ What makes you strikingly different? Well, I think the fact that I was set up for failure since I was a child, and I did fail for so many years, but then I was able to rise from the ashes like a phoenix and learn from all that sh*t I went through and come back stronger than ever, regain control of my life and career, and level up to the industry standard of this day and age while continuing to innovate, is pretty “strikingly different,” or at least I’d like to think that!

Latin Music Editor at Contrast Magazine.