At 11 years old, Nicky Jam would rap about grocery items he was bagging at the store, but what was his first song?
Nicky Jam released his first studio album when he was 14 years old, in 1994—…Distinto A Los Demás. The album doesn’t appear to have any singles, so any of these tracks could be considered his “first song.”
Let’s take a look at the life and career of Nicky Jam, which wasn’t without hardship and personal struggles.
A Young Nicky Jam
Nick Rivera Caminero was born on March 17, 1981, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. His mother is Dominican and his father is Puerto Rican.
While living in Massachusetts, Nicky got into hip-hop, and specifically liked artists such as “Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch” and LL Cool J.
When he was 10 years old, Nicky’s family moved to Río Hondo in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Nicky explained that the family had to move because his father was facing drug charges and left the country to avoid imprisonment.
Nicky did not speak Spanish and so found the move difficult at first, but managed to make friends and learn the language fairly quickly. Nicky took influences and shaped his style from the local hip-hop scene.
Originally, Nicky called himself “Nick MC,” but after a homeless man told him “You ain’t Nick MC, you’re Nicky Jam,” he changed it to the name we know today.
Success at 14
Nicky worked at a local discount grocery store from the age of 11. To pass the time he would improvise rap about items he was bagging. A customer who heard Nicky was impressed and offered him a contract with a local indie label.
Nicky recorded and released his debut album—...Distinto A Los Demás—in 1994 when he was only 14.
Listen to Nicky’s first album in this video:
After releasing his album, Nicky went through a tough period in his life. He was greatly affected by a breakup with his girlfriend and turned to drugs for relief.
He reflected on the time by saying, “[I thought], ‘why am I going to take care of myself? My dad didn’t handle his drug problems. My mom did drugs too, so why not me?’ I mean, I had drugs all around me, and the foundation of everything is your home. It’s your family.”
Still battling with drug use, Nicky formed a duo with Daddy Yankee, who had been impressed by the young artist.
The duo was called “Los Cangris.” They achieved success in Puerto Rico with hit singles such as “En la Cama” and “Guayando”.
Nicky’s drug use spelled trouble for his career. Daddy Yankee was concerned with his drug and alcohol fueled lifestyle and even released a song with the lyrics “your courage depends on a pill.”
Nicky then retaliated with a diss track the same year but regretted his move, saying, “That wasn’t a good choice, because he came with [the successful] ‘Gasolina.’ I looked stupid. He went his way, I went my way—and obviously my way didn’t go very well.”
The duo split in 2004 and Nicky’s career took a downfall, with Nicky calling himself the “embarrassment of the Latin Caribbean music industry.”
Nicky went through several struggles, such as gaining a large amount of weight (reaching 300 lbs), being in a police car chase, and being forced to work as a lounge performer in a hotel. Nicky viewed this time as his “lowest point.”
Turning it Around
In 2007, Nicky moved to Medellín, Colombia to try and kick his drug habit and refocus on music.
He commented on the move, saying, “[Columbians] made me feel like I was a legend. The boost they gave me made me want to be a better person. I started eating OK, I stopped drugs, I stopped alcohol. People came to love me because I was loving myself.”
His decision to quit drugs wasn’t without setbacks. In 2010, Nicky almost died from an overdose, but it was this near-death experience that made him quit drugs completely. He also lost a lot of weight and tattooed almost all of his body, to symbolise a new era of personal growth.
Incidentally, Nicky met Daddy Yankee on a flight and the two reconciled. They began touring together in 2014.
Nicky saw further good fortune when his tracks “Voy a Beber” and “Travesuras” saw success, and he was signed to Sony U.S. Latin.