Photography: Orli Arias and Segundo Luchia Puig

J Balvin is in Los Angeles, shooting a campaign for his Air Jordan I collaboration, yet his focus remains on his home city of Medellín, Colombia. Despite being the subject of this three-part photo shoot, he’s simultaneously working with his creative team on a second shoot, nicknamed “Air Balvin,” set to happen in Medellín the following week. Even though he’s become a global superstar, everything Balvin does has roots in his Colombian heritage. “I’m here in L.A., because I want to keep showing that we’re global,” says Balvin. “I feel proud to be from Colombia, so we’re going to photograph the rest of the crew, and show the vibes of ‘Medellín to the world.’ Medellín is my hometown, and I still live there. That’s where I learned my hustle — how to be disciplined and how to be kind.”

Getting to the level of chart-topping, record-breaking success required patience from Balvin, who dreamed of having his own Air Jordan since he was a child. As his career grew, so did his desire to make that Jordan dream a reality. “It took us two years,” remembers Balvin. “The fact that we made it happen, and that it’s real…I’m grateful to MJ, his family, Reggie [Saunders] and the whole team.” After working on the initial concept with his creative team and Jordan Brand designers, Balvin eventually got the blessing from MJ himself. “I have to shout out MJ’s wife and family, who have always been big supporters of my career,” says Balvin. “I got to meet MJ when I was on tour in Paris, and we just vibed and talked for hours. I told him ‘Boss, we need to make this happen. This is the right moment.’ He was so nice about it. He made the phone call immediately and was like, ‘It’s done.’ The whole process was beautiful, and now, here we are.”

Growing up, Balvin always gravitated towards sneakers to express his personal style. Then, as a teenager, he took part in a U.S. exchange program that showed him the power of sneaker culture as it grew in real-time. “I got to see the real passion people have for sneakers,” recalls Balvin, who spent time in both Oklahoma and New York City. “I used to line up for sneakers. Now, I imagine talking to myself as a kid like, ‘Jose, we made it man! We used to line up for Jordans, and now we have our own pair.’”

Balvin, who describes himself as someone who “moves between worlds,” drew from his many experiences around the world to create this history-making Air Jordan I collaboration. “Being the first Latino artist to have an official Jordan collab makes this even more special,” explains Balvin, who is currently among the top five most-streamed musical acts in history. “However, I don’t see this as just a Latino thing. I really see this as a global sneaker and campaign. People used to see it as ‘Latinos making things just for Latinos,’ but I never saw it like that. I’m proud to be Latino and represent Colombia, but I’m a global citizen, and I want to keep spreading my artistic ideas and vision to all people. I want this shoe to be in Tokyo, in London, in Paris. This is for the whole world.”

Youth from Medellín, Colombia

Balvin is known for his design sensibilities as much as his musical talent, as seen in his album art, music videos, stage designs, outfits and most recently, his home in Colombia’s countryside. Throughout the process of landing on the final AJ1 design, packaging and creative, Balvin remembers being as curious and hungry to learn as ever. “I’m a student, you know? I’m learning every day,” he says. The Air Jordan I x J Balvin meets the eyes much like his music hits the ears; it’s optimistic and full of intense “colores” and “vibras” (Spanish for “colors” and “vibes,” as well as the names of Balvin’s acclaimed 2020 and 2018 albums). “I was thinking about how I could have a disruptive Air Jordan I, an iconic one,” says Balvin, who has previously called the AJ1 his favorite sneaker silhouette. “I wanted to be the person who really dared to change the shapes and go all out. No one has touched the Air Jordan I like this before.”

A priority for Balvin was to help people make the shoe their own, to customize it and match it to their own moods. “The patches are interchangeable,” he explains. “There’s a smiley face, a Jumpman, a basketball and a lightning bolt, which represents what we do — we bring the vibes and the energy. It comes with pink, white and black shoelaces. We want people to have a lot of fun with it.”

Years in the making, Balvin believes that the collaboration will finally sink in once he sees people wearing the shoes. “I can’t wait to travel to different countries, when it’s safe again, and see people be like, ‘Yo, I got them!’ Even the people who don’t know a lot about me are going to be into the shapes and colors. It’s another way for me to connect with the world. It’s a dream come true. I just want people to feel happy when they get them.”

The Air Jordan I x J Balvin releases globally on December 8 and on SNKRS in early December.