Nicky Jam: Highs And Lows Of The Reggaeton Star's Life

The following article mentions substance abuse.

Nicky Jam had a long career in show business that began back in 1994 when he was just 14 years old. The Lawrence, Massachusetts native, whose real name is Nick Rivera Caminero, had recorded his debut album in Spanish that year, shortly after moving to Puerto Rico. Yet it was teaming up with Latin music star Daddy Yankee a few years later that really launched Jam into fame since they formed the rap duo "Los Cangris." However, by 2004, they had a falling out, and Jam went on to take a years-long hiatus from music.

Jam eventually reinvigorated his career in Colombia, and by 2014 began putting out hit songs again like "Travesuras." He later made the transition into acting, too, appearing in films like "Bad Boys For Life." Jam also opened a restaurant in Miami and released a Netflix docu-series about his life, making it clear he'd come a long way from his start as a teen rapper. In 2022, he told Billboard, "My legacy is my story, where I came from, and the sacrifices I went through to be where I am today."

Jam certainly did go through a lot in his life, like dealing with drug addiction and a public feud with Daddy Yankee. He appears to be in a good place now though, dishing, "I was at the bottom of the bottom, and look at me now. I've reached the highest point of my career." So how did Jam get to this point? Let's break down the reggaeton star's life.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Nicky Jam had to learn Spanish

Nicky Jam may sing in Spanish, but some fans may be surprised to learn that it's not his native language. The "El Perdón" singer's mother is Dominican, and his father is Puerto Rican, but Jam himself grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, speaking English. When it came to his time in Lawrence, Jam told Dolce, "It was always hard. Massachusetts is very Irish. There were a lot of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans in my town, and it was the crack era. It was very ugly."

When Jam turned 10, his family moved to a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where, per Euphoria, he experienced a major "culture shock" since he didn't speak Spanish. He was able to pick it up by listening to reggaeton and Caribbean hip-hop, though. For Jam, it was important for him to assimilate, telling Dolce, "I focused on learning the language." He continued, "You learn the language quickly when you live in the country. I needed to." 

Yet Jam didn't just learn how to speak Spanish, considering that he learned to rap in it too. He explained, "I feel that, musically, I'm just very smart. My mind goes so quick." Jam did admit that he later forgot how to speak English at times, but that it came back to him when he moved to Miami. And while he eventually did leave Puerto Rico, he told People, "I always had Puerto Rico in my heart ... I can't stop feeling like a Puerto Rican."

Nicky Jam got discovered at a grocery store

You could say that Nicky Jam was born to be a musician since he began rapping at a very young age. He revealed to Dolce, "I started rapping when I was eight years old. It was in English; I was doing freestyle. It made me feel like I was special." Jam continued to rap throughout middle school, telling Billboard that's when he gave himself the stage name Nick MC. It was a neighborhood drinker who apparently later came up with the name Nicky Jam as a compliment. Jam dished, "The funny thing was, it was a catchy name: Nicky Jam, Nicky Jam. So I stuck with it."

Yet it was Jam's skill, not name, that got him discovered when he was working at the Pueblo Xtra discount grocery store. He recalled to NBC News, "I was 12 years old, and I was packing groceries at a supermarket, and I used to freestyle every time I packed the groceries." Jam reiterated that to Billboard but explained, "I'd be like: 'You say please, I'll pack the lettuce with the cheese' — in Spanish, though."

It just so happened that a woman who was married to an executive at an independent record label had heard him rap one day at the store and liked what she heard. "I packed for her, and she talked to my father, and the next day, they signed me," he said. From there, Jam got the opportunity to make music with that indie label.

Nicky Jam's first label didn't pay him an advance

It may have been exciting for Nicky Jam to get signed to a record label when he was barely a teen, but it did come with its disadvantages, like him not getting paid. According to Billboard, Jam didn't think to read the "inch-thick contract" they gave him, so he wasn't given a money advance. Jam reflected on that to Euphoria, saying, "When you're young and naive, people will try to take advantage of you regardless." He continued, "Greed can blind people and turn them into monsters capable of running over a young man or woman just because they don't have enough experience or knowledge."

While Jam pointed out that it sucked learning about the music industry the hard way, working with that record label didn't appear to be a total loss considering that it resulted in his debut album "Distinto a los Demás." The album wasn't a major hit but did get his music on the radio, which seemingly then got the attention of music superstar Daddy Yankee.

Unfortunately, getting ripped off wasn't Jam's only problem at that age, though, since he was also dealing with getting his heart broken by his teenage girlfriend. He even told Vibe, "That's when I touched cocaine for the first time." He did shed some light on why he took their split so hard, saying, "You also have to understand my background, where I come from, and how I lost so many people in life."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Daddy Yankee helped launch Nicky Jam's career

It's safe to say that Daddy Yankee had a big role in Nicky Jam's career since he helped him reach new levels of stardom. According to Billboard, Jam's relationship with Yankee began when he used to be the opening act for him and other singers at clubs when Jam was just a teen. He revealed, "I used to open for these big singers — they were 20, 25 years old, and I was a kid with a Mickey Mouse voice ... I was like the little brother." Yet it was Yankee specifically who Jam looked up to, so Jam introduced himself to his idol. Soon after, Yankee asked Jam to be his "hypeman," and from there, they began collaborating on music, even forming the rap group "Los Cangris."

When it came to his start with Yankee, Jam recalled on Revolt TV's "Drink Champs," "Caserios is like the projects in Puerto Rico ... Those were the stages for us. That was our stage. We didn't have no show." They eventually did have shows, though, since working together had skyrocketed them both into fame, thanks to songs like "En la Cama."

However, it seems fame became overwhelming for Jam, who then used drugs to cope. He explained, "I was making too much money. I was too young. I didn't know how to deal." That, in turn, hurt his relationship with Yankee, who told Billboard in another interview, "I would fight with him so he wouldn't go down the wrong road."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Nicky Jam had a drug problem

It's no secret that Nicky Jam had a major problem with drugs which almost destroyed his music career. It appears Jam had grown up around drugs, telling "The Breakfast Club," "I saw my parents ... you know the faces they make when they do crack." He even revealed to Billboard that the reason they moved to Puerto Rico in the first place was that his father had skipped bail on a drug charge in Massachusetts. "You could say he raised us as a fugitive," he said. It seems all of that had an influence on Jam, with him admitting, "Coming from a family that already did drugs, it was easy for me."

Jam's drug use had apparently escalated as he got more famous, though. He explained, "I started out with weed when I was like 11 years old ... from weed, I went to coke, and from coke, I went to everything." He continued, "The [Percocets] I did when I was already famous in Puerto Rico." He revealed in his Netflix series, "El Ganador," that things got so bad that he eventually was taking 30 Percocets a day and ended up in jail twice, per Distractify

Yet, it was a different incident that made Jam realize he had to get clean, which happened when he was on a plane. He recalled on Revolt TV's "Drink Champs," "All of a sudden ... I can't move my hands ...I did so much drugs that it f**ked up my nervous system, and it f**ked up my motor system."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Nicky Jam hit a major low

Nicky Jam's addiction and subsequent fallout with Daddy Yankee led to a major career low which began when Yankee called him out for his drug use in a song."Yankee felt like he was like my father. I took it too seriously," Jam told Billboard. In response to that, Jam then made a diss track about Yankee, which totally backfired. He admitted, "That wasn't a good choice because he came with 'Gasolina.' [I] looked stupid. He went his way, I went my way — and ­obviously my way didn't go very well."

Jam's way led him into a deep depression since he continued to use drugs and his weight blew up to 300lbs. He eventually resorted to taking a job as a hotel lounge singer, despite not wanting to be recognized. Jam's family friend Giovanni Ortega recalled his friend's suffering in another interview with Billboard, saying, "He always wore these big, dark glasses, just to hide behind." He added, "I saw these three dudes come up to him, like, 'Yo, Nicky, what happened to you? You a loser, bro'... I think he teared up."

It seems Jam knew that the only person he could blame for his failure was himself. "You get what you give. I gave bad energy, a bad mentality, I was stupid, and I paid for that," he dished on Revolt TV's "Drink Champs." He continued, "Look at all the sh*t I went through ... jail, drugs, embarrassments, my music wasn't popping. I wasn't doing anything."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Nicky Jam credits Colombia for his comeback

Following his fallout from Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam felt his career in Puerto Rico had basically come to an end. He shared on Revolt TV's "Drink Champs," "The thing is, in Puerto Rico, I wasn't doing no shows, man. Nobody wanted to f**k with me. I had a bunch of street problems ... I was the embarrassment of reggaeton music." However, things began to change in 2007 when Jam was invited to perform a show in Colombia. According to Euphoria, the trip went so well that Jam ended up staying because he finally found a place where he felt accepted. He dished, "In Colombia, I was a legend 'cause they listen so much. They even listen to music that in Puerto Rico, they didn't like."

Colombia helped Jam turn his personal life around too. "The boost they gave me made me want to be a better person. I started eating okay, I stopped drugs, I stopped alcohol. People came to love me because I was loving myself," he told Billboard. Jam also embraced the different culture, telling Dolce, "The people are so humble ... They stop doing whatever they're doing to help you."

Once in Colombia, Jam began making new music again and found his way back on the charts, signing with Sony Music Latin. Because of that, Jam has a deep appreciation for the country. He gushed, "Colombia gave me everything I needed to be the man I am today. They gave me a second chance at my career."

Nicky Jam reunited with his mother

Nicky Jam has been open about his difficult upbringing because of his parents' struggles with drugs. He even revealed on "The Breakfast Club" that his dad had basically raised him alone, saying, "My mom was a drug addict, and she couldn't take care of me." As Jam got older, he eventually lost touch with his mother altogether. "I almost didn't see my mom for almost 20 years, and my dad was a fugitive, so he was scared of contacting my mom because my mom was a drug addict," he told E! News.

Jam went on to explain that his mother had gotten deported to the Dominican Republic and that he was finally able to reconnect with her when he had a concert there in 2015. He recalled, "It was like a movie moment. My bodyguard was like, 'There's this woman outside. She's fighting with everybody saying she's your mom' ... When I go outside ... automatically, I knew it was her because I remembered her voice." Since that moment, the two have continued to rebuild a relationship. "It was something I was waiting for my whole life. I wanted to be famous to find my mother," Jam said.

It appears Jam is in a good place with his father, too, since in 2022, he presented Jam with an award for entering the Billboard Hall of Fame. While Jam admitted he was surprised to see his father onstage, he gushed, per Yahoo, "Dad, you look beautiful. Thank you to Billboard ... for bringing my dad."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Nicky Jam has given back

Nicky Jam has clearly gone through his own struggles in life, but the "El Amante" singer has always made it a point to give back to those less fortunate. In 2022, for example, Jam created a scholarship in his name that would give $250,000 to a student at Boston's Berklee College of School and Music. He explained to People, "Obviously, I came from nothing, and music saved my life ... I would love to change somebody's life with a scholarship to go to Berklee for music." Jam also performed at the 2022 Latin Grammys with recipients of their Cultural Foundation scholarship, saying, per Billboard, "I want to thank Latin Grammys for letting me be part of this project and donate this scholarship for young people."

Jam isn't just helping aspiring musicians, though, since, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he joined influencer Jay Mazini in giving money to the workers at a Miami Pollo Tropical fast food restaurant. Jam posted a video of it on Instagram, writing, "I loved the gesture of @jaymazini and wanted to join the cause and more in these difficult times."

It's clear Jam hasn't forgotten where he came from either since he also went back to Puerto Rico in 2017 to help residents impacted by Hurricane Maria. According to People, he joined the campaign, Unidos Por Puerto Rico, bringing supplies and assisting in the rebuilding efforts. He revealed, "I took generators to people I didn't know. I went to a couple of places ... and took some food."

Nicky Jam has a thing for models

Nicky Jam's love life may be a bit complicated, but if one thing's for sure, the man sure does love models, having had quite a few romances with them. Perhaps his most serious relationship was with model Angelica Cruz though, considering that they actually got married in 2017. According to People, the two had met online after Jam sent Cruz a DM and tied the knot two years later. Jam even gushed, "She made me feel something I had never felt." However, after 18 months of marriage, they ended up divorcing.

Jam was ready to try marriage again by February 2020 since, according to E! News, he proposed to model Cydney Moreau then, about a year after meeting her on a music video set. He wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post, "I hope we last until we're old." That didn't end up happening because by 2021, he was single again, revealing, "The situation of the pandemic, of quarantine, affected the situation a bit, and the truth is it just didn't work out" (via People).

Yet, Jam moved on, and by September 2021, he was dating model Aleska Genesis. While that relationship ended by April 2022, People reported that they were seen hanging out in Miami that July before E! News reported that he admitted in an October interview that he still loved her. However, that doesn't mean they got back together since the father-of-four also confessed on Instagram that he rather have "friends with benefits" than a girlfriend.

Nicky Jam also acts and hosts a show

Nicky Jam is mainly known for his music, but the "Live It Up" singer has branched out into acting too. Jam made his debut in 2017's "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" and later appeared in the 2020 Will Smith movie "Bad Boys for Life." He also tried his hand at voice acting in 2021's "Tom & Jerry," and in 2022, Deadline reported that he would even be starring in the upcoming film, "Regulators." When it came to his transition into acting, Jam told People, "Movies are something that I liked since I was a little kid. When I was in school, I used to do theater." He continued, "The reality of everything is that I just feel that it's for me."

But Jam isn't just acting since he also has worked behind the scenes, serving as an executive producer on both "Regulators" and his Netflix biographical series, "El Ganador." He explained to The Washington Post, "I think people need to see everything I can do in the acting world as well. I'm just ... enjoying the process. And the challenge."

Jam also started his own web series called "The Rockstar Show" for his YouTube channel. For Jam, it's a way for him to connect with his fans outside of social media. "I feel more relatable when I host the show because it reminds people of why they love Nicky Jam in the first place," he told Billboard, adding, "I share so many stories and talk with no filter."

Nicky Jam runs his own business

It appears Nicky Jam has goals outside of the entertainment industry, like being a business mogul. That's because, in 2022, he told Billboard that he plans to open restaurants, nightclubs, and even hotels. It seems he's on his way to that since he already has his own eatery in Miami called La Industria Bakery & Cafe. "Nicky Jam's brand is not only music," he explained. Jam shared the news of his restaurant with fans back in March 2021, writing in his Instagram Stories, per Miami New Times, "It's going to be an incredible thing. There are going to be all the pancakes you can imagine ... It's going to be crazy."

From the looks of the restaurant's Instagram, Jam wasn't lying because La Industria Bakery & Cafe does offer a variety of dazzling pancakes, like strawberry cheesecake pancakes and Nutella fruit pancakes, among other gram-worthy and delicious looking brunch options. The food must actually taste good, too, considering that Billboard reports they're set to expand in Puerto Rico, Orlando, and Medellín, Colombia.

For Jam, owning a business is more than just about the money or expanding his brand — it's about inspiring others. He dished, "I'm doing restaurants and hotels, not only to be connected with my fans but to hopefully motivate them. I want to lead people on the right path." It's clear that despite Jam once going down a bumpy road, he himself is now on the right path and is set on helping others along the way.