Tainy breaks down the boldest hits of his career

Tainy’s production credits are staggering to read through.

Securing his first major placement at age 15 with the Luny Tunes, Tainy has over 15 years of production experience under his belt already, crafting tracks for legends like Wisin & Yandel, Daddy Yankee, Héctor “El Father,” and Ivy Queen, while also pioneering new sounds with superstars like Bad Bunny, J Balvin, Cardi B, and Anuel AA. He’s already won GRAMMYs, made platinum hits, and pushed the genre that he grew up on to new heights, all before the age of 30.

In the past four years since música urbana exploded globally, Tainy has only been working harder, refining his sound and expanding his sonic palette even wider. In 2018, Tainy was heavily involved in X 100pre, Vibras, and of course, “I Like It.” Since then, Tainy has continued his hot streak. He’s worked on a slew of hits like “Adicto,” “Callaíta,” and “Querer Mejor,” as well as continued his work with Bad Bunny and J Balvin on their project OASIS. He recently released his own first solo EP, THE KIDS THAT GREW UP ON REGGAETON, and launched his own label and talent incubator, NEON16, with Roc Nation. Even in this particularly hectic moment in time, Tainy is working harder than ever, telling us that he’s been “making five beats a day” in quarantine, with more new music on the way as soon as July.

We spoke with Tainy over the phone about his career through some of standout songs he has produced, from the “Flashing Lights”-inspired “Un Call,” to the dark and grungy “CUIDAO POR AHÍ,” and finally ending with “MERA,” the song that kicked off his first solo project and this new phase of his career.

“Un Call” by Ñejo & Dalmata (2007)

The first track I really want to talk to you about is “Un Call” by Ñejo & Dalmata. I was just really drawn to this track and it gave off all kinds of cool different electro pop vibes, while still being rooted in reggaeton.

That one was a cool process because at the beginning, when I created that beat, it wasn’t meant for Ñejo. I think I started the idea for an artist called Tito “El Bambino,” who’s a legend in Puerto Rico. He used to be in this duo with Hector “El Father” and he’s one of those classic, legendary artists. So I started the idea for him, but it wasn’t really clicking for him with that specific song. So, the beat just remained in the air and I showed it to Ñejo & Dalmata, and Ñejo just went in and did his thing. And then after that, I just added some little details. Creating that beat, I think I was listening to a lot of EDM and pop, even dubstep.

So I had those influences with the synths and all those sounds that I was using. I think that was my main thing at that time, listening to a lot of Afro Jack and all these guys. I wanted to combine those things with the reggaeton movement and it came out a cool sound. It was kind of weird when we were doing it because it wasn’t like anything that was out at the moment, but it ended up working – his lyrics and his style, but with a different type of beat. It became a classic for beat makers. It’s one of those tracks that producers always talk to me about.

“Abusadora” by Wisin y Yandel (2009)

Moving on from there, still very much at the beginning of your career was “Abusadora.” The song was a smash hit, resulting in your first GRAMMY.

That one was during those same years. I was really experimenting a lot with my music and listening to some of the types of music that I mentioned earlier, but also what Timbaland was doing with the drums and stuff. It still has the same reggaeton pattern, but when you listen to reggaeton tracks, they usually have similar textures within the drums. This time, I just wanted to use different stuff that you could probably hear on a dance or hip hop track.

I have to thank Wisin & Yandel because they gave me a chance to experiment and take a chance when nobody was really trying to do different stuff. I’m super grateful to them for giving me chances to experiment with my music. To know that we don’t need to have the same type of rhythm, the same type of vibe, or the same type of kicks, snares, or drum sounds… It really opened a lot of doors, and like you mentioned, it gave me my first GRAMMY, so I was super grateful for that.

“Cuando Tu No Estas” by Arcangel (2013)

The next track I want to talk about is “Cuando Tu No Estas” by Arcangel. That track just really stood out to me because it has a R&B vibe, but very much still sounds like one of your tracks.

It’s cool that you mention it, because it doesn’t really come up as much. But for me, it was a really cool one because I’m a huge R&B fan and I think Arcangel is the same. He’s one of those artists that, like Wisin & Yandel, let me experiment at the beginning of my career. At that time, there weren’t many people doing rap in Latin music. They were mainly just going straight to the reggaeton. He gave me the chance to explore a little bit more of my inspirations and the people who I look up to. I remember a song by Ciara that’s one of my favorites, called “Promise.” That one was a huge influence in creating that track.

“Ahora” by J Balvin ( 2018)

So obviously, there was a huge swell of interest in reggaeton, música urbana, and Latin trap between 2013 and 2018. So the next thing I’d love to hear about is “Ahora” by J Balvin, as well as your work on Vibras as a whole.

I think Vibras is going to be one of those special albums in Latin music history. That whole experience was a different one. I think for instance, being able to connect with another producer, I think that’s something that doesn’t always happen. I’m personally very particular with the things I do as a producer, how I create, my workflow, and stuff, and you don’t always have that connection. It’s nothing bad, but it’s how music is. Sometimes they might be cool and friendly, but maybe workflow and music-wise, there’s not that connection there.

And I think with Sky, he’s one of those special guys where we have a similar workflow, taste, and sound with what we want to create. “Ahora” was one of the first tracks that we created on that project. I remember we did it in New York. It was me, Sky, and Jhay Cortez, who’s an up-and-coming artist, but was a really good songwriter at that point in time. With “Ahora” we wanted to merge some of the sounds that we were trying to incorporate in the album, while also maintaining that reggaeton root with the drums and the bass. I think it really set the tone for the rest of the project.

“CUIDAO POR AHÍ” by J Balvin, Bad Bunny (2019)

Continuing on your work with J Balvin, but also bringing in Bad Bunny, I would love to talk to you about “CUIDAO POR AHÍ” because that track is just fantastic. It has this super booming sound to it and kind of stands apart from the rest of the tracks on Oasis too.

As soon as I started to create the beat, I had those two guys in mind. I think I was already finishing Bunny’s project and Balvin was working on his music. So, I always wanted the track to be for either one of them – at this time, the idea of them doing a project together wasn’t in the works. So, I started to create the beat, with just the trumpet and brass sounds that I have in the intro as the main part of the track. I wanted it to feel super hard and edgy; I wanted something dirty, nothing bright. I know it’s not the same type of beat, but I was thinking about “Ugly” by Bubba Sparxxx and Timbaland, with how the drums come in and just feel so big.

I showed it to Balvin but he wasn’t sure of how to go in to it. That’s when I just got the team together. Jhay Cortez was around and he started to play around with it and got the hook sounding super dope. By that time, we were realizing that we were going to do this project with Balvin and Bad Bunny together.

When Bunny came in and started giving his take on the song, his verse, it just gave it a whole other energy. By that time, we already had the puzzle already fitted together. So, Balvin did his verse, and it came out amazing. It’s one of my favorite tracks that I’ve been able to work on. It’s one of those beats that people talk to me a lot about.

“Hablamos Mañana” by Bad Bunny (2020)

The next tracks I want to talk to you about are “Hablamos Mañana” and “<3” on YHLQMDLG. The way you bring in those rock influences on “Hablamos Mañana” is really striking. It’s a really unexpected and special moment on the album, especially considering how it transitions into the outro track as well, which I think is this perfect contrast to how big “Hablamos Mañana” gets.

That’s a really special one, production-wise. When I started the song, I had this simple track with just what you’d listen to in the intro. That’s where Bad Bunny started creating the hook and his verse and everything. By that time, we got back together in Miami and we started talking about ideas that we started, how we were going to finish them, and where to go from there. So he told me who he had in mind to be on the track, and he told me, “Yo, I like how it is right now, but I want to give it a rock feel because the artist who’s coming in also has that kind of tone.”

If you listen to the song and pay attention to it, you hear more guitars come in little by little, and then the drums start changing, and then a live bass comes in. Everything starts transforming until you get to the explosion in Duki’s verse. It just totally changes up to rock. For me that’s huge because rock has always been a huge influence. I know it doesn’t really relate to what I was doing in my early work with reggaeton, but even if it’s textures or a bit of guitar or distortion, I try to add those little elements, and it’s given me a different sound over the years. But to be able to go fully into the rock is incredible for me, and he gave me those opportunities. I’m super proud of working on a track like that and being able to just explore, and for him to give me that liberty as a producer is wild. I couldn’t ask for anything better.

“MERA” by Tainy, Dalex, & Alvaro Diaz

So the last track I want to talk to you about is “MERA,” but also NEON16 and THE KIDS THAT GREW UP ON REGGAETON. I’d love to hear about that specific song, but I’m also just curious about that project as a whole and NEON16, and what you can do on a solo project that maybe you couldn’t do when collaborating with artists.

“MERA” is the track that started it all for the project. Those days, I was working with Alvaro Diaz, who’s a great friend of mine and a great artist. He showed this track to me because he wasn’t efficient with Dalex, the other artist on the song. When you listen to Dalex’s music and Alvaro’s music, they’re totally different. At the same time, the beat from “MERA” is something that you wouldn’t probably hear either one of them doing.

I think they showed it to me because Angelo, Alvarro’s manager, really saw something in it and wanted me to listen to it, but Alvarro was like, “Nah man, I don’t see this track.” I think they felt a little uncomfortable because it’s not their go-to type of music; they didn’t know if it sounded super wack or it was something special.

After hearing the rough idea, I went in and starting tweaked some stuff and organizing the structure. It really didn’t sound perfect, but I’ve learned over the years to have an ear to understand that this isn’t the final product. I saw something in it and told him something like, “Guys, give me a chance. I’ll work on it a little bit and then we can make a final decision and see if it’s worth really finishing, or if it was wack from the beginning.”

I knew people were going to connect with it if we gave it a more hard-knocking vibe, since reggaeton is something that people really know and love already. Even if it wasn’t really reggaeton, I wanted to get it close to the ambiance it has. As soon as they heard it, they got the sense that they could see themselves on it. It was really cool to see that mixture, because sometimes we need that. As an artist, you think you can only do one thing, but if you go out of the box and just try something else, you discover something for yourself. You become a more broadened artist moving forward. You open your listeners up to exploring more stuff with you. It was a really cool growing step for all of us.

THE KIDS THAT GREW UP ON REGGAETON was me having a chance to sit down and collaborate with not only the team of producers, songwriters, and artists on NEON16, but also the new up-and-coming artists who I think are dope. To see what we could do together, and also have people see them, because these guys could be the next superstars that we need in Latin music – and from all across the world, not just from Puerto Rico or Columbia. You have people from Argentina, Jamaica, Spain, L.A., the Dominican Republic, everywhere. I’m really proud of how it came out, and how different every track sounds. It was a special process.

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June 17, 2020

Shakeil Greeley Shakeil Greeley is a designer, artist, strategist, and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently a Visual Designer at Splice.