Puerto Rican producer Tainy opens up about his collaboration with Kali Uchis and Dua Lipa
From Cardi B to Maroon 5 to Selena Gomez, artists seek out urban Latin music producer Tainy and his team at Neon16. And it’s no wonder: the Puerto Rican artist, who featured last year in Variety‘s 10 Latinxs to Watch, had a presence on the Billboard charts for 85 consecutive weeks and kicked off 2021 with a Grammy nod for the Dua Lipa-J Balvin-Bad Bunny collaboration “A Dia (One Day)” on which he not only produced but shares credit for the ‘artist. Currently, he is reaping the rewards of his work as an executive producer on Kali Uchis’ first Spanish-language album, “Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios)”. The single “Telepatia” became Uchis’ first number 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart, earning it the designation of VarietyHitmaker of the month.
Tainy grew up admiring producers such as Timbaland, Scott Storch and Dr. Dre and shaped her sound with elements of hip-hop and reggaeton, two genres that influence her. You can hear this mix of styles on Bad Bunny’s albums, J Balvin’s “Vibras” and even the “SpongeBob Squarepants” franchise, all of which have Tainy’s keen sense of mixing urban beats and styles.
Now investing time in more personal projects, including an album he says is in the works and a recently teased project called “Dynasty,” a collection of eight tracks to be released this summer in collaboration with Yandel, Tainy also works on the development of young and new talents.
When you work with artists of Latin origin who are not from a Latin market, is the strategy different?
The process, yes, is different. Usually it’s artists who sing in Spanish trying to sing in English, but here you have it the other way around, and my mindset is that it must be something that is true to them. It can’t sound like “Oh, just because it’s hot so let’s do it,” because it has to be done in a way that looks like the artist and feels authentic to that artist, and I think that it is something that is easily lost. I think that was Kali’s state of mind.
Kali is Colombian, but this is her first project with a strong Latin and Spanish influence. How did the process of working with her and the production of “Sin Miedo” develop?
Kali is very specific in everything she does. It was not a process of making her understand, “You just have to be Kali and do your voice like you usually do and talk what you talk about, just in Spanish.” It was really a collaboration between the producer and the artist and the whole team going back and forth. It was just a matter of getting those details and adding my opinion as well; me coming from that [urban Latin music] world and working there a lot of time, I have some ideas about sounds. Being a fan of Kali’s music, I knew that a certain type of sound in the urban genre within Latin could work completely with his music, as it gives him a chance to explore those melodic elements. It was an amazing process, and I’m so excited for people to see it and make it into a hit album and song.
“Un Dia (One Day)” came out last year, and seeing Dua working on a Latin track might have come as a surprise. You are so good at translating the rhythms of modern Latin pop in a way that any artist can collaborate with you. When you work with artists like Dua, who is not Latin, how does that work out for you?
It was about going in and making everyone merge and feel part of the same song. When you listen to Dua, you feel her completely, and it was just the elements of how the beat was and the groove of what it had that made it different for her. Part of it was Balvin and I sitting down and seeing what the song is about and defining what his part and his point of view should be. This is how we treated it. Everyone was in the same situation, giving their take on how they see it, and that’s how Benito [Bad Bunny] also attacked him. Then, it was a question of reconstituting these parts together. It was a cool moment and song, because it was a different kind of beat… It’s not typical of Bad Bunny or J Balvin, but it’s not typical of Dua either, so they were all in a different space.
What about all the work you’ve done within the “SpongeBob” franchise?
It’s always been something I wanted to do, be part of a movie and be able to make music for it. It’s inspiring, and it’s something I’ve seen other producers that I admire dive into and do it in incredible ways, so the opportunity arose for the studio to make the movie “SpongeBob.” “, we had a meeting, and I didn’t know how it would go, but they were really into it, and they gave me the chance. … That’s when you think, “I don’t wanna mess it up, I don’t wanna do this badly” – you get clips of the original song “SpongeBob”, and you think to yourself, ” How am I going to mix this with what we’re doing? I was a little afraid that I would mess it up and do it the wrong way, but as soon as I sat in the studio and grabbed the files and got into my elements, all these thoughts wore off and I started creating and having fun with it, moving parts around, and all the ideas came pretty quickly.
You created huge successes with J Balvin last year. He’s hands down one of the best reggaeton artists in the world, but how did he become the guy you’d put on “SpongeBob”?
As soon as we knew we needed an artist for the song, saw the energy and the vibe it had and that it was for “SpongeBob”, I got to know Jose [Balvin] was the guy to do it. I first sent it to him hoping he would be in the same state of mind and he said, “OK, let’s go, I’m in it”. When you listen to “SpongeBob” you probably think it’s something for little kids, but we’ve seen people of all ages listening to the song and making their TikTok videos. It exploded like crazy, so I’m glad we gave people all over the world a little bit of happiness.
So, is the plan to dive deeper into film production?
Yes, I would love to. I would like to get more involved. I don’t know who it would be or what kind of film it would be, but being able to score something would be amazing.
You’ve been working non-stop since the launch of Neon16. Hits from last year, a Grammy nomination, # 1 with Kali and a collaboration with Maroon 5 on “Button”. You are nonstop.
I am happy with all of these things. I was able to do different types of projects over the span of two years, so I can’t wait to see what continues to add to that, but I’m really happy and excited for this one, and also for the Yandel project, so a lot of music to come.
Say more about the Yandel album. You teased him on social media.
I am doing a legendary project with Yandel. We put the teaser in there, and it’s amazing to us because he and Wisin were some of the first artists to give me an opportunity when I got there, and over the years they’ve always given me chances and opportunities to be part of their albums. Most of my career is Wisin y Yandel. It’s amazing how many songs we’ve made, how we’ve evolved over the years and now come to this. Yandel and I always had this artist and producer connection, while we were in the studio, so we said, “Let’s go and do it.” We had the time and the hunger to create an incredible album. You will have the opportunity to see different aspects that you have heard from us before and things that you have not heard from him until now. It’s going to be exciting and a cool time for music.
So when you say these are “you’ve heard of us before” things, are you saying it’s going to be like a throwback to Tainy and Yandel – and reggaeton – from the early 2000s?
Yes exactly. You will have that early 2000s essence that we used to do and used to hear from Wisin y Yandel, but you will also be able to hear it in different kinds of rhythms or styles and genres. so it wasn’t a song album expansion, but it’s about eight songs and with that small amount we have to show everyone a bit of those moments. It’s called “Dynasty”, so we treated it like that, kind of like a championship, like a basketball team that goes to the finals every year. Having so many years of hit songs, we treated it like that.
You are behind the biggest names in Latin and mainstream, but you have other projects in the works. How’s it going?
I’m at the start of the process of creating my personal album project where I’m going to have multiple artists, and I’m just going to produce it completely. It won’t just be an artist, it won’t be a type of artist, just everyone that I admire and love, just to be a part of it and bring everyone to a different vibe and time. I’m super excited for this. This one is still early days, but at least people are learning it’s in the works.
Do you think that being dynamic and open to stimulating work is what motivated many of these opportunities?
I’m trying to have every possible opportunity so that these kids behind me can see that you don’t need to be locked in a box. You can do whatever you want, keep growing. You can like many types of music; you don’t have to love just one. I think it’s fair to me, I have that in mind to keep going and grab every opportunity and try to be the best you can be. I’m just trying to grow up as a producer, and a lot of times people see you and hear you working on a certain genre and doing certain things and they think that’s all you can do.