With its genre-spanning, eternal-summer energy, Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti transcended Latin music and became one of the year’s biggest blockbusters. To one of his main producers, MAG, “It’s been a long time coming.”
“The [previous] divide between Latin music and pop music has now merged, because Spanish-language music is pop music,” he reflects.
The Puerto Rican-Dominican hitmaker helped Bad Bunny create the omnipresent Un Verano Sin Ti. The LP has become the first all-Spanish album to top the year-end Billboard 200, ever, and reached No. 1 on the Billboard staff’s Best Albums of 2022 list. It is also the first all-Spanish-language release to earn a Grammy award nomination for album of the year. And thanks to the record’s wild success, Bad Bunny landed on the cover to Billboard magazine‘s No. 1 year-end issue. It’s not just a chart-topping, record-breaking album, it’s an era-defining moment in pop.
The producer-artist pair have been working closely since MAG executive produced Bunny’s El Último Tour del Mundo in 2020, which also resulted in unprecedented success — it became the first Spanish-language release to top the Billboard 200 in the chart’s then-64-year existence.
Born Marco Borrero in Brooklyn, MAG alchemized 15 of the 23 tracks total from Benito’s latest record, including its two highest-charting tracks on the Year-End Hot 100, “Tití Me Preguntó” and “Me Porto Bonito” — the two songs combined have reached a staggering 1.9 billion streams on Spotify alone since the album’s release in May via Rimas Entertainment.
When asked about the album’s groundbreaking accomplishments, Bunny’s long-time collaborator Tainy, who co-produced nine tracks in the album, tells Billboard: “We never felt these things could be possible for us coming from Puerto Rico and being Latin. We always felt like there was [an Anglo-imposed] level higher than what we were doing, because of the Anglo market. That doesn’t exist anymore, and a lot of that has to do with Benito. It’s special to see those barriers broken, and dreaming big ends up becoming true. This is the new normal.”
“I’m happy to finally see that when you’re talking about Billie Eilish, Adele, Harry Styles, Justin Bieber in the same conversation now, you’re also talking about Benito, you’re talking about Karol G, Rauw and Rosalia,” echoes MAG.
Billboard hopped on Zoom with MAG, who was just arriving in Los Angeles from Miami to be honored at the Variety Hitmakers event for helping Bad Bunny craft another revolutionary new album.
Since we last spoke during the El Último Tour del Mundo (2020) phase, things have evolved tremendously for you. How’s your year going?
We work so much, and every time we finish something we’re on to the next thing. But when I take a second to be present and reflect on my year, it’s heartwarming to see everything that’s happening with Spanish-language music, and the impact that it’s having culturally. What’s happened with the songs we’re doing, how they’ve been accepted and received, and how that’s become a part of pop culture is really heartwarming.
When you reflect on Un Verano Sin Ti’s unprecedented accomplishments, what goes through your head?
The [previous] divide between Latin music and pop music has now merged, because Spanish-language music is pop music. It is the most popular music right now. It makes me really happy to see that. It’s been a long time coming. Of course, streaming has assisted in that — because now we can physically see what consumers are actually listening to, and most consumers are listening to Spanish-language music.
Congratulations on topping the Billboard charts’ Hot Latin Song Producers and landing at No. 5 for the all-genres Hot 100 Producers chart. Did you anticipate these accomplishments given the album’s recent success?
I’m never thinking about charts or the success of what a song is going to have as we’re creating it. I think that’s been an important part of my creative process. Working with Benito, we’re making things that we love and pouring our heart into that, hoping that it’s going to resonate and connect with people. But to have the chart accomplishments, it’s beautiful to see. It’s definitely exciting.
“Tití Me Preguntó” is an explosion of genres: Dominican dembow, reggaetón and hip-hop. It also has an Antony Santos bachata sample (“No Te Puedo Olvidar”). Talk to me about your creative process and what inspired the inclusion of all these musical styles.
It’s like throwing every genre I love in a blender and seeing what happens. That got inspired by the Antony Santos sample that Benito played to me the morning that we created that song. He came over to me with his phone and he was like, “MAG, quiero samplear esto” and played me the actual song. We had some really exciting ideas for it when it was just a trap song, and we put the sample in the intro.
A couple of hours into working on the song, Benito had this idea to try a Dominican dembow section on it, so I sped up the tempo after the hip-hop part. But it was a hard one — because, like you said, we had to cross pollinate so many genres together, and that was a challenge. But it worked. The final product was very, very exciting to listen to.
The song represents you too, growing up in Brooklyn listening to hip-hop, and being of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent.
Yes, [it is] an absolute representation of me. I am Dominican and Puerto Rican. I grew up listening to a lot of bachata, reggaetón, and hip-hop. I love Dominican dembow and I’m from New York. The song has this New York grit to it — I know for a fact that a lot of my people, friends and family back home in New York gravitated towards that.
“El Apagón” has some tribal drumming and ‘90s dance elements..
Benito and I worked on “El Apagón” from scratch. It started with an Ismael Rivera sample from a song called “Controversia,” a song that Benito really loves. He was just rapping throughout the whole thing. Then Benito said, “I want to make another anthem for Puerto Rico.” “P FKN R” [from YHLQMDLG] was an anthem, but it has a lot of curse words. As we’re making this curse-free Puerto Rican anthem, we thought of this ’90s freestyle house section for it. We then threw in “me gusta la chocha de Puerto Rico” all over the chorus [a DJ Joe’s “Vamos a Joder” sample] with Gabriela [Berlingeri] singing in the outro, which was the cherry on top.
Everything in the lyrics is an ode to Puerto Rico, and the situation that’s happening there. To hear it everywhere when I was in Puerto Rico got me really emotional. It really felt like an anthem for our people to see that there’s a lot of street graffiti with the lyrics around Puerto Rico.
Has this genre-spanning approach changed your perspective on producing music — searching sounds from within your culture, but also seeking external and perhaps previously-unfamiliar musical styles?
I can credit Benito for a lot of the growth that I have had as a producer. In all the work we’ve done together, we’ve challenged each other again and again, to blend genres, get out of our comfort zone, and do things that aren’t standard but feel great to us. That really helped me grow as a producer, in everything I’m doing now, and in everything I’m going to continue to do in the future.
I think that reflects in the music that we’ve made together, and how you hear all these changes and the meshing of genres in all these songs. Even if it’s a reggaetón song, you’re going to hear all these other elements. The growth has happened throughout my years as a producer but especially my work with Benito.
How has your creative relationship with him evolved since you two began working together in 2020?
I’ve been able to watch him grow and continue to develop as an artist. It has been amazing for me to assist in that. As far as our creative process and our working relationship, there’s a lot more trust. At this point, we each know how one another works and what our strengths are. We could be working on a song and he’ll say, “MAG, yo creo que le hace falta…” And I’ll complete the sentence for him. So the relationship has grown in that way. We have amazing chemistry creatively and we understand our workflow and exactly what the object is, whatever the obstacle in the song is, and we know how to get there.
I see that you produced 15 of the 23 songs in the album, and Tainy produced the other eight, but you only collaborated on one song, “La Corriente.”
Shout out to Tainy, the G.O.A.T., the legend. That [song] actually came from Tainy and his team. I was brought in last minute to structure it out, finalize and mix the song with Benito and La Paciencia. We worked on that remotely but it was still an honor to be a part of something with Tainy. He’s somebody who I’ve looked up to since I was a teenager and my entire career. Through my work with Benito, we’ve been able to actually become good friends.
I used to DJ house parties [in New York in the early 2000s], we used to call them hooky parties. We would cut high school and throw parties, and I used to play Tainy songs back then when I was 16, 17 years old. So to be in the same universe professionally with him now and to have collaborated on [“La Corriente”] is really special to me and an honor.
I peep that you dethroned him from the Hot Latin Songs Producer chart, where he held the No. 1 slot for the last three years. [Tainy landed at No. 2 this year.]
It’s wild. My competition is always myself. It’s always MAG trying to improve in what I do. I think there’s space for all of us to shine as producers in this industry, and what we’re all doing culturally for music and in Spanish-language music. Tainy, myself, Ovy [on the Drums, and other Latin producers]. It’s just a beautiful moment for Spanish-language producers.
Aside from Bad Bunny, you’ve also produced for Eladio Carrion, Imagine Dragons, Selena Gomez, Arcángel, to name a few. How does working with artists of different styles affect your approach to making a song?
My approach always changes song by song. Even when I’m working with the same artist, I always try to do what’s best for that song and to deliver the product that the artist needs. Never what I think is going to be best, never what I think people are going to like, just what fits the song.
What words of advice would you give somebody who is trying to start off their career as a producer?
Take your time in constructing an identity, a sound that’s you, that gives you an identity as a producer. It’s cool to be inspired by all your favorite producers, but there’s only one of them and there’s only one of you. So take your time and mold that identity. That’s what’s going to stand out as opposed to fitting in.