The houses all look the same on a quiet, residential block near Miami’s design district: white picket fence, cute front yard, trimmed windows — and no way to know which one is NEON16, the studio launched in 2019 by Puerto Rican producer Tainy and his manager/business partner, Lex Borrero.
Inside, Marshmello’s entourage is lounging on couches at the entrance, flanked by giant KAWS and Murakami dolls. Marshmello, sans helmet, is in a room listening to beats with Tainy, who only steps away from his laptop to say a brief hello. “He’s practically a monk,” Borrero says later of his client. “He’s on his computer all day. We’ll be in Japan, and he’ll just want to be in his room finding beats.”
There is indeed a certain level of asceticism required to produce music at the astounding rate that Tainy has maintained for the past two years. In 2018, he co-wrote and produced “I Like It,” a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 for Cardi B, J Balvin and Bad Bunny, and has since placed six other tracks on the chart. In 2019, he was the No. 1 producer on Hot Latin Songs thanks to 19 entries during the chart year (Nov. 24, 2018-Nov. 16, 2019), including tracks off Bad Bunny’s X100PRE and the Bunny-Balvin joint release Oasis, both of which are up for the best Latin rock, urban or alternative album Grammy Award.
Tainy signed a management deal with Borrero, a 34-year-old publisher who previously headed Roc Nation Latino, in 2018. Early last year, Tainy inked a label deal with Interscope for NEON16, and by December 2019, he finalized a deal with WME. Now, the 30-year-old producer is preparing to release his debut solo EP, The Kids That Grew Up on Reggaeton, out in March on NEON16.
Tainy isn’t the first Latin urban producer to venture out as a solo act: DJ Luian, Mambo Kingz and Play-N-Skillz have fronted their own projects, while Chris Jeday has scored several hits as a headlining artist, including 2017’s “Ahora Dice” featuring Ozuna and Balvin. Tainy is, however, the first to produce mainstream acts — and simultaneously land them hits while crafting his own. In 2019, he had two forays as an artist: “I Can’t Get Enough,” with Benny Blanco, Selena Gomez and Balvin, and “Adicto,” with Anuel AA and Ozuna. “I always wanted to push myself to be something we had never heard before,” says Tainy today. “It’s that combination of what we haven’t heard with what we love [that sets me apart].”
As the title of his EP implies, Tainy grew up on reggaetón. Born Marco Masís in Puerto Rico, he moved with his family to Hartford, Conn., when he was in kindergarten but moved back by the second grade. Those three years stateside, however, were crucial: Tainy learned English, devouring American TV and listening to artists like Eminem and Snoop Dogg. He was still blasting the reggaetón he was raised on, too, and soon befriended Josías de la Cruz, now known as producer Nely “El Arma Secreta” — their mothers went to church together — who introduced him to production. “Watching him work made my mind go crazy,” recalls Tainy. “He gave me the software to start producing. That was my addiction those years: I would come from school and try to see what I could make work. I would listen to songs and dissect them.”
By 14, Tainy signed to the production team Luny Tunes — the duo behind hits from Wisin & Yandel, Daddy Yankee and Don Omar — and earned the nickname “Tainy Tunes.” Despite crafting hits with the pair in Puerto Rico, Tainy didn’t take off on his own until he moved back to the United States, landing work with Balvin and Bad Bunny, and pushing the boundaries of reggaetón. He not only created a sound that moved away from the standard, but also easily switched between producing mainstream and Latin artists, a rarity in the Latin urban genre.
“You can’t go too drastic when you’re creating records for the Latin market; it’s about expanding what their ear is used to,” says Tainy. “The American market has more liberty. Hearing the essence of reggaetón from Luny Tunes, but listening to different chords from The Neptunes or how big and full Timbaland’s percussion sounds [are] and adding those pop and electronic elements [influences my work].”
The Kids That Grew Up on Reggaeton is being marketed as a complete “experience” that began with a photo exhibit in Miami during Art Basel in December. There are plans to open pop-up shops in Mexico City and New York, and eventually, Borrero wants to have a festival of the same name. Tainy is also using the EP as an opportunity to co-sign up-and-coming artists and producers by featuring NEON16 acts Kris Floyd and actor-influencer Dylan Fuentes, as well as Spanish rapper C. Tangana, a fixture in the Spanish urban scene who is breaking stateside. All the while, Tainy is delivering hits to the superstars; in September, he produced and appeared on “Feel It Too” alongside Jessie Reyez and Tory Lanez.
Jorge Mejia, Sony/ATV’s president/CEO for Latin America and U.S. Latin, summarizes Tainy’s trajectory best: “Tainy epitomizes the future of music: multicultural, bilingual, infectious and constantly evolving.”