Louis Bell is the type of guy you’ll find in line at Starbucks singing into the mic on his phone to capture a moment of inspiration. “There have to be thousands — definitely thousands” of voice memos on his phone, says Bell, 37. “A lot of them I don’t even go back and listen to.” He’s calling from Massachusetts, where he’s meeting his new nephew for the first time. (He grew up in the Boston suburb of Quincy.) “Then when I’m in a session, I’ll pull up the melody and be like, ‘Oh, wow, maybe this could work.’ ”
Those fragments have found their way into some of the whopping 35 Billboard Hot 100 entries Bell has to his name. Since breaking out in 2016 as Post Malone’s right-hand man, Bell is on his way to becoming this generation’s answer to Max Martin. That’s no exaggeration: In March, Bell became the first non-artist to have four simultaneous songs in the Hot 100’s top 10 since Martin did in 2011. By then, Martin was about 17 years into his producing career and had nearly a dozen Hot 100 No. 1 singles under his belt. Bell, on the other hand, only has three years of major credits to his name but already has contributed to six genre-spanning Hot 100 No. 1s, including Halsey’s “Without Me” and Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker,” which in total have amassed 6.21 billion on-demand U.S. streams.
Bell’s work is defined by its simplicity, both in the track — like the hollow, percussive heartbeat of Post Malone’s “rockstar” — and the lyrics, which are rarely abstract or overly conceptual. “A song can’t be too complicated, and the message has to be something everyone would want to say,” he explains. Many of Bell’s most recent hits have been three minutes or less — well-suited for the streaming economy, in which the competition is one skip away. “I want people to feel like they have to listen until the end,” he says. “That’s what makes the song have longevity.”
When DJ Snake and Justin Bieber’s “Let Me Love You” — Bell’s first hit as co-writer and co-producer — appeared on the Hot 100 in August 2016, the chart was dominated by explosive, straight-ahead pop anthems like Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” and Calvin Harris’ “This Is What You Came For.” But Bell helped guide the song to a No. 4 peak by mixing elements of pop and hip-hop under the track’s EDM sheen. He has experimented with those sounds since the early 2000s, when he first started making beats on a keyboard his mother bought him. He rapped, too, entertaining stage names like “Loudacris” and “Lou Balls” before finding his calling as a studio rat producing for local artists in his basement.
That background made him perhaps the perfect musical companion for Post Malone, an irreverent white rapper who struggled with credibility in his early years. The two met in 2015, two years after Bell moved to Los Angeles, when he impressed Post Malone’s manager, Dre London, by cleaning up one of the rapper’s vocal takes that London had thought was unusable. Bell’s credits are all over Post Malone’s debut album, 2016’s Stoney, as well as last year’s Billboard 200-topping follow-up, beerbongs & bentleys. His knack for fusing top 40 melodies with hip-hop-adjacent beats has scored Post Malone three No. 1 hits, creating a whole new kind of popular music in the process: In 2018, The Recording Academy made headlines when it ruled that beerbongs would compete in the Grammys’ pop categories, not the expected rap division. “We’re just making what we feel,” says Bell, who is published by Sony/ATV. “At the same time, music is shifting in a direction where what’s genre-less will be what succeeds on the Hot 100 without even trying. People will become way more open to diversity.”
While Bell’s sounds are ubiquitous today — he has had a hand in three of the seven No. 1s of 2019 so far — he’s not worried about keeping the momentum going. “If you’re a great stand-up comedian, you shouldn’t run out of material,” he says. “You should always be able to talk about what’s going on in the world. Any great producer who’s going to have longevity is going to always be able to see the world from their own perspective.” Even if it’s from the back of the line at Starbucks.