When songwriter-producer Blake Slatkin was 13 years old, he saw U2 perform at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. He had started playing the guitar three years earlier — and had been performing everywhere from local talent shows to his own bar mitzvah — but the concert solidified a career path in his mind. “I just wanted to be a rock star,” Slatkin tells Billboard. “It’s one of my most vivid memories.”
Two years later — after studying the work of hitmakers such as Pharrell Williams, Max Martin, Rick Rubin, Timbaland and Benny Blanco — Slatkin began to pursue a more behind-the-scenes role as a writer and producer, compelled by working on multiple genre-spanning projects at once. In 2015, he landed an internship with Blanco and spent the next several years learning about the music industry from the superproducer, who sometimes used Mr. Miyagi-esque teaching lessons to drive his points home.
“I’d be cleaning his closet, and I’d leave a spot a little dirty,” Slatkin remembers. “He’d be like, ‘How do you expect to be a good producer if you’re not going to care about little things like that? You need to care about every little single thing.’”
Slatkin didn’t show Blanco any of his own material for nearly three years, which he says became a lighthearted point of contention. “I just felt like I wasn’t ready and didn’t want to play him anything until I thought it was great,” Slatkin says. “It literally got to the point where my therapist was like, ‘You need to play him something.’” But when he finally mustered up the courage, the payoff was significant: in August 2018, Slatkin posted on Instagram that he signed a publishing deal with Blanco through Universal Music Publishing Group. Last year, he joined the Electric Feel Entertainment management roster.
Since 2018, Slatkin has worked with Grace VanderWaal, Rod Wave and Omar Apollo, in addition to executive producing his girlfriend Gracie Abrams’ debut EP, minor. More recently, he’s become a Hot 100 regular, scoring his first No. 1 hit last October thanks to 24kGoldn and iann dior’s “Mood,” and returning to the top 10 this May with The Kid LAROI’s “Without You.” His work on the latter’s recent Justin Bieber collaboration “Stay” is likely to make a splash on the Hot 100 on charts dated July 24 as well.
“I was always that music kid,” Slatkin, 23, says. “I run into people from my summer camp [now] and they’re like, ‘We always knew you were going to do stuff in music.’ I couldn’t have done anything else.”
A week before pandemic-enforced shutdowns, Slatkin met 24kGoldn, Omer Fedi and KBeaZy in a Los Angeles studio. The group created 24kGoldn’s future El Dorado single “3, 2, 1” that day, but more importantly, created a long-lasting working relationship. “I felt like I had been searching for people who understood and were excited about music in a way that I thought about it,” Slatkin says. “It was like a light bulb went off.”
That June, Slatkin received a demo for “Mood” — he’d heard teasers of it on Instagram Live and had been hoping to to work on it. He soon got back in the studio with Goldn and iann dior to make tweaks before working with Fedi and KBeaZy to complete the track. The song arrived in July, and reached the top of the Hot 100 a month before a Justin Bieber and J Balvin-assisted remix arrived in November. “We’re all so close that to be able to share that moment of excitement, but also to share being a little scared about what you do next, was the most special part for me,” says Slatkin. “There are so many emotions that come with [a No. 1 hit].”
After Fedi introduced Slatkin to the Australian rapper-singer last summer, the group quickly got to work together, and proceeded to spend months on end tweaking what would ultimately become “Without You.” Per Slatkin, when it came down to it, they had a day to finish the song’s second verse and production before the album was due. LAROI went over to his house in L.A., and the two stayed up all night on a FaceTime call with Fedi, who was in New York at the time, to finish and submit the track.
Upon the song’s release last November, Slatkin called it “one of my favorite songs I’ve ever been a part of” in an Instagram post. The reason? “Since I really started producing, it was always my goal to have a song with no drums be a hit,” he says. “To me, that’s a mark of a song where just the words and the melodies affect you and make you feel something.” In late April, LAROI remixed the song with Miley Cyrus, and the duo performed the revised version of the “Without You” on Saturday Night Live a week later.
Before they started dating in 2016, Slatkin considered himself a “massive fan” of the music that Abrams, the daughter of director J.J. Abrams, posted on her SoundCloud and Instagram. The two started making music together shortly after meeting and “learned to finish songs and put out produced music together,” says Slatkin.
During the writing process for Abrams’ debut EP, minor, the two split up for a year, though they remained collaborators on the project that frequently explores heartbreak. “The lows were really low,” Slatkin admits. “But that also led to some music that I hold really special to my heart, and I know she does too.” He remembers regularly working through the night to finish songs for the EP before falling asleep in the studio.
Following the release of minor last July, Abrams returned in 2021 with new singles “Unlearn” (with Benny Blanco) and “Mess It Up,” both of which include writing and producing credits for Slatkin. “She’s such an unbelievable talent,” he says. “She’s the kind of person that, even [though] I spend time with her every day, I still get goosebumps every time she opens her mouth to sing.”