Hitmaker of the Month: Puerto Rican Producer Tainy Is the Mastermind Behind Kali Uchis’ ‘Telepatia’

From Cardi B to Maroon 5 to Selena Gomez, artists are seeking out urban Latin music producer Tainy and his team at Neon16. And it’s no wonder: the Puerto Rican artist, who last year was featured in Variety‘s 10 Latinxs to Watch, has 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 “Un Dia (One Day,)” which he produced. Currently, he is reaping the rewards of working as executive producer on Kali Uchis’ first Spanish-language album, “Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios).” The single “Telepatia” became Uchis’ first No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart, earning him the designation of Variety‘s Hitmaker of the Month.

Tainy grew up admiring such producers as Timbaland, Scott Storch and Dr. Dre and molded his sound with elements of hip-hop and reggaeton, two genres that influences him. You can hear this mix of styles on Bad Bunny’s albums, J Balvin’s “Vibras” and even the “SpongeBob Squarepants” franchise, which all 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 dubbed “Dynasty,” an eight-track collection to be released this summer in collaboration with Yandel, Tainy is also working on developing young, new talent. 

When you work with artists who are of Latin descent but don’t come from a Latin market, is the strategy different? 

The process, yes, is different. Usually it’s Spanish-singing artists trying to sing in English, but here you have the other way around, and my mindset going into it is that it has to be something that is true to them. This can’t seem, like, “Oh, just because it’s hot, then let’s do it,” because it has to be done in a way that it looks like the artist and feels authentic to that artist, and I think that’s something that gets lost easily. I think that was the mindset going into Kali.

Kali is Colombian, but this is her first project with a heavy Latin influence and in Spanish. How did the process of working with her and producing “Sin Miedo” develop? 

Kali is very specific in everything she does. It wasn’t a process to make her understand: “You need to just be Kali and do your vocals how you usually do them and talk about what you talk about, just in Spanish.” It was really a collaboration between producer and artist and the whole team just going back and forth. It was just getting those details and also adding my opinion; me coming from this [urban Latin music] world and working for a lot of time in it, I have certain ideas on sounds. Being a fan of Kali’s music, I’d know that a certain type of sound in the urban genre within Latin could work completely with her music, because it gives her a chance to explore those melodic elements. It was an amazing process, and I’m so excited that people got to see it and make it a successful album and song. 

“Un Dia (One Day)” came out last year, and seeing Dua working on a Latin-based track was perhaps a surprise. You’re so good at translating modern Latin pop beats in a way that any artist can collaborate with you. When working with artists such as Dua, who isn’t Latin, how does that guidance go for you?

It was about going in and making everybody merge together and feel part of the same song. When you listen to Dua it just feels completely her, and it’s just the elements of how the beat was and the groove of what it had that just made it different for her. Part of it was Balvin and me sitting down and seeing what the song is about and defining what his part should be and his point of view. That’s how we treated it. Everybody was in the same situation, giving their point of view of how they see it, and that’s how Benito [Bad Bunny] also attacked it. Then it was about piecing those parts together. It was a cool moment and song, because it was a different type of beat… It’s not your typical from Bad Bunny or J Balvin, but it also isn’t something typical from Dua, 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’ve wanted to do, be a part of a motion picture and be able to do music for it. It’s inspiring, and it’s been something I’ve seen other producers that I admire dive into and do it amazingly, so the opportunity came of the studio doing the “SpongeBob” movie, we had a meeting, and I didn’t know how that would go but they were really into it, and they gave me the chance. … It’s that moment where you think, “I don’t want to mess up, I don’t want to do this wrong” — you’re getting stems from the original “SpongeBob” song, and you’re like, “How am I going to mix this with what we do?” I was a little scared of messing this up and not doing it the right way, but as soon as I sat in the studio and got the files and got into my elements, all those thoughts just went away and I started to create and have fun with it, moving pieces around, and all of the ideas came up pretty quickly. 

You’ve created some massive hits with J Balvin this past year. He is inarguably one of the top reggaeton artists globally, but how did he become the guy you’d put on the “SpongeBob” track?

As soon as we knew we needed an artist for the song, seeing the energy and the vibe that it had and that it was for “SpongeBob,” I knew Jose [Balvin] was the guy to do it. I sent it to him first hoping that he’d be in the same mindset and he said, “OK, let’s do it, I’m in.” When you listen to “SpongeBob” you probably think this is something for little kids but we saw people from all ages listening to the song and doing their TikTok videos. It was blowing up like crazy, so I’m happy that we gave people all around the world a little bit of happiness. 

So is the plan to dive further into producing for film?

Yes, I would love it. I would like to get more involved. I don’t know who it would be or what type of movie, but to be able to score something would be amazing. 

You’ve been doing non-stop work since kicking off with Neon16. Last year’s hits, a Grammy nomination, the No. 1 with Kali and a collaboration with Maroon 5 on “Button.” You’re non-stop. 

I’m happy about all those things. I’ve been able to do different types of projects in the span of two years, so I can’t wait to see what keeps on adding to that, but I’m really happy and excited for this one, and also the Yandel project, so a lot of music coming on the way. 

Say more about the Yandel album. You’ve been teasing it on social media. 

I’m doing a legendary project with Yandel. We put the teaser out there, and it’s amazing for us because he and Wisin were some of the first artists to give me an opportunity when I first came in, and along the years they always gave me chances and opportunities to be a part of their albums. Most of my career is Wisin y Yandel. It’s amazing to see how many songs we’ve created, how we’ve evolved during the years and now getting to this point. Yandel and I have always had that connection of artist and producer, while we were in the studio, so we said “Let’s just go and do it.” We had the time and hunger to create an amazing album. You’ll get to see different sides that you’ve heard from us before and things you haven’t heard from him until now. It’s going to be exciting and a cool moment for music. 

So when you say that it’s things “you’ve heard from us before,” are you saying it’s going to be like a throwback to the Tainy and Yandel — and the reggaeton — of the early 2000s?

Yeah, exactly. You’ll have that essence of early 2000s that we used to do and you used to hear from Wisin y Yandel, but also you’ll get to hear him in different types of beats or styles and genres, so it wasn’t an extended album of songs, but it’s about eight songs and in that little amount we got to show everybody a bit of those moments. It’s called “Dynasty,” so we treated it like that, kind of like a championship, like a basketball team going to the finals every year. Having so many years of successful songs, we treated it like that.

You’re behind the biggest names in Latin and mainstream, but you have other projects in the works. How is that going?

I’m in the early process of creating my personal album project where I’m going to have various artists, and I’m just going to produce it completely. It’s not just going to be one artist, it’s not going to be one type of artist, just everybody that I admire and love, just to be a part of it and bring everybody into a vibe and different moment. I’m super excited for that. That one is still early, but at least people get to hear that it’s in the works. 

Do you believe that being dynamic and open to challenging work is what has driven a lot of these opportunities?

I’m here trying to get every opportunity possible so those kids behind me can see that you don’t have to be locked in a box. You can do whatever you want, keep growing. You can love a lot of types of music; you don’t have to love just one. I think it’s just for me, I have that in mind to keep going and grab every opportunity and try to be the best I can at it. I’m just trying to grow as a producer, and a lot of times, people see you and they hear you work on a certain genre and doing certain things and they think that’s all you can do.

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