Urbano Producers Are Becoming Pop Stars, Too

Producers like Tainy are leveraging reggaetón's chart success for their own shot at superstardom.
Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images

On the charts, at the club, and in the streets, música urbana is changing the rap game right now, and each month Cultura explores the latest from the Latin side of hip-hop.

If you happened to watch ESPN’s Monday Night Football matchup between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets last week, you probably caught Anuel AA on the halftime show. Decked out in designer sunglasses, the Puerto Rican trapero dutifully performed his rising reggaetón single "Adicto" in the round for an intimate audience in a clubby setting that felt not unlike a hookah lounge. In the midst of rehabbing his image from rapping ex-con to viable Latin pop star, his appearance on the program suggested his campaign towards commerciality continues according to plan.


Yet as was the case with the release of "Adicto" just a few weeks ago, Anuel took second billing on the televised program to the track’s producer Tainy. Wearing a comparatively more muted outfit, largely consisting of a shearling-collared winter coat, the San Juan-bred beatsmith tapped at a Rhodes piano onstage, elevated slightly, but strategically, above his vocal counterpart. With the track’s other guest Ozuna absent, it proved hard not to focus on, or at least be intrigued by, the person not singing.

As The Neptunes and Timbaland did in the first decade of the 2000s with their respective production showcases Clones and Shock Value, urbano’s studio hitmakers are increasingly leveraging the success and popularity they’ve generated for other artists into greater name recognition and fame for themselves. From his teenage years teamed with the pioneering reggaetón duo Luny Tunes through his 2010s work with Wisin & Yandel, Tainy has spent roughly a decade and a half helping to shape the sound of música urbana. But after helming last winter’s critically-acclaimed Bad Bunny album X100PRE, he’s noticeably stepped out into the spotlight in a major way in 2019, releasing singles as a lead artist with backing by some of the biggest names in music, Latin or otherwise.

Though he’s previously produced or co-produced Billboard charting hits like Romeo Santos’ "Bella y Sensual" and Cardi B’s "I Like It," Tainy scored his first Hot 100 appearance in a top-billed capacity back in March with the Benny Blanco collaboration "I Can’t Get Enough," which counted J Balvin and Selena Gomez as its vocalists. It spent five weeks on the all-genre singles charts, peaking at No. 66. For those who thought that one might have been a curious blip or an attempt to recreate the pan-Latinx superstar team-up effect that DJ Snake’s "Taki Taki" had some six months prior, he came through again with a Song of the Summer contender. Co-credited to Bad Bunny, "Callaíta" kept the X100PRE momentum going, and continues to do so after 14 weeks on the Hot 100.


While Tainy may be the most prominent urbano producer to become a lead artist at the moment, he’s in very good company. DJ Luian & Mambo Kingz have multiple entries in that vein, including feature-stuffed singles like "Bubalu" and "Verte Ir." Chris Jeday was an early adopter, with his 2017 single "Ahora Dice" with J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Arcángel logging over 1.1 billion YouTube views to date. Last year, Haze went front and center next to Anuel AA with their joint hit "Amanece." Indeed, it’s not uncommon in the genre for producers or label impresarios to take this level of credit. But the way in which Tainy has converted that into namesake stardom for himself seemingly has game-changing potential.

The principal sonic architect behind J Balvin’s ascent from Medellín favorite to Lollapalooza headliner, Sky Rompiendo El Bajo (or Sky for short) dropped his first proper single nine months prior to "I Can’t Get Enough." With features by Balvin and Ozuna, the sleek "Karma" would’ve sounded right at home at either of the reggaetoneros’ 2018 album projects. Yet the producer claimed it for himself, ultimately earning Platino certification in the RIAA’s Latin awards program. He followed that one that fall with the poppy "Aquí Estaré" alongside Sebastián Yatra and Zion & Lennox, and then again this past January with "Bajo Cero," a bilingual trap cut with Jhay Cortez, rapper MadeinTYO, and Balvin.


A more recent entrant into the category is Dimelo Flow. The in-house Rich Music beatmaker hit it big this year for the label behind the boards for Afro-Panamanian singer’s Sech and Puerto Rican rapper Darell’s international summertime smash "Otro Trago." Stateside, the track reached No. 34 on the Hot 100, a few notches higher than the latter’s prior crossover hit "Te Boté." Seizing on that opportunity, Dimelo snagged Sech as well as Farruko, Nicky Jam, Lunay, and Zion for the aptly named posse cut "El Favor." In its first week on Billboard’s Hot Latin songs, the song took No. 21. A follow-up single with Ozuna is expected to drop this week.

While "Adicto" has yet to reach the Hot 100, moves like the halftime show set indicate that Tainy is on his way to securing a third hit single from an anticipated full-length under his own name. For now, he’s assuredly content with his multiple current placements on the chart, not the least of which being Anuel’s "China" which enjoys an eighth straight week there. As reggaetón and música urbana become more and more synonymous with U.S. chart success, we’re likely witnessing the dawn of a new class of producers as pop stars.

Los Favoritos Del Mes

Cali Y El Dandee and Rauw Alejandro, "Tequila Sunrise"

The Colombian pop duo connect with the rising trap R&B sensation for a boozy yet romantic single with shimmering dembow-driven vibes and soaring vocal interplay.


Jhay Cortez, Karol G, and Haze, "Deséame Suerte"

Beaming off their respective hit singles of the last 12 months, three significant players in the urbano world team up for a balladic reggaetón one-off that showcases each of their undeniably potent skill sets.

Farina featuring Blueface, "Fariana"

An unexpected yet highly effective twist on the Latin remix model, this bilingual cut from the ascendant Roc Nation signee makes "Thotiana" all her town and gets the Cash Money rapper to re-record his hook to suit her needs.

Major Lazer featuring J Balvin and El Alfa, "Que Calor"

With new recruit Eric "Ape Drums" Alberto-Lopez joining mainstays Diplo and Walshy Fire in the lineup, the genre smashing trio tag in the hitmaking Colombian reggaetonero and the Dominican dembow dynamo for their latest single.

Justin Quiles featuring Natti Natasha, Farruko, Zion, Dalex, and Lenny Tavárez, "DJ No Pares (Remix)"

The Bronx-born urbano artist and songwriter assembles a formidable selection of well-known guests for this melodic update of previously solo standout off his recent Realidad LP.