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The early 2000s was a golden era for reggaeton. During the infancy of its rise to mainstream recognition, pre-teen Marco Masís would anxiously anticipate school dismissal, excited to sit down at his computer and immerse himself in his newly-discovered addiction: music production. A tune would linger in his head all day, and he couldn’t wait to bring it to life. “When I saw that I could create something from my mind, anything that I wanted, on this software, to create music… it was mind-blowing,” he says.
Artistically known as Tainy, his formation as a reggaeton producer began with his curiosity of the FruityLoops program, and soon he was obsessing over arrangements and the alignments of keys, beats, rhythms, and melodies. While reggaeton began to gain popularity internationally, Tainy studied the software, embraced the process of learning, and created a disciplinary style in absorbing information. It paid off. Tainy went on to witness and play a significant role in the rise and evolution of reggaeton, ultimately making him one of the most demanded producers in the genre for the next 17 years.
Born in Puerto Rico to a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father, he briefly lived in Connecticut before moving back to San Juan. “It was special to grow up in Puerto Rico,” he says. “I’m blessed to have grown up over there.”
Known for its melting pot of diverse people and Dominican population, his childhood in Santurce identified more with his Dominican ancestry. “You get to see the combination of those sister countries and how they live together,” explains Tainy. “I think it’s something special to see the two amazing islands, one right next to the other, and have a little bit of both. Everything that [my mom] cooked in the house was Dominican, but I [experienced] the Puerto Rican side in school or at a friend’s house.” However, his experience in nearby Carolina unraveled a whole new world of swag and culture for him: “Carolina is the reggaeton capital, you saw that difference in how people dressed and what they listened to.”
Growing up bicultural in this specific time was his superpower. “I was blessed to get a little bit of both worlds,” he says. “It was a special moment to see [reggaeton] evolve, and then eventually be a part of it and molding how it would sound next.”
He was also blessed to be in the right place at the right time; San Juan, specifically Carolina, became home to the culture, pioneers, and tastemakers that would shape the nascent reggaeton movement. A friend of Tainy’s, Josias de la Cruz (also known as Nely La Arma Secreta), had made his way as an established producer and opened the doors to Tainy. Introducing him to Franciso Saldana (better known as Luny of Luny Tunes), Tainy was tasked with creating an impromptu beat on the spot for Saldana’s co-sign of approval, later becoming a mentee to the Dominican producers.
Signed by the tender age of 15, he worked in the Mas Flow studio — which in its time was a space where Puerto Rico’s hottest reggaetoneros and singers would meet. He went on to contribute to legendary compilation albums like Mas Flow, Mas Flow 2, and Mas Flow Los Benjamins, all projects that internationalized the culture and were helmed by his collaborators. These albums represented an era of experimentation and a style that strengthened the genre. They also created a blueprint by incorporating Caribbean-made rhythms and instruments that spawned from bachata, merengue, and Perico ripiao, and more using instruments like the Tambora, guitar, and the güira.
“When I started and came in under the Luny Tunes umbrella, it was amazing to have mentors,” he recalls. “To learn, to work as a team, be in charge of different projects. It was about expanding ourselves to see where we can go next creatively. To see what we want to do with our music, our vision.”
One particular artist who witnessed Tainy create that beat was Yandel. “When Luny Tunes sat [Tainy] down to create the intro to Mas Flow 2, that’s when I said, forget it, he is the future,” he tells us, adding what he felt automatically: “He is the future of reggaeton.” Tainy would later win multiple Latin Grammys and countless multi platinum records with the duo Wisin y Yandel. Most recently, the two released “Deja Vu,” the first single to their anticipated joint album DYNASTY, an album collaboration in commemoration of the 16-year dynasty they’ve shared as multi-award-winning colleagues.
In recent years, the now 31-year-old has become a global superstar, a fashion icon, and co-founder to Neon16, a label and creative hub that most recently held six tracks on Spotify’s Global Top 50 Songs, with such Tainy-produced tracks as Bad Bunny’s “DÁKITI” and Kali Uchis’ “telepatía.” The “neon” is a reference to Tokyo’s neon signs, an admiration for Japanese culture shared alongside Tainy’s co-founder and right hand man Lex Borrero. “Teaming up with Lex was the alignment of the right moment at the right time,” he affirms.
Lex and Tainy envisioned a label that would hold cultural weight, like Roc-a-Fella did in their youth. “When our generation was growing up, you used to see these different labels or groups who define the moment, so we wanted to do that. To see where we can keep growing and expanding our music as Latinos, exploring to see where else we could go. We saw the space was there to expand.”
As we chat over Zoom, he explains how quarantining led him to catch up on movies and documentaries. As a hardcore cinematography fan, the artform consistently inspires the hitmaker, influencing his personal style and creative process. “I don’t even know how to explain it, but it gives me ideas for music and sound,” he says. “I watched the original Blade Runner, and it gave me some senses, a lot of ideas on how it sounded and visualizing it with the movie.”
While he illustrates the various muses, his meditative energy is impossible to ignore. Tainy presents cool, calm, and collected. Though customarily reserved, there’s a radiance, a spark in his eyes that intensifies as he continues to talk about the inspirations playing a role in the orchestration of his latest projects.
His fashion taste is sharp and nonconformist. Two years ago, he (iconically) sported pearled Coco Chanel chokers and necklaces instead of iced-out long chains. These days, his style has become symbolic of his youth and the punk music he listened to at the time. “It was the early 2000s; punk and rock were huge for me. I was a fan even before I got into reggaeton. I used to love watching skaters ride,” he says. Interested in the X Games, he would search skater videos on YouTube; “I always loved that aesthetic, so it’s something that I want to bring back to myself; the same with listening and seeing how Linkin Park used to dress or look, or Blink-182, or Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
These same influences laid the groundwork for Bad Bunny’s alternative-rock and punk-infused tracks, like “Tenemos Que Hablar” and “Hablamos Mañana.” Whether it’s rewatching The Matrix or revisiting bands like Limp Bizkit, It’s all rooted in nostalgia: “I wanted to get a little bit of that ‘me’ back into today,” he explains. Another result of this approach? Tainy transitioned from a low, buzzed haircut to a longer messy length, adding blond highlights at the tip. His attire resembles the skate-punk style often chosen with comfort and edge: black oversize T-shirts, most often graphic tees, and wide cargo shorts and pants.
Tainy has remained consistent in the movement, working with everyone in the game. His personal touches continue to evolve while reminding the masses of the genre’s beginning: “Reggaeton is at a point where you can sample. It’s been more than 20, 30 years of this genre. So now, you’re able to sample certain things that feel nostalgic to you. That can mean getting a vintage keyboard, or something that’s from the ’70s or ’80s and bring it into 2021 and see how that sounds.”
Though he considers himself a “student to this day,” Tainy’s wealth of work is already a gem for the culture. Working with pioneers and newcomers alike, he’s contributed to the bridging of various cultures. “I want to keep growing as a producer,” he assures, while also maintaining the importance of being a leader for rising artists.
Through it all, he stays humble: “I’m truly blessed that it happened to me, but at the same time it’s about being ready when those moments arrive, knowing what to do. You’re not expecting it, but as soon as you get that chance, you just got to deliver. Thank god I was able to.”
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