At age 29, the producer Marco “Tainy” Masís has already been working on hits professionally for roughly half his life. While most producers eventually lose their hot hand, this one keeps finding another path to the charts, and this year, he helped put together Cardi B’s “I Like It,” a Number One hit, along with J Balvin’s Vibras, one of 2018’s best albums. Before Christmas Eve, Tainy had already enjoyed another impressive year.
Then the 24-year-old Puerto Rican star Bad Bunny released his versatile, accomplished debut album, X100PRE, which featured co-production from Tainy on 12 of the 15 tracks — yet another calling card in a career filled with them. Rolling Stone spoke with the producer about sampling the reggaeton group Plan B, getting background vocals from Ricky Martin, and finessing the transitions on X100PRE.
Last time we spoke was not long after you released “Estamos Bien;” when did you start actively working on X100PRE?
[Bad Bunny] called me like, “yo, we want you to come over to New York” — he was doing the U.S.A. tour, starting that. So I went over there and we started talking about ideas and concepts. I had already sent him a batch of beats just to see what he was feeling like, to get a better understanding of his direction.
The first time we ever worked together was “Estamos Bien.” Or we worked together on “I Like It,” but I was never there when he recorded, so it wasn’t the same. We were really getting to know each other while we were starting to work [on X100PRE]. We started to click. He used to do everything, all his beats. For him to feel comfortable with somebody else doing that part, it has to be something special [the relationship]. It was cool that he trusted me a lot in this.
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When you started having those conversations, what were some of your reference points?
He started talking about movies. He wanted this Fast and Furious type of style in videos. He had this idea of adding some of our childhood things we used to listen to — rock, Limp Bizkit, Blink-182, all these guys. I was like, I’m totally with you, ’cause that’s what I grew up listening to. Normally not everybody has those influences [in the Latin urban space] and wants to do a whole rock song. But it’s a spark to combine with what we do.
I think the rock song, “Tenemos Que Hablar,” surprised people in a good way.
Yeah man. That came out super quick. He just sent me the chorus and was like, “I want this to be a punk rock song.” For real? So I found a guitar that I had recorded. Sometimes friends of mine come over and we start recording stuff, so I had a couple normal guitar riffs, them playing one note over and over, so I can manipulate it and work on it in Ableton. It just worked perfect. The chords were exactly there, and I just had to nudge it two steps down. It didn’t go way up or too low where it starts to sound not like a guitar.
Did a lot of this album come together during those New York sessions?
In New York we worked on three tracks. “Cuando Perriabas,” that’s the straight reggaeton one. He had never done something like that, but he was like, “I really want to do a reggaeton track, but I’ll defer to you on this.” I came up with two ideas, but when I showed him the first one, that was it. He recorded it the next day and sent over at least the first half of the song.
Everything was recorded in hotel rooms and probably him in the plane. There were never studios. We met up back in L.A. and recorded more tracks. He went to Spain, he was touring. He came back, we met in Miami. We came up with a couple more.
Why did you want to sample Plan B on “Cuando Perriabas”?
They’re huge for us growing up in Puerto Rico. They came strictly from the underground and they became so popular. That song specifically [“Bellaqueo”] and a few others are like anthems over there. He wanted that influence, to sample stuff from when we were growing up. I found this live show that they did which sounded amazing and started chopping it up. There are no chords or melodies behind it [in the performance] that were different from the ones we were using [in the new instrumental], just the vocals and percussion from the sampler.
A lot of ideas on this were part me, part him, but mostly him. I just had the ending part [of the sample], not the one in the middle. He was like, doesn’t this other part fit over here [in the middle]? It was in key; it fit perfectly.
And what was the third track you started in New York?
We did the punk rock one, the reggaeton one, and we started working on “Caro.” That was the first one where I got a sense of where his mindset was. That idea of doing an interlude mid-track was his: I want this on the song. At first I’m like, this doesn’t go with the other part — what do you have in mind? So we had a back and forth on how to make that transition feel smooth and cohesive. The chords change, and the tempo changes completely — it’s four b.p.m. slower on the middle part. I think the song is 108, and then it goes down to 104 or 105 and turns into something else. But I think we found a way to make it feel good.
Did he already have the Ricky Martin vocals?
No. At one point he told me, “Yo, can you send me the interlude part? I have an idea.” I’m like, “I can send it to you right now. What’s up?” He’s like, “I’m gonna have Ricky do it.” I’m like, “you’re crazy!” To me it felt like listening to a Kanye West song and you can hear, like, Alicia Keys doing vocals and ad-libs behind the lead. As a fan, you know it’s her, even though it’s not like Kanye West featuring Alicia Keys. It’s those minimal details that feel huge for big fans of music.
Have you ever worked with Ricky?
Yeah — not this album but the last one. I met him for the first time, and he’s an amazing guy. I learned a lot working him and his producer, Desmond Child. Bad Bunny’s real proud to be a Puerto Rican. To have a legend from our country work on this is really cool.
Speaking of “those minimal details” on the album: Why did you put a string section on the end of the first track?
That’s one of my favorites. We did it in L.A. He sent me a rough vocal of the chorus, that was the only thing that I had. What I had at first was the ending part. Then I told him I had another option too that was totally different, that was the middle part. He loved them both. But he really had this idea that he wanted a ukulele [which can be heard strumming at the beginning of “Ni Bien Ni Mal”]. But I understood wrong, thought he wanted marimba, so I started working on that. He was like, let’s use them all. So we left the marimba part as a little thing at the end. It’s a different beat in that song every time the chorus comes out. I asked him, “does it feel long? I could cut it.” He said, “no, this is a piece of art. Don’t touch it.”
When did you create “RLNDT”? That beat is particularly impressive.
That’s one of the first beats I ever sent him, just to see which way he was leaning. That’s one of my personal favorites that I’ve done in a couple of years. That beat is two or three years old, but I wanted to give it to someone who could deliver something cool on it — I didn’t want it to be a normal song. I sent it to him and he was like, “this beat is amazing. I don’t even know what to do on it.” I said, “I know you’ll figure it out.”
That’s one of the last ones that I heard. I was working on everything else. Supposedly he had it in his mind, recorded it super quick. I was sitting down with Beto, his engineer, going through the songs and making sure that everything’s done proper. We end up on that one. I’m like, “which one is this?” He’s like, “it’s yours.” “Mine? I never got those vocals.” So he went and played me the reference. It’s crazy. Normally on the Latin side, artists who are commercially big don’t always go in on the lyrics side. That song’s really relatable to young people, to us, to kids, to adults. [Bad Bunny sings about feeling lost and insecure.] Everybody goes through different things in life and that’s one of them. It’s amazing to be a part of that too.
You have so many sounds on this album — “Otra Noche en Miami” has more of an Eighties feel.
That’s totally him. He did the beat and told me, “whatever you can fix or add, go in.” As soon as I heard, I didn’t want to touch it. I just did some little things mixing-wise, some things on the percussion to reinforce it, and since the chorus had different drums than the verses, I did some stuff to make them feel part of the same track. I told him, “have you ever seen Drive?” He’s like, “nah man, is it good?” That song makes me feel like I’m watching that movie.
El Alfa is really the only featured vocalist on this album, and that feels like a statement.
We didn’t even notice that was the only feature until the end of the album when we were going through the songs. I was listening with Noah Assad [who works at Rimas Entertainment], and he’s like, “do you think we need more features?” I’m like, “I think we have enough.” He says, “the only feature we have is El Alfa.” For real?
But that feature is so good. It just feels Dominican Republic: The classic bachata sample at the beginning and the modern dembow. That music that El Alfa and Mozart La Para and all these guys are doing, that’s what’s popping right now. And that part where it feels like the song is about to crash, that’s his idea too. “Yo, can we make it feel like the CD is skipping?” I’m like, let me see what I can do. I found a plug-in.
Obviously there were a number of big albums this year — you worked on J Balvin’s Vibras, which was carefully put together and cohesive. Were you thinking about competing with other big artists’ albums when you made this?
I really got to know Bad Bunny a lot on this album. Before this I spoke to Bad Bunny one time, at Complex Con, with Balvin after we did Vibras. We spoke for a minute and that’s it. After Balvin’s album came out, him and Balvin are close friends, and he loved Vibras. He’s like, “yo, someday I want to be able to do something like that.” Balvin was really the one who made the connection between us. We started to know each other working on it.
I was a fan of him already, but now it’s clear that creatively, there’s not a lot of people that can top him. We weren’t paying attention to what was already out, because I already knew what we were doing was so different. I knew it would have its own place.