Photo: JP Cajina
JonTheProducer On Being Ready For An Artist Credit, Debut Single "Doctor" & Smash Hits
Latin music hit-maker JonTheProducer has made multi-platinum smashes for artists like Colombian singer/songwriter Camilo, Nuyorican icon Jennifer Lopez, Mexican popstar Thalía, and Chicana singer Becky G—and now he’s making a move for the spotlight. Following in the footsteps of heavy-hitter producers like Timbaland and Tainy, Jon Leone is stepping out from behind the console and stepping forward with an artist credit on his stellar debut single, "Doctor," featuring Mau y Ricky, Prince Royce, and Piso 21. The move is something he feels he’s finally ready for.
"A big part of being a producer is being at the service of other creatives and artists," Leone tells GRAMMY.com. "Sometimes you have to hone your vision a bit towards the artist and refine something that you think is cool or too different to what they want to hear. I feel like I'm finally in the position to go full-out into all my instincts."
As a French-American musician of Jewish descent, Leone is not your typical Latin music producer. It's thanks to his work with the Latin artists in his life like Camilo and Venezuelan duo Mau y Ricky that Leone found his groove in the genre. And the work has paid off—Leone won his first Latin GRAMMY Award in November for Best Pop Song with Camilo, his longtime collaborator, for his breakthrough hit "Tutu." (Later the album featuring “Tutu,” Por Primera Vez, would earn a GRAMMY nomination.) A few days after the Latin GRAMMY victory, Leone announced that he signed a record contract with Good Family Group in a joint venture with Sony Music Latin.
In an interview over Zoom, Leone chatted with GRAMMY.com about the stories behind his biggest hits, his new single "Doctor" and going from producer to artist.
You've written a lot with Camilo and Mau y Ricky. What's the experience like working with them?
It's one of the biggest blessings of my life. When I met Mau y Ricky and Camilo, it was just like the most natural thing. Working with them, I don't feel like it's work. I feel like I'm going to hang out with my friends doing something I love. They respect their craft so much that it makes me feel like I want to deliver even more. It's a perfect blend of love, trust and a great work ethic. If it wasn't for them, I would probably still be serving coffee. They taught me so much. They taught me how to listen properly. Also in my personal life, they really guided me a lot when I was lost. I owe everything to them.
Where did the idea come from for Becky G and Natti Natasha's "Sin Pijama"?
We were in L.A. with Mau, Ricky, and Camilo, and these two other writers, Nate [Campany] and Kyle [Shearer]. It was the first session I had where the artist was going to show up later on and hear what we were working on, so I never really experienced that time crunch. I was nervous. Ricky was like, "Dude, don't be stressed. Remember we're here as a team. We're going to get through this." When he stepped out, I went through my hard drive and found this one idea that I had started that was just a kick snare and the [intro melody to "Sin Pijama"], and then I just fleshed it out. I added a bassline. I added this kind of cajón thing. I was so thankful. I don't know what happened in that room. God was definitely present there. It was definitely a magical moment. Everyone came in and, I say, within 30 minutes we had the chorus. Mau just sang literally three-quarters of the chorus improvising, and we were all like, "Yo, that's it." The rest is history.
The song was recently certified 38-times Platinum. How did your life change after that one?
It definitely changed because I finally got some credibility. People felt that I was capable of pulling my weight. I definitely felt more confident in myself. Doors opened. I wasn't so stuck with the imposter syndrome that I didn't belong. I was like, "I can actually do this." Thanks to Becky and Natti, and everyone at Sony and [Raphy] Pina's team. Without them, I would still be trying to figure out how to pay for rent.
Thalía and Natti Natasha's "No Me Acuerdo" hit a billion views on YouTube. What was that writing session like?
There's a songwriting community inside Sony called Sony Secret Sessions that's headed by Alejandro Reglero. That was one of those Sony Secret Sessions. I remember specifically that day—it wasn't easy. That day wasn't like you sit down and within an hour you have a song. I remember Mario Cáceres and Oscar Hernández were like, "We need to do something unique." They did this clap after singing the chorus. I'm not kidding, the second after that clap hit, it was like clap-on lights. All of a sudden, everyone's energy lifted up. All the writers were on the same vibration. I was gunning it with the track.
How did Camilo's "Tutu" song come together?
We were in Camilo's living room on the floor. Richi [López] had some chords with this kalimba sound. A lot of times when writing, sometimes you just say words over and over again until something clicks. Camilo was going around like, "yu-du-tu," and then he said, "tu-tu-tu." We all laughed. He said, "No, we can't do that." Cami reminded me that I said, "No, you should do that. It's funny as f*ck." He was like, "Bro, we can't make it tu-tu. That's weird." He tried it out, and he was like, "Oh sh*t!" Cami being the mastermind that he is, within an hour, had the whole song fleshed out. We were stuck on small speakers on our laptop on his floor just figuring out the track. That night Richi went home and recorded a couple of extra guitars. 99 percent of what you hear in the final version was done that night.
What did you think when Shakira remixed the song with Camilo?
That was wild. I was not expecting that. Anytime we get an opportunity to bring women in our records, I'm always about it, because I feel like if you're not, you're alienating half the fan base. And for it to be Shakira, who is such a titan. That for me was the first "holy sh*t" moment because Shakira was someone I remember I grew up listening to, like hearing her on the radio with "Hips Don't Lie," "She Wolf," and all those records. And for her to want to hop on something we did, that was crazy.
How did it feel to win the Latin GRAMMY for Best Pop Song?
That was crazy. Because of the pandemic, we didn't really get to celebrate in person, so we were just all together at the house with the family. I always pray, but I never get my hopes up too much because you don't want to be left bitter. When we heard our names called, I'm pretty sure I blacked out. I see videos of us celebrating. I don't remember anything. I just remember the five minutes after that when everyone calmed down, I was like, "Oh sh*t, it happened."
Another big hit last year was Jennifer Lopez's "Pa' Ti" with Maluma. How did that song come together?
That was also a Sony Secret Session. That was a wild one. Being that J.Lo's team was so far ahead with her releases calendar, we had been sitting on that song for about a year. Everything lined-up. There was this moment where her team was like, "We're ready for it to come out." It went from a year of having that song on my hard drive to within three months, we had Maluma's vocals on it. We had the mix, master, the revisions, and the version for the [Marry Me] movie. It was incredible. And J.Lo being the superstar that she is, the moment she was on it felt like it was guns blazing.
How did you assemble the all-star roster for your single "Doctor"?
That was a record done by all these weird moments lining up. We were actually in a session with Prince Royce years ago. At the time, Royce already had a bunch of singles lined-up. Mau y Ricky already had a bunch of singles lined-up. Artists reached out to us to release it, but we didn't want to give that song away just for it to come out. Thanks to Mau y Ricky we were able to open that door of friendship with Piso 21. Once Piso 21 hopped on the track, around that point we had already closed the deal with Sony and Good Family, and the rest was history. During the year of the pandemic, we went from the song being on a hard drive to having three of the hottest Latin acts right now. That was one of those highlights of my life for sure.
The "Doctor" music video is your first time being seen as an artist and the funny thing to me is that the first thing we see is your blurred-out booty.
[Laughs]. A few days before the shoot, I'm told, "You know how you have a bathtub scene. We're going to have a scene before where you drop your towel." I'm like, "Oh sh*t, I should've definitely worked out for this." This journey is definitely one where if you try to plan it, you're going to go wrong. It's best to just ride the waves when they show up. I'm so grateful because part of my personality is being goofy, acknowledging that I'm not Maluma, or like a six-pack Brad Pitt guy. I like that my first intro to being an artist is me dropping a towel and being like, "Hey world, this is who I am."
What can we expect from you next?
I'm definitely doing things that I don't think the Latin industry has taken advantage of. There's so many diverse palates in Latin music and especially when it's interpreted through some American ears, there's so many avenues to go. I'm really excited to share that kind of new palate to the market.