NEON16 Is the Miami Artist Incubator Churning Out Some of Reggaeton’s Biggest Hits

Courtesy of Neon16

NEON16 is home to some of el genero’s top productions, like J Balvin, and Bad Bunny’s collaborative album, Oasis. The house turned studio is the brainchild of Latin Grammy-winning producer Tainy and music executive Lex Borrero, along with Ivan Rodriguez as the creative director, and Pablo Batista as A&R.

“The name comes from Tainy and my love for Japanese culture,” Borerro said. “The first thing you think about when someone says ‘Tokyo’ are neon signs and the 16 comes from the fact that both he and I started our careers at 16.”

In June, the pair opened the space in Miami’s Upper East Side and wanted to give NEON16 a home feel. Following their love for Japanese culture, they filled the space with art that ranges from Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, to Miami’s own Ahol Sniffs Glue. They also implemented the “no shoes allowed” tradition, providing guests with NEON16 hotel slippers each person can customize.

Their tagline “Fear Nothing, Impact Everything,” comes from the way they aim to impact culture relentlessly. “We spent seven years away from our families doing what we had to so we can do what we’re doing now and play by our own rules. When we moved here in December of 2017, we put a plan to pursue the scene, and that lead us to meet Tainy,” Rodriguez adds.

Tainy and Borerro’s love for art brought the pair together after realizing they were neighbors. “We were both in interesting parts of our careers. Tainy was searching for growth as a business man, and I was looking to get back to being creative after spending most of my career on the business side,” said Borerro. “Our partnership resulted from our needs, and NEON16 was routed from the desire to have the perfect mix between a creative and business space.”

Now, both locals, and artists from all over the world are coming to record with them. Since their launch in June, they’ve had artists like Colombian singer Kali Uchis, Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony, and NE-YO stop by and work there. Tainy, their resident producer and business partner, is another significant advantage of the incubator. It’s appealing to artists to work with the accoladed creative, and as Rodriguez says, they add to the experience of creatives coming to Miami because they can work and play at the same time. The fact that they’re working from a home, he adds, allows artists to bring their guard down quickly.

“We’re big believers in having a vision and having a clear path of where we want to take the music. When we created NEON16, it wasn’t about the money and business only. We were thinking about how we could create a place that had culture, and we can develop young talent in every level in music, business, and art to have a lasting impact on culture,” Borrero says. “You’ll see it in everything we release from a music video with Tainy, to an album release, even to a song, it’s done in that spirit. They’ll feel that when they come to the house or on a call or business meeting. It’s about the culture and integrity and giving creatives like Tainy and the others a space where they feel at home.”

Business development, paperwork, publishing deals, and more are part of the services aside from the creative area of making music NEON16 offers. They’ve also partnered with Interscope Records to develop the label side of the business and added female songwriter Cris Chil and Álvaro Díaz as the first artist to their management roster.

Diaz says that being in a creative environment and bridging connections with the talent that passes throughNEON16 has further developed him as an artist. Diaz, who started on SoundCloud about ten years ago, is expecting to release his E.P. soon. The concept is influenced by radio mixtapes. He’s releasing them as five different radio stations each with one of his alter egos. He crafted the music release in three parts releasing the first station in August, September will see the release of two stations and September will launch the last station that ties everything together.

“Being under the production of Tainy is like being under the production of other greats like Dr. Dre, Timbaland or Kanye. Also, having Lex to work with was like finding the right fit for me as an artist because not many have been able to work with my sound,” Diaz says. “Not only has he worked with me, but he also has the vision and tools for the music. I’m confident in what he wants for me as an artist. It’s a privilege to be here and that I’ve been able to nurture the underground and work for so long. For now, to be here, there’s no question regarding the talent or if we can do the work.”

His colleague Cris Chil, Neon’s only female creative of the crew, has a distinct and boss approach adding her own flair to the incubator. She’s written songs like “I Can’t Get Enough” featuring Selena Gomez, Benny Blanco, Tainy and Balvin, “Contra La Pared” with Sean Paul and Balvin, Gente de Zona’s “Mejor Sin Ti,” and in the pipeline, she has a project with Anitta and Dj Snake. She’s cut her teeth in the industry and lives by her motto of “make them listen” and plans to expand her talents as an artist.

“I get to pick the words and help the artists find the identity to what they want to say. Lex has been managing me as a songwriter for the past three years, and it’s been a natural transition. He began with me, and a year later, he managed Tainy. All of this has been the cherry on top of the desert. Artists love the vibe, and it’s really like a creative glue at NEON16. Being a woman in the industry is hard por que we live in a machistaworld, being a female artist is great, but there isn’t the same validation for female songwriters, ” Chil says. “Especially for a male reggaeton artist to say ‘oh my lyrics were written by a woman’ is an ego thing. It’s been a process for them to be cool with it. I have an advantage over the men because in the music they’re trying to seduce us as women, and I’m trying to be seduced. Sometimes in reggaeton, there’s a tendency of being too sexual but not sexy. I get to be upfront, and I’ll tell them, ‘If you say that to me in a bar I’m going to tell you to go fuck yourself.’ There’s no way women want to hear that. I’m a woman, and it’s disrespectful. My job is to find who artists are and develop them. It’s interesting to respect their character and gracefully deliver the music.”

Development is one of the pillars of NEON16. Most of the team agrees with the sentiment that if they had people in the industry investing in their development early on, they would have been able to grow rapidly and made better choices through the guidance and mentorship. For Tainy and Borrero, despite NEON16’s recent launch, the work and street credit they’ve had from their year’s building has led up to this moment.

“For me, I’ve always been a fan of music, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but I have other influences that I care about, and I want to help our genre grow. The music is there, but there is so much work to be done, and I want to push that more,” Tainy says. “It’s always what we have in mind, to bring something new, and that the artists that we work with share the essence of the genre now.”

Adding to the team that shares that essence is Daramola a Nigerian songwriter, Pablo Batista an Afro-Latino of Puerto Rican descent as A&R, Manuel Lara, a Venezuelan producer who graduated from Berklee College of Music. All three say that being a part of NEON16, especially in South Florida, allows them to bridge their cultural sounds and background to a global audience.

“As A&R I’m the ear on the streets. I get to listen to and see who we can bring on who share the vision and sound. Afrobeat is going to be the next reggaeton, and identifying sounds and styles keep us ahead. We’re not traditional. Before the style was to work alone, but that’s of the past, people love to collaborate, and our collective doesn’t have an ego. We all work for the same final product, and we’re comfortable giving each other feedback,” Batista says.

Lara adds that having an inhouse team at NEON16 creates a quick turnaround for making music. It also facilitates logistics when working. “Having this house to do production is incredible, it’s been a perfect melting pot of the minds. I’m excited for all the hits that will come out of NEON16.”

Daramola will be adding the Afrobeat touch in production and in songwriting. NEON16 has been interested in bringing Nigerian and Afro sounds and flavor to incorporate in their music that isn’t as traditional as what everyone is used to listening.

“The sounds in Afro and Latin music is global, for example, Como Un Bebé from the Oasis album has a Nigerian beat to it, it was executive produced by Tainy, and it’s exciting to hear the sound there. It makes for an exciting combination. This space makes that available and possible for me to be able to do that.”

Daramola and Batista, who bring the African and Afro-Latino experience to NEON16 say it’s essential for them to express their culture and pay homage to the African roots of reggaeton, salsa and all the music Africa gave the world.

“We’re going to express ourselves not only through the music but through the culture itself, in how we dress, work, and visuals that are created. NEON16 is an entire concept,” Batista says, “We’re working so hard on branding, that in six months people will be able to identify who we are and say ‘that’s NEON16.’”