The Stereotypes Talk Grammy Nominations, K-Pop & Bruno Mars: Interview
After a decade of ups and downs, everything came together for The Stereotypes in 2017. The four-man songwriting and production collective, which is comprised of Jonathan Yip, Ray Romulus, Jeremy Reeves and Charm, caught up with old pal Bruno Mars and helped craft the sound of mega-hits “24K Magic” and “That’s What I Like” as well as the just-released “Finesse.” They were rewarded with three Grammy nominations including recognition in the prestigious Producer of the Year category.
I recently caught up with the hitmakers to find out more about their game-changing sessions with Bruno as well as other recent collaborators including Fifth Harmony, Kyle, Miguel and Iggy Azalea. They also spoke about their long history of working with K-Pop artists and opened up about their own artist project. (The Stereotypes not only produced, but also feature on Pitbull’s “Jungle”). Find out more about the guys — well, three quarters of them! — in our Q&A below.
You’re nominated for three Grammy awards. How did you react when you found out?
Ray: Three is ridiculous, but the one that really got us was the nomination for Producer of the Year. That just floored us, yeah. ‘Cause it was like, no way that anyone knows who the hell we are. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been in the game for a minute. We feel like we’ve done some pretty good work and we work really hard, but you never in your wildest dreams think people are noticing — let alone be recognized for Producer of the Year.
You guys produced two of the biggest songs of the year. It can’t have been that much of a shock.
Ray: Producer of the Year was definitely a shock for me. “That’s What I Like” was nominated for Best R&B Song and Song Of The Year. Bruno’s one of the best artists in the world, I can understand that. I can understand him being recognized for that, but for us personally to be recognized as producers of the year, to be singled out like that, it’s pretty…
Jon: It’s one thing for Bruno to be recognized for something, you know what I mean? But, this was actually Stereotypes getting recognized and we’re pretty decently known in the music industry, but we’re not in the public like that. I mean, we’re producers for a reason. We’re not out there like that. We’re definitely humbled by the recognition, though. It’s pretty crazy.
If you could pick one of them to win, what would mean the most?
Charm: Producer of the Year, right? Out of all three, it’s gotta be that.
Ray: That would be the obvious choice for me.
Have you guys prepared a speech yet in case you win?
Ray: Nope. I’ve been preparing that for my whole life and I’ve got probably a lot to say and I won’t be able to say everything I want to say.
Jon: The music will start playing before that.
Ray: Yeah and I have a song prepared for the music when it starts. Like, I feel like we should do a quartet while it’s playing.
Jon: Just start harmonizing.
Ray: Exactly. But no, honestly, no, nothing prepared.
I feel like you’re in with a good shot.
Ray: It’s still a long shot, you know what I mean?
Jon: I think we’ve always felt like the underdog. We’ve been in the game for a long time, we’ve had some decent success throughout the years. This year we’ve had some better success than we’ve had before, and we’re always still gonna feel like… even getting recognized, we were like, “Damn.” I mean, we felt surprised because we’re like, “You actually recognized us? That’s kind of cool.” We always have felt like we’re getting the short end of the stick and we have to claw and fight our way to get into the right sessions and the right situations.
Ray: Yeah, but we’re still here. We still have that chip on the shoulder even with the nomination. It’s just like, we’re still going even harder.
This is a bit of an aside, but who actually does what? Do the four of you work on each and every song or is the work divided?
Charm: I think we all specialize in different things. If I were to categorize us, I would say Ray’s the go-to for drums or our sonics as far as drums and random ass sounds… like that shit that’s gonna stand out, you know? And as far as me and Jeremy go, we’re kind of like Swiss army knives when it comes to using Logic as a DAW or playing guitar, whatever’s gonna be. And then Jon’s just the mastermind behind everything. Anything I haven’t said, like Jon does all that shit. Including tambourine.
Jon: I haven’t picked up the tambourine in a long time, that’s crazy.
Ray: You need to pick that up, bro.
So you all have a hand in every song?
Ray: We have like a four tier inspection that every song or whatever we’re working with goes through. Like, if Charm doesn’t like it, then we’re just like, “Wait. Alright, we’re missing something,” and we’ve gotta recognize that and figure out what that problem is, you know what I mean?
Jon: I think that’s our advantage on people. We have a filter system. If all four of us like it, there’s a pretty good chance we’re gonna be okay, you know? Can’t guarantee it’s gonna be a hit, but it’s definitely a good song. Not to mention we come from all different backgrounds and different upbringings, so we listened to different things growing up, so our tastes are different, but somehow all meet together when it’s time to create.
Getting back to Bruno, was “24K Magic” the first song recorded for the album? It feels like it informed the other songs.
Jon: I mean, that’s definitely where it started for us. He was already in the album process, like two years in. And our relationship with him goes back ten plus years…
You produced that song he did with Bueno, “6AM.”
Ray: Damn, bro. How the fuck did you know that?
I remember that song!
Ray: That’s so fucking crazy. Wow. “6AM,” that record was made in the spare bedroom with Bruno in the room, in a little closet vocal booth.
Jon: Yeah, we’ve been friends with him for a long time. We had a little period of time where we didn’t work that much together. We’d still keep in touch, we’d still say what’s up and congratulate him on the Super Bowl or whatever.
Ray: He’s gone to the Super Bowl more than the Dallas Cowboys in the last 20 years.
Jon: Right? About a year and a half ago I just hit him and I didn’t wanna talk about music, I was just like, “Yo, how you doing?” Because I was actually genuinely curious. I was like, “I haven’t heard from him in a while,” you know? No peep about the album or whatever, I’m like, “How you doing?” And he was like, “I’m good, man. I actually still need some music.” And I’m like, “Okay, well what do you need?” So he told us what he needed, sent over some ideas, and then he called me and he’s like, “Yo, why don’t you guys come in on Monday?”
This was a Saturday. We go in on Monday. The first two hours were joking, talking shit, it was like no time had passed. We couldn’t get any work done in the first hour or so because we were just clowning. So we’re doing that and then that automatically puts us back in the mindset that we’re back in my spare bedroom in the condo making music. Then we finally get the groove together on “24K Magic” and he’s like, “If you guys can nail this, let’s try to do more,” and we’re like, “Great.” After that came “Finesse” and “That’s What I Like.”
Did you have a feeling that “24K Magic” was going to be a big song?
Charm: Yeah. And especially the way Bruno introduced it, he was like, “This is it.” Even after he played his initial rough idea of what it was gonna be, he presented it like, “What do y’all think?” Like, “This is it.” Like, he was trying to hype us up. But he didn’t have to ’cause I was like, “Shit.”
What’s it like to have the first two singles on such a big album?
Ray: That was an amazing feeling because prior to working on the Bruno’s projects, we worked really hard on a lot of different projects, but the songs weren’t released as singles. To the point where I would never turn the radio on. I would just play like Spotify or whatever, and I’d play whatever I wanted because I knew that our songs weren’t playing. But then to go from that to our songs being played non-stop… I mean, you couldn’t stop hearing them. That was an amazing feeling.
What’s the difference between doing a song with Bruno, someone you’ve known for forever, and someone like Iggy Azalea or Fifth Harmony?
Ray: I would say, mainly a connection. You know what I mean? Because outside of music, Bruno’s our friend. So, when we create it, you don’t really feel like you’re making music. With like Iggy Azalea, we weren’t actually in the room with her. That was remotely created and that’s exactly what it is. It’s like we create the idea, we send it off, no real human interaction, you know what I mean? It’s just, that’s more like building a song versus living a song with Bruno.
Jon: We were able to do that with Fifth Harmony. Get a room together and actually build, and with KYLE and Miguel.
Are there any songs of yours that you thought might be bigger?
Jon: Fifth Harmony’s “Deliver.” I love that record. You know, not to say that it’s not gonna be big at some point, ’cause I have no idea what they’re gonna do, but I definitely think it could’ve been a single earlier and they might be in a different place right now. Who knows? I have no idea, but I love those girls, man. And, I think collectively it was a great day. It was so smooth, the chemistry was so easy and the song was made in like three hours or something like that.
You also just released a song of your own as the featured artist on Pitbull’s “Jungle.” Why now?
Ray: Day in and day out, we come in and we meet with different artists from labels and, you know, we’re catering to what they’re looking for. There are times when there are things that we wanna do but at the end of the day, you’re here to serve the artist. And in our case, there are times we wanna go in and just make whatever we want to make. And, case and point, “Jungle.” We came in and we just felt like making a song that felt like that, and we happened to meet with Pitbull around the same time.
What was it like working with Mr. Worldwide?
Ray: Yeah, he’s freaking amazing. But, we sat with him and it was cool to vibe with him and we sent him the idea a couple of weeks later. He’s like, “Guys I have a dope idea for the song,” sent it back and we’re like, “Oh this is incredible.” And Jon reached out to E-40 and that’s when the song started coming together. And while we were in Miami with Pit, we took a meeting with Sony Latin and they showed us Abraham Mateo. It’s a lot of different vibes, but it still makes sense when you hear it.
What was it like stepping out from behind the scenes to film the video?
Jon: It was a real jungle.
Ray: It was definitely a real jungle. We got so many mosquito bites. Honestly, it didn’t feel weird, I feel like we’re always being ourselves wherever we go. So no matter if the camera’s on or off, this is who we are.
Is there more music on the way? Is this the beginning of an EP or a bigger body of work?
Charm: We have a couple ideas, blueprints I would say. In line with what we did with “Jungle” already, but I don’t feel like that’s our priority right now. That could change.
Jon: It’s something that just came about and it’s gonna give us the freedom to just drop something if we feel like it. And we have a lot of friends in the industry that are really incredible artists and maybe if it’s a sound that they normally wouldn’t do on their album, they’ll do it with us on our song. And I think it’s something that we want to do and share with the world, something that’s not stereotypical.
You have also worked with a lot of K-Pop artists. Is that done remotely?
Ray: No, we actually go to Korea.
How did you get into it?
Jon: I’m gonna be completely honest with you, the way that we got into that scene is… in this industry we have ups and downs, alright? We’ve had our share of decent success in the past with Far East Movement, Danity Kane, and all that. And then we’ve also had some downs and those downs were really rough years where we were contemplating getting a job and wondering, “Are we really doing the right thing? Should we keep doing this?”
And during a session we got approached by somebody who was like, “Hey, have you guys ever been to Korea and done some stuff?” And we were like, “No, but we would love to.” And, so we met the right people, they got us over there and they appreciated us.
Ray: It felt like we were way more appreciated out there.
Jon: Yeah ’cause when it’s a down period and it’s cold out here, it’s cold. And we were still lukewarm or warm out there, so we were like, “Cool.” So we went out there and we just gave them our best that we can do. You know, we like to say that K-Pop saved our life.
Ray: It really did.
Jon: It gave us something to do where we were making money and being appreciated in a time where here maybe we weren’t as much. So that gave us the outlet in the beginning to help us keep going. And then over the time, we started appreciating it. We were just like, “Wow, this is dope, these guys are dope,” like, “Let’s keep going.” So, we’ll never turn our back on K-Pop because maybe we’re hotter here or something like that.
Again, we come from such different backgrounds, I think we all appreciate so much different music, we’re just big fans of music and our goal is to make good music anywhere. Whoever’s singing it, like let’s just do it.
Ray: I think it also opened our eyes to realize that this world is so much bigger. We live in LA, so when you don’t hear your songs playing, you’re like, “Man, nothing’s happening.” But you forget that there’s a whole world that has never heard the songs that you’re hearing every day. And then you go over there and you’re killing it, so you can’t be so focused on your region or where you are and being local.
What was it like working with Red Velvet?
Jon: Oh, we have some new stuff coming. We have a new one coming that’s gonna be really cool.
Charm: The way we work in Korea has been through SM Entertainment. And so, their process is kind of creating the whole song before it even reaches the artist. So there’s a whole A&R’ing process where a bunch of A&R’s sit in a room. Yeah, they have a very specific way that they choose songs and songs just appear with artists. So, I don’t know if we’ve ever met Red Velvet.
Jon: No, we haven’t met Red Velvet.
What about NCT?
Jon: NCT was cool, man. I wanna say we might have met them when they were trainees. They wrote with us. Mark from NCT wrote with us. They’re dope.
Who are you working with next?
Ray: So, right now we’re gearing up to work with Why Don’t We. We are working on Meghan Trainor’s new album.
Jon: We just got back from Miami. We did a lot of stuff with Latin artists. We just worked with Nicky Jam, which was incredible session. We worked with Abraham Mateo and Danny Ocean. Like I said, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, we just like creating with people from all over the world, and if it’s good music, it’s good music, and we’re planning to go back in January as well to go do some more stuff with people.
Thank you for your time. Good luck at the Grammys!
Ray: Thank you so much.
Jon: Thank you, man.
Charm: Thank you.