Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd is a hit mercenary. Call him into the studio, and within an hour after hearing your beat, you’ll get back the lyrics to a banger. The songwriter’s resumé spans from Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad” to the crushing string of pop anthems off Justin Bieber’s Purpose album, not to mention Usher’s R&B opus Confessions. That’s the tip of Poo’s iceberg; go back as far as his first hit “Anywhere” – the ode to multi-room, post-tour sex he somehow co-wrote at the age of 15 for 112 – for proof of his uncanny ability to bring the hits.
As befits a person who has managed to surf decades of fluctuations in the music industry, Poo Bear is a generalist. But one of the unifying characteristics of his projects – from the funky folk jams of Poo’s group Bear and a Banjo to 112’s “Peaches and Cream” to the DJ Khaled summer block party anthem “I’m the One” featuring Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil’ Wayne – is that they are Boyd’s visions of the new. He delights in surprising the mainstream, giving listeners the sounds that not even they know they want. Boyd was behind Bieber’s intro verse to “Despacito,” making him a pivotal member of the team that pushed the Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee song to become the unending soundtrack to 2017 and the most streamed song of all time.
It was not Poo Bear’s first time teaming up with Daddy Yankee, the longtime master of the crossover single. In 2005, they worked together on “Impacto,” off Yankee’s album El Cartel: The Big Boss. That bilingual song, which also featured Fergie, may have been less than immortal, but working with the reggaetonero opened Poo’s eyes to the potential for English-speaking U.S. markets that lay in Spanish-language artists and genres.
Twelve years later, Poo Bear is collaborating with a full roster of Latino performers. Find him charting singles for Brazilian superstar Anitta and Mexican brother-sister duo Jesse & Joy. He won his first Latin Grammy last year for his work on J Balvin’s dominant Energía LP. His upcoming solo project Poo Bear Presents Birthday Music will feature work from Balvin and J.Lo, plus a collaboration with Skrillex and Juanes.
Poo sees his work is a reflection of the shifting demographics of listeners in the United States. “I think it’s just a natural progression man, there’s no way around it,” he says. “[Latino music] is going to get bigger and integrate more with mainstream America and I want to be a part of the whole ride.” We talked to the industry expert about the secret to bilingual collabs, his upcoming Balvin projects, and which artists he’d love to see in the studio.
“No Hay Título,” your song with J Balvin, is entirely in Spanish. Do you speak the language?
Very poquito. Honestly, I want to get better. I like to work with Latino writers who really understand not just the basic language, but the cool part of it, the slang. I have the melodies, I have the concepts, I have the words, and the wordplay. But without somebody telling me, “Yeah, that’s actually cool when it’s translated to Spanish,” it’s difficult for me. It’s just like writing a song in perfect English versus writing it in a way that everybody can feel like is cool. I’ve written with a guy named Sky [Medellín-born producer and frequent Balvin collaborator Alejandro “Sky” Patino]; he’s really dope. He makes sure that when I’m creating, it’s not the perfect Spanish translation. That’s not what moves people.
What is the key to that kind of bilingual collaboration?
As long as you have a melody, you can have a song that moves your emotions. The kind that when you wake up in the morning, you can’t live without it. When you get in your car, you can’t live without it. At the same time, wordplay is very important. The Spanish language can be a lot of words sometimes. It’s a matter of finding the key words and the key phrases that get the point across. Simple enough for a 5-year-old to be able to digest, to sing, to hum, and still clever enough for a scholar at Harvard that understands the language to be moved and say, “Whoa, I would have never thought of that metaphor.” Those are the two keys to really winning.
“It’s going to be a matter of time before this is going to be right there with mainstream pop music.”
How do you account for this current surge in popularity of Spanish-language music among English-speaking audiences in the U.S.? Some people pin it all on Bieber’s “Despacito” remix, on which you actually wrote JB’s verse. Do you buy their theory?
If you just look at America’s population, Latinos are growing so fast. I felt like this three years ago when I first was introduced to J Balvin. I just was like, “It’s going to be a matter of time before this is going to be right there with mainstream pop music. There’s not going to be any difference, there’s not going to be any division.” I’m interested to see how the Latin Grammys handle [Latin music] becoming such a big success in mainstream America. They created all these divides and separations so that the people can get the proper credit, proper shine, and recognition. But now that “Despacito” has opened the door wide open, I just feel like there’s not going to be as much separation any more. I worked with Daddy Yankee in 2005 on a record called “Impacto” with Fergie [Poo Bear also wrote “Que Pasó” from Daddy Yankee’s album El Cartel: The Big Boss] and I saw the glimmer of light then. I want to be a part of the whole ride of [Latino music] coming to the forefront of mainstream music. It just took one big record to show the world that wow, you can enjoy music in other languages. I’m blessed to be a part of that change.
Are there any Latino artists who you haven’t worked with that are on your list to work with in the future?
I wouldn’t mind working with the artist Bad Bunny. I think he’s really amazing. I think he’s the future. I love his style of rapping; I feel like it’s definitely going to be disruptive to the industry. There’s definitely a couple of new artists that I’ve met with that I feel like are special. I can’t wait for the world to actually see them.
What was going on with you, Skrillex, and Balvin in the studio back in March?
We’ve got a couple crazy records coming out. One of them is on my album Poo Bear Presents Birthday Music, which is coming out really soon. You will be able to experience the Skrillex-Poo Bear-J Balvin trifecta really, really soon.
Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming solo album?
It is just me presenting music that I’ve written and worked on with my friends — my super friends and up-and-coming artists. I really want to put out music every year like a birthday. I have basically every genre, every style of music on my album. It’s about becoming a vehicle for new artists and established artists when they’re in between albums. I want to be able to put out records that keep these artists going and keeps them hot. And also introducing new artists to the world. I’m actually singing in Spanish on one record with J Balvin, which I can’t wait for the world to hear. Hopefully it connects with the people. Hopefully they’ll want more. That’s the goal.