Most pop producers pine for a proverbial “big break,” and for Yonatan Goldstein, who goes by Johnny Goldstein, they don’t get much larger than co-production credit on 12 out of 15 tracks from the Black Eyed Peas’ buzzing “Translation” album including breakout hit “Mamacita” featuring Ozuna and J. Rey Soul. The Epic Records release boasts a hybridized, futuristic sound that leans heavily on Latin music production trends, yet is still unmistakably a Black Eyed Peas project. That sound comes not via Miami, Bogota or San Juan, but circuitously via Paris, and Tel Aviv, where Goldstein, Variety’s Hitmaker of the Month, has toiled away for years as both an artist, and now exclusively as a behind-the-scenes songsmith, who is now reaping commercial rewards, thanks to collaborator Will.I.Am.
“I always have been a big fan of Latin music,” Goldstein says via phone from Israel, where he’s working on new projects from his home studio. “A few years ago, I started to really get into J Balvin, Maluma, Ozuna and all those guys and in a funny way, the groove in Latin music is really similar to grooves we have in Israel.”
“It’s not exactly the same,” he elaborates, “but in Reggaeton and in Arabic music, there are a few patterns that are the same…. the tones and frequencies may be different, but the actual notes, on some of them, are the in the same spots on the scale.”
Tel Aviv’s multicultural scene has helped shape Goldstein’s wide palette of influences. “In Israel, you don’t really have genres…. it’s super eclectic,” he says. “I grew up listening to a lot of different styles of music from jazz to classical and hip-hop — Dr Dre and Timbaland, those were my idols.”
Goldstein’s path to landing co-production duties on BEP’s “Translation” has as much to do with timing as it does hard work, as the beatmaker tells it. The 29-year-old first met will.i.am at a BEP writing camp in the winter of 2017 at Paris’ Studio de la Grande Armée. But as with many writing camps where the artist is present, it was hard to immediately make an impression upon a “name” such as will.iam with many other producers in the proverbial mix vying for attention. But Goldstein didn’t give up, and a few years later, after producing music for other European and Israeli artists, found himself in Los Angeles for meetings, when he reached out to the BEP frontman just as, unbeknownst to Goldstein, will.i.am was working on “Translation.”
“I texted Will to see if he wanted to meet up while I was in L.A. last October, and then suddenly I came to his studio [to start working], and since then, we just started to work together on music almost non-stop.”
And while Goldstein had to return to Tel Aviv, he didn’t stop working on songs with Will that would eventually become part of “Translation.”
“I got back to Israel in November, and Will was on tour, and I wanted to continue the connection so we just continued making music throughout the winter,” he says. “I changed my time zone to whatever country that Will was in while he was on tour, so when he was in Australia, I switched my time zone to Australia. When he was in London, I did the same.”
Being available 24/7 seems to have been a strategy that worked out well for the songwriter/producer, as the album’s most popular offerings at the moment were co-written, and co-produced by Goldstein.
Take, for example, “Mamacita,” which is a Top 10 Latin smash this summer in the United States, and buzzing in South America and Europe as well, with nearly 120 million streams on Spotify alone. Now it’s bubbling at terrestrial radio too, and has registered more than 16,500 spins, according to Mediabase.
“We started that one because Will had this idea to use Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’ in a song,” he says of the tune’s genesis. “So, I started a beat with this progression, then he wrote the hook and his parts, and then we did some back and forth with the beat like we always do….which means just hours of Facetime in order to make the production minimal, but super unique.”
“In fact, for the whole album, we tried to keep everything super minimalistic and unique,” Goldstein continues, “but this song in particular is a good example of that.” After the initial, pulsing track (which is set to appear in promos for NBC’s new Peacock streaming service) was done, Goldstein says the group sent it to Ozuna to record his parts. The end result? “Magic,” says Goldstein. “I remember when I heard the whole thing after all the parts came together, I immediately thought this was a smash.”
Another bubbling hit from “Translation” that Goldstein is proud of is “Feel The Beat,” which takes its hook from a 1980s Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam song, and a features Colombian star Maluma. Says Goldstein of the session in London: “Will played me the song he and Maluma did and we built the track around that. We found the Lisa Lisa hook before that and we wanted to somehow connect the points of that song [“Can You Feel The Beat”] with this new song. After the session, I got to the airport, and in the Uber, I continued working on the song with Will via Facetime… we just collaborated further and fine-tuned the beat until it was right after that.”
The producer’s route to working on “Translation” owes much to Universal Music France executive Guenael Geay, who signed Goldstein’s old act The Young Professionals to Polydor France nearly a decade ago. A booster of Goldstein’s talents over the years, Geay got him into the Paris writing camp for BEP three years ago.
“Yonathan is extremely talented and capable to produce almost every music genre,” says Geay. “He also works pretty fast and I’m always fascinated on how quick he can produce a song, being able to play instruments, record, edit, compose, and mix… in 10 years, I think he never missed a deadline for me and was always ahead of schedule.”
So, what’s next for Goldstein? “Right now, I’m doing a lot of stuff for Warner Music and I’m continuing to work with Will,” he says. “I’m super excited about a few records I worked on [with other acts] that are coming out soon, but I can’t say anything yet about these just yet.”
Goldstein is also tight-lipped about a new publishing deal, only revealing that there’s been “a lot of talking” with various interested parties this summer.