Best known for his arena-caliber EDM and bombastic bass drops, Los Angeles-born DJ-producer Dillon Francis has a long and storied history with Latin music. He began releasing mostly dubstep tracks in 2010, when the then-nascent moombahton genre — which combines electro-house with Latin-tinged reggaeton beats — first took the Internet by storm. Francis then notched his first major hit in 2011 via “Que Que,” a Spanish-language track alongside mentor and frequent collaborator Diplo, featuring Dominican-American artist Maluca. Fast-forward to 2018, and Francis has reached the cusp of a new career chapter: Dillon Francis, Latin pop crossover star.
September 28th sees the release of Wut Wut, Francis’ second full-length project and his first (mostly) Spanish-language album. Executive produced by Mexican EDM vet Toy Selectah, Wut Wut features a cast of collaborators from across the Latin pop spectrum including Ximena Sariñana, iLe of Calle 13 fame, Lao Ra, De La Ghetto and others. As the follow-up to his 2014 debut, Money Sucks, Friends Rule, the new album sees Francis expanding his production palette into sounds sweeping pop radio: from his moombahton roots on the club-ready “BaBaBa” featuring Young Ash, to rugged Latin trap on “Ven” featuring Arcángel and Quimico Ultra Mega.
Recorded in New York City, Miami, Mexico City and the Dominican Republic, Wut Wut comes during the height of today’s Latin pop explosion, which has shepherded multiple crossover hits across mainstream genres. EDM is one of the latest industries to ride the Latin pop wave: Steve Aoki’s track, “Azukita,” features reggaeton king Daddy Yankee, Latin trap duo Play-N-Skillz and merengue icon Elvis Crespo; while David Guetta‘s new album, 7, features two tracks with J Balvin, including the Spanish-language “Para Que Te Quedes.”
But as Francis puts it, Wut Wut is no basic bandwagon fare. Rather, it’s his way of paying homage to the sounds that gave him everything. “Latin music is a part of what I do,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I’ll never not be making moombahton.” Rolling Stone spoke with the American producer about his latest venture into Latin pop and Latin music’s ongoing influence on his career.
First of all, you grew up in L.A. Do you speak Spanish?
Uhhh … más o menos (more or less). [Laughs]
So then there’s a potential that you don’t know what the singers are singing about on your new album.
Yes, but there’s a reasoning behind it. Whenever I would get in the studio with anyone that spoke English, anytime they would ask me for any advice, I would give them the most horrible advice on what to sing. When I got in the studio with most of the people [for Wut Wut], they would tell me what they’re talking about and then I would say, “Hey, can you sing it this way?” Rather than telling them what to sing about, it would just be more like melody and production, so it was more of using their voice like another instrument.
What were some of your earliest memories with Latin music, especially for someone like you who grew up in Los Angeles?
I definitely remember the Cadillacs from Training Day just blasting reggaeton. I feel like that was like the most cliché thing to happen in Los Angeles, just an amazing lowrider playing a Daddy Yankee song or something. Growing up in West L.A., you just hear it all the time. But I never really deep dove into the music until I found this dude Munchi‘s music on SoundCloud. That was when I was starting to become a music producer. Then I started seeing this little tag called “moombahton.” When I started hearing it, I was like, “Oh my God!” I’m trying to DJ, I don’t know what tempo this is. It just sounds incredible — I need to see what’s happening. I had a house record called “Masta Blasta” … I put it up on SoundCloud, I sent it to Munchi. I was like, “Alright, this is the genre for me.” There [were] no rules yet and the community was so tight because there [weren’t] a lot of producers doing it. That’s really where I started deep diving into the sounds and everything with it.
The album has a long history, dating back to the 2016 Latin Grammys where you met De La Ghetto and Latin alternative producer El Guincho. How does the initial sketch of Wut Wut compare to the final product?
[Originally], we weren’t even going to get a lot of vocals on it. It was gonna be like one-shots in Spanish, like doing “Get Low” in Spanish. We hit up Toy Selectah. He got a bunch of one-shots, but he also got a bunch of verses from people. From that, it kind of just started turning into something else. There [were] no expectations. The whole record was just to go have fun again and have a great time making music.
Even before that, Wut Wut traces back to your 2011 Westside! EP, which features “Que Que,” one of your biggest moombahton hits and one of your earliest Spanish-language tracks. What’s the connection between Westside! and Wut Wut?
The record “BaBaBa” with Young Ash [off Wut Wut] is the closest record to what “Que Que” was when I was making it. I’ve made songs like “Anywhere” and “Coming Over” [with Kygo], where they have more melodic sensibilities. It was taking that and trying to put it into a project that actually is cohesive. If you listen to my last album, that is the most non-cohesive project ever. That’s where I was like, “I need to focus and make everything sound like they actually exist in one project.” That’s what I felt like I did with Wut Wut, where it was like honing in on everything that I’ve learned in the past 10 years of touring and making music and trying to make a cohesive album that has a great concept.
Are you now noticing an EDM-Latin pop crossover trend?
I guess so. I’m not trying to say, “Hey, I’m the first one that was doing it before it became a thing.” But I’ve been doing it since 2012, and I was just kind of going back to it. When we were working on [Wut Wut], “Despacito” and “Mi Gente” didn’t exist yet. Neither did “Sorry” with Justin Bieber, which I feel like was a big catalyst. A lot of my fans will always be like, “It sucks that moombahton’s dead.” And it’s funny because every single pop record in the past year has been a reggaeton/moombahton record, with like a melodic vocal drop. If anything, it’s like the most thriving genre possible right now. Mine was just going back to having fun and working with artists that I thought were just going to heighten the project and understand what the project was.
So this album is in no way hopping on the bandwagon of the Latin pop explosion?
I never really wanted to say that, but I feel like people could see that if they look at my history of music. But [before] I put out the first record [off the album], “Ven,” I had literally cleared out my Instagram to two things: a picture with Arcángel from back when we worked on the record and then the other one was a video with Toy Selectah and I in the studio with De La Ghetto and El Guincho working on the records, and it was [dated] like November 4, 2016. So I was trying to lightly do that. [There have] definitely been people calling me out, being like, “Dude, you’re jumping on the bandwagon, man. You’re trying to be like ‘Despacito.’” If you listen to the album, none of it sounds like “Despacito.” It literally all sounds like my music.
Your brand and your image have been tied to a lot of aspects related to Latin culture, from your history with moombahton to your social media character, Gerald the Piñata. You even brought out a mariachi band at Lollapalooza earlier this year. Have you ever faced any backlash from the Latin community or other groups for using such staples of their culture?
No. It’s pretty nuts that I haven’t, to be honest. When I was in Mexico promoting “We the Funk” [featuring singer Fuego], everyone was like, “Thank you so much for making music in Spanish, thank you for pushing the music.” That’s really what the whole project was about: to show people where I originally got [inspiration] from. Moombahton is reggaeton meets dance music, and that’s why I wanted to work with Spanish [-language] artists, so that people could understand that this is where the music came from. So if anything, I’m just trying to give back to where a lot of my success came from.
When you look back, what role would you say moombahton and Latin music have had on your overall career?
I’ve always gone back to it. I like taking a break from it because I do produce it so much. But I always want to try to bring something fresh back when I go into it, because it’s such a fun [sound]. It’s one of those things where [if] it’s just the perfect setting, it goes off.
Will we see more Latin albums or Spanish-language albums from you in the future?
Latin music is a part of what I do. I’ll never not be making moombahton. And I’ve definitely been working with other artists as well, where it’s working on records just for them to put out. I’m definitely gonna be doing a lot more production stuff for Latin artists, which is something I never thought that people would be coming to me for.