April 18, 2024

For Sean Momberger, the journey to bring Jack Harlow’s latest smash “Lovin on Me” to life began on YouTube. It was this past June that the producer, who has spent the last decade stacking up credits on songs by Doja Cat, Nicki Minaj and Lil Baby, logged onto the video streaming platform to scour for samples. He typically spends four to five hours parsing through playlists and accounts to mine inspiration for his beats, and it just so happened that he came across Cadillac Dale’s obscure 1995 song “Whatever (Bass Solique)” on a channel specializing in independent and unreleased R&B.

“It was like, whoa, this is super special,” he says. “You know when you have a good sample [with] the tagline and writing and how powerful the bit is? I was like, I’ve got to use this right away.” What he ended up with is 2023’s last-minute entries for one of the biggest rap hits of the year. “Lovin on Me,” which Mombeger co-produced with Drake and Travis Scott collaborators Oz and Nik D, became an instant smash when it touched down in November, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and soon climbing to the summit. As of this week, it’s leading the five non-Christmas songs in the chart’s top 20 at No. 6.

“This is definitely the proudest moment of my career,” continues Momberger. “It’s been a blessing for me and my family. You get 50 placements and you get 50 pats on the back, but unless you have a smash in the industry, it doesn’t really blow the doors off for your career. This is just that first feeling of wow, you can connect with different people. You get more notoriety and it’s an amazing feeling, to be honest.”

While “Lovin on Me” began as an idea sketched out from the sample on YouTube, the 33-year-old initially envisioned it as an R&B song, something akin to the work he’s done with Chris Brown and Trey Songz. He shared the beat, then featuring different drums, on a Dropbox he shares with Oz, who replaced them with the urgent percussion that made the final version. By July, the track had made its way to Harlow. He told them not to share the beat with anyone else, and cut his verses on it.

Harlow is no stranger to playing the Internet game, and like many artists looking to test the waters on new material, he posted a snippet to TikTok a week before Halloween rapping along to the track while coddling his puppy. The video has accrued 33.5 million views to date, the most since he began teasing his chart-topping “First Class” in March of last year. Now, it’s his most-used sound on the platform, with well over a million creates across numerous iterations of the song.

“The thing with Jack is, he’s a master at his personality,” says Momberger. “His personality is his strongest attribute, so when he does something, how he had the little dog in the video and he’s just so confident. When he came back with this, it was his next, OK, I’m coming back for the radio with an exclamation point. I was just confident about the beat, and then when I heard what he did with it, I wasn’t surprised that people liked it. But I was surprised how fast everything moved along from when I made the song to when he dropped the preview to now.”

By no means is this Momberger’s introductory hit. His first placement was playing keyboards on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” in 2014, but he’s been steadily building brick by brick to secure a No. 1 with his name front and center. He was born in Gainesville, Fla. — not exactly a music hub, potentially best known as Tom Petty’s birthplace — and ventured into production on his own, taking piano lessons and learning about studio equipment by watching videos of Kanye West and Timbaland on YouTube. He turned to social media as a networking tool early on, messaging musicians on Myspace and Twitter to get his beats heard, and slowly began fleshing out his contacts.

By 2013, he was working with a rapper who was signed to a production team that flew him out to London. From the off-chance of being in the studio, his keys ended up on “Fancy,” and that was only the start. In the time that followed, he treated production like a day job. “You spend every day and night making beats and ideas, and each year, you might get four or five placements, and then you build on that and look back like, oh dang, my catalog grew,” he says. “You do four or five songs a year for 10 years, now you have 50 songs. It’s very slow. Some people have overnight success. Mine’s definitely been 10 years in the making.”

In that decade, his name has dotted the credits across the industry. Liner note junkies might recognize him from his work with artists like Baby Keem, Wale, Jeezy, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Justin Bieber, Kodak Black and Gunna. But Harlow’s “Lovin on Me” propelled him into a new echelon. Most recently, he co-produced Nicki Minaj’s “My Life” with Don Cannon, infusing the blip-bloop instrumental with a sped-up sample of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” and he sat at the helm for Kanye West and Ty Dolla Sign’s “Gun to My Head” featuring Kid Cudi, a cut off of their forthcoming collaborative album “Vultures.”

Publishing companies have been calling ever since “Lovin on Me” took flight, and earlier this month, it was announced that he had signed with 300 Publishing, putting him in the room with the industry’s top songwriters. While it’s taken a while to get here, it doesn’t really feel much like a waiting game, more of an upward slope. “I kind of like the journey so I take my wins as they come,” he says. “Everyone wants to work on a smash hit, but working on just a mainstream album from a label is exciting. I wouldn’t really downplay the other parts of my career, but I feel like the timing’s perfect. I wouldn’t say it’s a long time coming. I’d say it’s perfect timing.”

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