The Stereotypes are Jonathan Yip, Ray Romulus, Jeremy Reeves and Ray Charles McCullough II (known as Charm).
WHY THEY MATTER
This production and songwriting team, based in Los Angeles, barely kept its head above choppy industry waters for years before reconnecting with an early collaborator: Bruno Mars.
The Stereotypes contributed to four of the funk and soul throwback singles from Mars’ 2016 album, “24K Magic,” including the multiplatinum title track; “That’s What I Like,” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100; and “Finesse,” which shot to No. 3 this month, thanks to a remix with Cardi B.
At the Grammy Awards on Sunday, the Stereotypes are up for three awards — producer of the year (nonclassical), song of the year and best R&B song (both for “That’s What I Like”) — while Mars is nominated for six trophies in all, including album of the year.
WHERE THEY CAME FROM
The Stereotypes scored its first hit — “Damaged,” by Danity Kane, a girl group molded by Diddy on the MTV series “Making the Band 3” — a decade ago, or at least two lifetimes in contemporary pop years. Not long after came the lean times.
Reeves, 35, was working at Guitar Center when he initially cold-pitched his beats to Yip, then an administrator at Interscope Records; Romulus, an aspiring music executive who once served as Jermaine Dupri’s personal assistant, also worked at a record label. But the trio coalesced as musicians in 2007, working out of a spare bedroom in Yip’s condo on the west side of Los Angeles.
“We treated our job like a 9 to 5,” Yip said in a phone interview — out of necessity. “Our neighbors weren’t happy with us, so we had to end around 6, at the latest.”
Romulus recalled intensive bonding sessions as the three men learned one another’s strengths and sonic leanings, with ’90s pop R&B as a center point. “We would do more than just music — hit the gym together, go get lunch, literally anything to build morale,” he said. (Charm, 31, joined the group in 2012.)
The Danity Kane track opened doors (and allowed the Stereotypes access to a real studio), leading to songs with Justin Bieber, Ne-Yo and Far East Movement. And at the collaborative sessions where pop hits are mined, the Stereotypes encountered the Smeezingtons, a songwriting team led by a prefame Mars.
Though the Stereotypes and the Smeezingtons worked together on songs for Natasha Bedingfield and Travie McCoy, their paths diverged as the Stereotypes hit a slow patch, and as Mars became the kind of headlining artist who could play the Super Bowl halftime show twice in three years.
“Do we need to go get jobs?” Yip, 39, recalled thinking during the drought. But the group continued to write songs for Korean pop acts like Super Junior, BoA and Taemin. “Without a doubt, K-pop saved us,” Yip said.
In the summer of 2016, Yip texted Mars to catch up. Fortunately, the “24K Magic” sessions were ending, and Mars invited the Stereotypes to the studio to add a little seasoning.
“He was like, ‘I want to dance,’” Romulus, 35, recalled. “In this day and age of going out, in the clubs, everyone’s on their phone, standing around, looking at each other. It felt great to create a backdrop that was going to make people dance again.”
After fine-tuning “24K Magic,” the ’80s funk homage that would become the album’s first single, the Stereotypes and Mars created “Finesse” from scratch. Mars requested the new jack swing sound of Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown “and we were like, say no more,” Romulus said. “When was the last time someone asked for that?”
Yip called Mars’ studio “a candy store” for musicians.
“You look around,” he continued, “and there’s Junos, Moogs, analog synths that you can’t even imagine. In the live room, three drum sets, two pianos, bongos, all miked and ready to record at any given moment,” he said. “It became a jam session.”
“That’s What I Like” was the final major piece in need of a percussive shake-up. A more stripped-down demo of the song existed, but Mars told the Stereotypes, “I want it to move like this.” They complied, combining hip-swinging empty space with a groove that is modernized by trap drums. “We brought the bounce!” Romulus said.
The commercial and critical success that followed, punctuated by the Grammy nominations, was “mind-blowing,” Romulus said, especially coming out of a fallow period. Now the Stereotypes are exploring label deals that would allow the group to develop its own artists. But there’s also just the simple joy of not being able to escape your own music.
“Real talk, it was a little deflating for a couple years, working tirelessly, only to get in the car and just not hear any of the songs you’re working on,” Romulus said. “It was refreshing to know that our music could be played on the radio again.”