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Inside Track: Jack Harlow ‘Lovin On Me’

Sean Momberger & Nickie Jon Pabón By Paul Tingen
Published March 2024

‘Lovin On Me’ took Jack Harlow’s global success to new heights.‘Lovin On Me’ took Jack Harlow’s global success to new heights.Photo: Cian Moore

Jack Harlow’s smash hit ‘Lovin On Me’ is the perfect marriage of old‑school sample manipulation and 21st Century laptop production.

Jack Harlow’s ‘Lovin On Me’ topped charts in the US, the UK and many other countries. It was written and produced by Sean Momberger, with drums and 808 added by Ozan Yildirim (aka Oz) and Nik Frascona (aka Nik D). Nickie Jon Pabón recorded Harlow’s vocals, added some writing touches, and mixed.

“I’ve been in the music industry for nearly nine years, and it’s beyond my wildest dreams,” enthuses Momberger. “This kept charging up the charts. It’s been pretty surreal. Over the last nine years I’ve worked with big acts like Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj, and people love it when you make a track, but when a track goes big like this, it’s amazing how many new people you get to collaborate with.”

Originally from Gainesville, Florida, Momberger moved to Los Angeles in 2014. When he first got into beatmaking, in 2003, he predominantly used hardware, but today he works with Ableton and mostly Pro Tools in his home studio in a bedroom in his house in LA. He says that he makes 60 percent of his music all by himself, while the other 40 percent is made with others in the room.

“When I was in high school I Googled ‘What gear do music industry people use?’ and obviously Pro Tools came up, so I got an MBox, and worked with all the hardware. Then I got a bunch of VSTs, and made beats almost entirely in Pro Tools. A few years ago I also started using Ableton, mainly for programming drums, because Pro Tools does not have a good step sequencer. I prefer to start melodies in Pro Tools, because it’s so open, it’s like a blank canvas. I use Native Instruments Kontakt, and tons of Spectrasonics instruments, particularly Omnisphere.

“I run Pro Tools and Ableton on my MacBook. My MIDI controller is an Akai MPK Mini. It’s cheap, but gets the job done. My soundcard is the [UA] Apollo Twin, which is amazing, and my monitors are the Yamaha HS8s. I have a Neumann TLM102 mic for when singers come in, and use a Sennheiser headphone for the vocalist, at which point I put on a set of Beats Pro, But I prefer to work on speakers. The MacBook speakers are so good, I sometimes make music just using them when I’m in a hotel room.”

The Art Of Sampling

It was on this basic equipment that Momberger laid the foundations for what was to become ‘Lovin On Me’, working entirely in Pro Tools. It began with a sample, which he says is a common way of working for him. “I’d say I’m 50/50 between starting with a sample, or with something I’ve written myself. In the latter case I just riff on my Akai MPK Mini, using different sounds and effects, and try to develop a melody that’s pop. ‘Hit My Line’ [a track from Chris Brown’s 2022 album Breezy] is an example of a song that I wrote like that. I just pluck around on the keyboard till I hear something I like. I simply go with the flow and with what inspires me.

The germ of ‘Loving On Me’ was a sample that Sean Momberger discovered and fitted to a beat and bass line.The germ of ‘Loving On Me’ was a sample that Sean Momberger discovered and fitted to a beat and bass line.

“I also like starting with samples, because I am more into rap and hip‑hop, and love bringing back old sounds. That’s kind of how I made my mark. A lot of my music sounds not quite mainstream. Instead it has a little grit and nostalgia to it. This goes back to the late ’70, ’80s and even early ’90s when everything in rap was sampled. I don’t even think they cleared samples back then.

“When you take a well‑known sample, it might catch people’s ears faster. An example is when I sampled the Blondie track ‘Heart Of Glass’ for Nicki Minaj’s song ‘My Life’ [from Minaj’s 2023 album Pink Friday 2]. I made that with Don Cannon, and we sped it up, and Nicki killed that one. But I think people value it more when a sample is more obscure, because if it’s not new to them, they just think you remade something. It’s cool when you use an unknown sample, and people have to go back to listen to a song they never heard before.”

Speed Merchant

In June 2023, Momberger says, “I found this old R&B song from Detroit from 1995, ‘Whatever (Bass Soliloquy)’ by Cadillac Dale. I loved the vocal phrase, ‘I don’t like no whips and chains.’ It reminded me of a house/R&B type vocal. So I imported it into Pro Tools, chopped it up manually, looped it, and sped it up from 94 to 98 bpm, using Serato Pitch ’n Time. The sample became more of an earworm when I sped it up. It was super catchy.

Sean Momberger: Speeding up a sample definitely makes it more fun and commercial.

“Speeding up a sample definitely makes it more fun and commercial. In general I prefer fast music over slow music so I tend to push the tempo. Also, in West Coast rap, bass lines are really important. Producers like Mike Mosley, back in the day, and DJ Mustard, have strong bass lines, and catchy vocal chops, and things are up‑tempo.

“Then I put a bunch of Avid stock plug‑ins on the sample. The sample has a bass line, but it’s a little wonky, so I EQed all the low end out with the Avid AIR Kill plug‑in, and then I pulled up an ARP Odyssey sound in Spectrasonics’ Trillian plug‑in and played in a similar but bouncier bass line. I also added some AIR Chorus, for more width and to brighten it up, the AIR Filter Gate and AIR Delay for some more bounce, and the AIR Reverb.

“The idea kind of wrote itself. In rap and hip‑hop I think of a sample as a snake charmer. It’s super hypnotising. In other genres you want different sections to come in, you want it growing, you want a beautiful composition. Rap is more loop‑based. So if you have a super‑powerful sample loop and tagline like the ‘whips and chains’, it’s super compelling.

“I then exported what I had done, and sent it to Oz. A month later he and Nik added drums and an 808, and upped the tempo even more, I think to 105bpm. I had added some drums, but they were a little more open, closer to R&B. It wasn’t until Oz and Nic put this up‑tempo bounce on it that the track really popped. They get all the credit for making it fun and upbeat. Oz then sent the track to Jack Harlow. Jack went crazy over it, and told us not to send it to anyone else, and added his lyrics, which relate to the original sample. When I sent it to Oz, I wasn’t thinking that Jack was going to get on this. It was just, ‘This is a really cool idea, let me put it in our Dropbox folder, and let’s see what he can do with...

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