The last time I saw Blake Slatkin was in his parents’ garage in 2015, when we were both 17. We had gone to middle school together, and a mutual friend mentioned that Slatkin had a small amount of “kush” hidden in his room. I went to his house to buy marijuana for, what proved to be, the first and last time—so he could sell marijuana for, what I imagine to be, the first and last time. I say that because, when I arrived to procure the weed, he was so nervous he gave it to me for free.
Since the day he failed to turn a profit on one nugget of marijuana, Slatkin, who is now 24, has made music with Justin Bieber, the Kid LAROI, and Lil Nas X, and produced two pop songs that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 list and several that have been on Spotify’s Top 10 Hits list. In November, Forbes featured him in their 2022 “30 Under 30” list.
Recently, over coffee in SoHo, Slatkin told me our drug deal happened just before he started working for Benny Blanco, the man behind the lyrics and production of pop hits by Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, and many others. Slatkin, who has been making music for most of his life and was known as the best guitarist in our middle-school class, started working for Blanco during his senior year of high school, at Crossroads School in Santa Monica.
Blanco hired Slatkin to do “bitch work,” he says: pick up packages 90 minutes away, stack and re-stack logs of firewood for Blanco’s fireplace. “It’s the luckiest thing that has ever happened,” Slatkin says. Between more menial tasks, he sat in on Blanco’s studio sessions. “No one taught me more.”
In 2016, when Slatkin moved across the country to attend N.Y.U., he kept working for Blanco. And he kept working on his own music in his Avenue C apartment, with friends including Gracie Abrams, a singer-songwriter as well as Slatkin’s longtime girlfriend.
He also had to attend college classes. In a music-theory course, he was often docked points for missing fussy details. “They were saying in the class, You need to do this if you want to be in the real world, and I’m like, I’m literally taking the subway to the real world in 10 minutes,” Slatkin says, “and that’s not how it is.”
It was during his junior year of college, after four years of working for Blanco, that Slatkin played his boss a song for the first time. Shortly after, Blanco signed him as a producer, and Slatkin dropped out of college to make music in L.A.
“I’m a lover of pop music,” Slatkin says. “I want to make stuff that everyone loves.” In the fall of 2020, his first hit, “Mood,” sung by 24kGoldn and featuring Iann Dior, made the Billboard Hot 100 for 20 weeks, and was at No. 1 for eight of those weeks. (When it reached No. 1 on Billboard, he “ran around my garden in circles, screaming. Literally, screaming alone.” He then joined the other boys who worked on the song so they could run in circles and scream together.)
In the following six months, he released two more hits: “Without You” and “Stay,” pop songs sung by the Kid LAROI.
“I don’t believe you can make good music without having fun,” Slatkin says. “All of these people I make music with—we’re all friends, we all go out to the same stuff.” In studio sessions, they “hang out—talk. Talk about what’s going on in all of our lives. Talk about what you’re going to do later tonight.” He works with friends because “that’s how you make better music.”
Jensen Davis is an Associate Editor for Air Mail