Lex Borrero, co-founder of the label Neon16, has cleared his seat at the table – and brought a full plate. As a teenager, Borrero understood the importance of networking. After hundreds of unanswered cold calls, he finally caught the eye of Universal Music and signed his first artist under his clapboard, Lex Prods. when he was 17. He later became Executive Vice President and Head of Latin at Roc Nation, where he met reggaeton producer and artist Tainy and later shaped his career. The two now run Neon16 together, with Borrero serving as CEO.
Borrero’s latest venture is new docu-style reality series Los Montaner, co-created with veteran music executive Tommy Mottola (a relationship Borrero says is “like father and son”). It will premiere later this year under the banner of the duo’s new content company, Ntertain.
Although he has a mountain of responsibilities – Borrero has joined diversity to talk about Ntertain, the production of a Latin American superhero recognized by Stan Lee and the key to his entrepreneurial development.
Why was it important for you to start Ntertain with the reality-style docu-series Los Montaner?
When we started the company, my first thought was, “What musicians do I know that have something special, something that I think has the power to teach and encourage – something that has the power, a positive one make an impact?”
I have known the Montaner family (Ricardo, Marlene, Mau, Ricky and Evaluna and their partners Stefi, Sara and Camilo) for a while. We made tons of music with them and during the quarantine they really became the most viral Latin family.
The Montans had already been approached by Bunim Murray [“Keeping Up With The Kardashians”] and had shot a pitch trailer that was shopped and not picked up. When the family showed me the trailer, I looked at it and thought, “Wow, that’s not how this family should be presented.” That show never sold for the same reason.
We then approached the show creatively in a different way, which ended up being more documentary-style – you’ll see that with our show now. We use a lot of archive material because [Ricardo] always filmed, he always had a camera on. I think it’s going to be really emotional, but also artistic and creative.
In your opinion, has the market been opened up for a company like Ntertain? How does the company fit with your goal of pushing the boundaries of Latin American culture?
In the last five years, I would say, there has been a renaissance in cultural change. You have now seen these incredibly large corporations come in and support black cinema and black television in a way that has allowed these stories to flourish.
Now I feel like that’s missing in the Latin community. I think in Hollywood, which is part of the growth of every industry, you had your typical stereotypical Latin for a long time. There’s this huge space and we’re starting to see more and more of it being filled.
What other themes or storylines would you like to explore?
We work with Stan Lee’s POW! Conversation about one of the Latin American superheroes he wrote before his death. We took this superhero he created and adjusted the story to be consistent with what’s going on politically in our countries. Pretty much every country in Latin America is going left and creating all these very real problems for the people and their relationship with the rest of the world.
We’re also producing a story about Wall Street. The idea came from the whole GameStop [stock frenzy] Problem because I noticed at the time that there was no Latin [wealth fund managers]. We all have this idea of what the American Dream is, but what does that mean when you measure it against the values we’re taught as Latinos and in our culture?
You’re at the nexus of many different endeavors, but how did television and film get on your radar?
I felt like the moment I could find an opportunity in the visual and production worlds where I could tell a story that would make an impact, I would reach for it—even though I didn’t know anything. I entered the film and television world as well as the music world: I learned what terms meant as I heard them, and sat on phone calls with these execs at the various streamers and heard some of the terms of the questions they asked. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I learned.
Tell us about the talent show La Firma we’ll be seeing on Netflix soon – they have an incredible panel of judges from Rauw Alejandro to Yandel, Nicki Nicole and Tainy. How did that come together?
I was just really thinking about the idea of cover songs and how talent shows in the past have been very judge-focused and missed a certain part. Like Puff’s Making the Band – you just felt like you were getting a glimpse of how artists are made
And so “La Firma” is a show about it. We brought 12 artists who already wrote their music, who had a sense of style, to Miami and put them through a 12 week competition that really tested what it takes to be an artist, and the artist development process. I was shocked at the level of talent we were putting out. Every artist goes into the studio wanting to make the best music because you’re also a competitor. They go from sessions to dance classes, to choreography, to media training – I mean, that’s the life of an artist.
How does Neon16’s growth correlate to the surge in US Latin music revenue, which is set to top $1 billion this year?
I think it goes back to what we did with the marketplace. We attracted attention through our marketing, through our creative ideas. This crossover eventually became what is now global culture. We just had to change our approach to creative ideas, our business and the value of our producers. With Tainy we really wanted to show that. It used to be worthless to look at a producer even though they were an important part of our creative process and we really wanted to change the dynamic. Similar to Ntertain, we simply tell the world, “Hey, listen. We are just as good as everyone else.”
How is your business relationship with Tainy?
It’s a little bit of everything. It started as friendship and grew into business into management that has helped him throughout his career and creative process. It’s become a partnership that’s truly grown bigger than anything else. We’ve managed to build a relationship where we really understand what each of our roles is and how we grow those roles to integrate them into our businesses.
What is the secret of your business and musical development?
Understand my purpose and find meaning in the things I do beyond financial success or fame. I think evolution happens the moment you understand where you are going. I think a lot of people, especially young people, are going in circles. Sometimes we don’t stop to really understand what we want. I truly believe that you are attracted to the things you keep thinking about and that is why you need to obsess over them and make your dreams come true.