When Edgar Barrera first thought of bringing Bad Bunny and Grupo Frontera together for a collaboration, he thought to himself, “Wait, what am I even saying? That could never happen.” But like so many of the Mexican American songwriter-producer’s genre-bending ideas, this one didn’t just work out — it became a smash. The cumbia-norteña track “un x100to” peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May.
“To have the biggest artist, whom I had been wanting to work with, collaborate with a group from my hometown and record a cumbia, which is the music I grew up listening to with my dad, it was crazy and a full-circle moment in my career,” Barrera says today. “Sometimes I sound delusional, but the crazy thing is that the impossible happened.”
Ten years into Barrera’s career, his ability to effortlessly move across genres has made him one of the most sought-after songwriters in Latin music, with collaborators including Maluma (“Hawái”), Christian Nodal (“No Te Contaron Mal”), Grupo Firme (“Ya Supérame”), Camilo (“Vida de Rico”), Becky G (“Chanel”) and Marc Anthony (“De Vuelta Pa’ la Vuelta”), in addition to non-Latin stars such as Ariana Grande (“Boyfriend,” with Social House) and Shawn Mendes (his “KESI” remix with Camilo). In January 2021, he topped four genre charts — pop, rhythm, tropical and regional Mexican airplay — with four different songs, something no other Latin songwriter had done before. “That moment was really special,” says Barrera, 33, who also won the 2021 Latin Grammy for producer of the year. “I remember when I heard about it, I kept calling people in the industry asking, ‘Is this normal?’ ”
Extraordinary moments have defined the career of Billboard’s 2023 Latin Groundbreaker, who grew up near the border between Roma, Texas, and Ciudad Miguel Alemán in Tamaulipas, Mexico. At 6 years old, he created a rock band with his brother, cousins and a friend, who were all around his age. “I swear there are photos of me playing a guitar that was bigger than me,” he says with a laugh. “And I would write songs too. The first ones were really bad — they were about teddy bears — but come on, I was a little kid.”
It was around that time that he also started joining his father, a cumbia artist, at the studio or watching him rehearse with his band. Later, as a teen, Barrera handed out business cards and CDs with songs he had written to artists leaving local radio stations after their interviews. He still has one of those old business cards, which he proudly shows off. “I would go home and just keep hitting refresh on my Hotmail in case someone wrote, but no one ever did,” he says with a shrug.
Still, his hustle landed him an internship across the country in Miami with songwriter-producer Andrés Castro. “It was the best decision I could’ve ever made,” he says. “I started off as an engineer, [but] I remember when artists would come to the studio, I’d make sure to tell them, ‘Hey, I’m not really an engineer. I’m a songwriter and producer.’ And I’d show them my music. I got into a lot of problems because you’re not really supposed to talk to them directly. But I preferred to ask for forgiveness later than to ask for permission. And it worked: I got what I wanted.” Later, Castro would take Barrera to Sony Music Publishing Latin America, where he was signed by president/CEO Jorge Mejía.
Now, Barrera is laser focused on BorderKid Records, an imprint he launched in February 2022, with emerging acts Alex Luna and Neeus along with marquee client Grupo Frontera on his roster. When Barrera signed the six-piece last October, it was already a popular local band in McAllen, Texas, and had just landed its first big hit, “No Se Va,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot Latin Songs chart.
“We’re from the same place, so we all know each other, and one day, my compadre, who had hired them to perform at his tire shop opening, kept sending me videos telling me that they wanted to meet me,” Barrera explains. Their partnership began with a meet-up at a local Starbucks. “He believed in us from the start,” says vocalist-accordionist Juan Javier Cantú. “When we first met, he asked us where we saw the group going and we told him, but he told us that we were thinking too small and that we could go so much further. He pushed us to dream big.”
And now, Grupo Frontera is the latest Barrera success story. In August, its debut album, El Comienzo, bowed and peaked at No. 3 on the Top Latin Albums chart, and in the past year alone, the group — a 15-time finalist at the 2023 Billboard Latin Music Awards — has placed eight songs on the Hot 100.
“I promised myself that, from now on, I would work only on projects that I feel really passionate about and make me feel something,” Barrera says. “With BorderKid, it’s that. I want to be that bridge between new artists, songwriters and producers and their goals.”
Edgar Barrera will speak at Billboard Latin Music Week, taking place Oct. 2 – Oct. 6. To register, click here.