Mike WiLL made it the old school way, with no budget and by building relationships. Early work on Gucci Mane’s mixtapes, including 2007’s No Pad No Pencil, got him in the game. Crafting hits for Meek Mill and Rick Ross (“Tupac Back”), 2 Chainz (“No Lie”), G.O.O.D. Music (co-production of “Mercy”), Juicy J (“Bandz A Make Her Dance”) and Lil Wayne (“Love Me”) established him as one of one of Rap’s most in-demand producers.
In an era where lasting hits are increasingly rare, Mike WiLL Made-It keeps churning them out, one bass-heavy, atmospheric marvel after another. Indeed, there’s levels to his hits, as the Georgia-bred sonic Svengali excels at making more than just beats for rappers. His work with Future (“Turn On The Lights”), Rihanna (“Pour It Up”) and Miley Cyrus (“We Can’t Stop”) demonstrates as such.
Now, as he prepares the roll-out for his EarDrummers Entertainment, Mike WiLL Made-It says he’s out to establish his own musical genre. In an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, the man who usually speaks with his hands explains how he stays ahead of the musical curve and details the differences between Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz’s recording processes while describing the stylistic distinctions between Atlanta’s and Memphis’ strip club music.
Mike WiLL Made-It Calls His Early Gucci Mane Tapes “Game Changing”
HipHopDX: When you were originally getting everything together, what was your original vision for EarDrummers Entertainment?
Mike WiLL Made-It: It just started off as a production company, but [my vision] was to build it to what it is today. I wanted a bunch of young, talented producers and songwriters working together and building it up. We want to continue to bring the new, fresh sound and shit.
DX: How does the relationship evolve now that you’ve grown from the point of having a budget to having a label behind you?
Mike WiLL Made-It: I just signed the deal, but the relationships I have with artists are really solid. I already put in a lot of favors and stuff like that with them. So, as far as relationships changing, you don’t have a real relationship with that person if it changes because of a record deal. If it does change, and all they want is a sandwich, we’ll give ‘em a sandwich [laughs].
DX: There was a perception that people got a quarter of a million or half-a-million dollars for beats. Now that the dynamics of the industry have changed, how does your original perception match up to what you see now?
Mike WiLL Made-It: It’s kind of crazy, dog. A lot of people told me, “Everything you said you were gonna do, you’re out here doing.” I’ve been talking about the same kind of thing since I was about 18, so it’s crazy to see it unfold and come to light now. I don’t really know how I foresaw it, but I’ve always been one of those kind of people that was changing the game. I came up with the idea for EarDrummers when I was 18, and that’s when me and Gucci Mane put out 20 songs in the streets. I feel like that was part of changing the game along with “No Pad No Pencil,” “Guapaholics” and all that shit. With Gucci dropping all those mixtapes, and me being a different part of it, I felt like that was a game-changing moment.
I don’t know if that answered your question, but albums aren’t selling, and producers aren’t selling beats for $500,000 no more. But those same producers that were selling tracks for that amount back then aren’t doing that today. I’m blessed to be one of the producers that’s eating the most right now. So I have a good price, and I’m getting work on different projects. I just executive produced the Miley Cyrus album, and I’m working on my album.
I’m heavily involved in Future’s album, and I’m blessed to be friends and have so much history with these artists leading the new generation. I’ve spent so much time working with them that we have real relationships. With Future and Kendrick [Lamar] being on top of Hip Hop; I’ve been knowing him since before he was poppin’. ScHoolboy Q is about to come out, and I’ve been knowing him. I’ve known 2 Chainz since 2007, and Miley Cyrus is making the transition back into artist mode. So I can executive produce her album, and we’re able to start a sound.
Why Mike WiLL Made-It Says, “Miley Is The New Pop Queen”
DX: Speaking of Miley Cyrus, why do you think she’s taking so much criticism? Britney Spears made a song with the Ying Yang Twins in 2003, and no one had a problem with her incorporating Rap into her sound.
Mike WiLL Made-It: I think we got more media now—more Internet, Tweets and Instagram. People can put whatever they’re thinking up on the Internet right now, and X amount of people will see it. Then it gets snatched from here, and snatched from there. The gossiping is easier now, so I wouldn’t say people weren’t against Britney, but I don’t think the information was as tangible. The Internet and the media outlets weren’t as crazy then, and they probably wouldn’t have done a whole write up on Britney Spears hanging with Snoop Dogg.
All Pop artists are popular, so they mess with Rap and all kind of other genres. It’s really no different, but Miley is just the new Pop artist. She’s the new Pop queen. Madonna had negative press before she got positive, and Britney did too. Miley’s going through the negative, and she’s gonna go through all the positives once the album drops. She’s all the way talented, and people can’t take that away from her. All they can say is, “She was twerking onstage. She shouldn’t have had on that outfit, because she looked naked.” But really, she was just reenacting Robin Thicke’s [“Blurred Lines”] video. It was for the VMA’s, and that was a big song. She’s that new Pop chick that everyone’s talking about.
DX: Is there a difference in the way you sonically approached the Gucci Mane mixtapes back then as opposed to the stuff you’re doing with Miley?
Mike WiLL Made-It: I feel like I set a standard every time I drop a track, so I gotta make sure the next track is harder. As far as transitioning into different genres, I always knew I had it. That’s why I loved when 2 Chainz said, “I was being patient, y’all was being stagnant.” I’d go in a room, tell people I had Pop beats, and a lot of them would be like, “Nah, I wanna hear that shit you do.” Then they’d give me a whole lecture about focusing on Rap, so I’d be like, “Alright, fuck it. If you want Rap, then, here. Fuck it.” Some of the same songwriters I gave those Pop beats to are now songs that me and Miley did huge records to. It’s just about staying creative and staying ahead of the curve.
DX: So does your album showcase that same range?
Mike WiLL Made-It: To tell you the truth, it might be more urban, but it has Pop artists. I don’t really want to call it urban, because I feel like I’ve got my own genre called EarDrummers. It’s just new and fresh. People might say, “Oh ‘23’ is a Hip Hop record,” but it’s working more towards Pop right now. Even though we made the beat thinking about some Rap shit, it’s more of a Pop record. Then we had [Miley] rapping on there with Juicy J and Wiz Khalifa. It just feels good, and it’s new.
Mike WiLL Made-It Details His Upcoming Album
DX: A lot of times when producers get their imprint, it’s as a buildup to a collaborative album like Puff Daddy’s No Way Out or Neptunes Present: Clones. Is that still the case?
Mike WiLL Made-It: Well, I got three successful mixtapes in the streets—“Established In 1989 Part 1,” Part 2 and Part 2.5. My team was always telling me, “Do not let this out, because this mixtape should be an album,” but I always told them it wasn’t time to sell it. It’s all about growth, and I just want to continue to put out free mixtapes, because the last one got over a million [downloads]. Not too many producers get over a million [downloads] on their mixtapes, and seeing that—in addition to all the other music I have out—makes me think people are interested in seeing a project from me. It’s really all about timing.
DX: With the “Established In 1989” series, you mixed big singles with unreleased material. When you’re talking about an album, what’s the next step in terms of formatting?
Mike WiLL Made-It: All unreleased material and even crazier collabs. The other mixtapes were effortless; we just put them together, and they came out dope. But I’m really putting time, energy and effort into this and marketing it so the singles count instead of leaking a song on the Internet. The process is to put the single out in the streets, push it to radio and then shoot a video for it. I want to be able to get more creative putting together a whole album.
DX: From the outside looking in, you came into the game with a lot of freedom by virtue of being on so many independent mixtapes. What’s the tradeoff now that you’re in a more structured, label situation?
Mike WiLL Made-It: I still got freedom. All I did is a label deal, and I’m not an artist. It’s different in terms of being EarDrummers Entertainment, because I’m looking over my projects, so I have creative control. And for the artists I work with, it’s not even about the money. All we want is loyalty, so I just continue to work with the same artists. The fact that I have a budget… I’ve never had a budget on any of my other projects, so that’s an asset. Now my project can reach more people, and I can actually shoot videos now. Back then, I didn’t have no budget. There were songs where I had a vision, but I didn’t have the budget for it.
DX: Which ones?
Mike WiLL Made-It: There was a lot of shit—especially on “Established In 1989 Pt. 2.5.” “Own Drugs” by 2 Chainz, “Number One” by Kelly Rowland, “773 Love” by Jeremih, and there are a lot more. They had me like, “Damn, I wish I could’ve shot a video for this.”
DX: A big part of producing is coaching artists and getting them out of their comfort zone. Who is someone you don’t have to be so hands-on with?
Mike WiLL Made-It: If you don’t coach them with staying in pocket, then you might coach them on something else. As a producer, you just gotta stay on top of the record, because no artist is perfect. No producer is perfect, and sometimes artists might tell me, “Yo, I want the melodies brought up,” or whatever. I feel like it’s on me to stay on top of each artist with everything, and I have to play Devil’s Advocate to make sure everything is perfect.
DX: Who do you have the most natural chemistry with?
Mike WiLL Made-It: Honestly, Miley didn’t need that much coaching. She was doing something new, and I was just making sure she stayed in the pocket. Miley doesn’t take too much coaching, because she has a strong voice…she sings really well. Future is another one that comes with different hops and stuff, and I might have him switch different words around, because he freestyles a lot. With 2 Chainz, he really goes in and does him, but Kendrick [Lamar] takes his time, so every artist is different. But I’m there to make sure things are zipped tight.
DX: You mentioned being asked to bring up the melodies. What’s an example of an artist asking you to change something that improved the overall song because of what they told you to do?
Mike WiLL Made-It: I’m an Aries, man, so I don’t really listen to too much shit [laughs]. Sometimes I get too creative, and Future has to tell me to just stop and let the track stay closer to the two-track. We might go back and forth about me adding too much shit to it. I spend a lot of time with these beats, so when I bring it [to the artists], it’s pretty much done. If anything, I’ll probably hear something that needs changing. Mariah Carey was one person who asked to change something, and it improved. But shit, I can’t talk about that.
DX: You mentioned being able to do bigger things with the budget. How big do you want things to get, because it seems like everyone inevitably gets backlash after a certain amount of success.
Mike WiLL Made-It: I’m just following God’s footsteps to be real with you. However far he leads me to go, that’s where it’s gonna go. At the end of the day, like you said, you’re gonna get backlash once you get popular. The same people that always loved you are gonna start loving to hate you, and the same people that hated you might learn to love it. You can’t control everybody’s feelings, and you can’t make everybody happy. Just make sure you’re making yourself, your family and those that have been down with you happy. Continue to do what you like to do, and stay prayed up.
DX: You’ve previously talked about getting into melodies from Rock bands like Queen. What are some of your other non-Hip Hop influences?
Mike WiLL Made-It: I like Queen, Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi, fun., Meatloaf and a bunch of shit.
DX: So you do “Hair bands” and power ballads?
Mike WiLL Made-It: Yeah! I just like a little bit of everything, and I want to hear what’s special in parts of different music.
DX: Tell me a little bit about Queen, because a lot of people will go straight to “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Another One Bites The Dust.” What’s something that stood out to you?
Mike WiLL Made-It: The melodies, because they sound so crazy. Even The Police, when you listen to Sting and his tone. As a producer, the way the vocal cuts through the record is an important part. The artist’s tone and the melodies are what make it a hit, and then you have to have the right words to make it all come together. But the first thing I listen for is that cadence.
DX: How would you compare the energy? If I’m listening to “Roxanne” by The Police, that’s a different bounce than Hip Hop.
Mike WiLL Made-It: Oh, yeah. That’s why you don’t bounce, man. You get on the plane, throw that iPod on shuffle, and let it just go.
DX: Speaking of tempo, 8Ball & MJG and Tela had a mid-to-slow tempo type of strip club music, whereas Atlanta is known for a faster tempo with Ying Yang Twins, Lil Jon and Kizzy Rock. Why do you think Atlanta’s sound was stylistically closer to the faster Miami tempo than the slower sound?
Mike WiLL Made-It: That’s a good question…I’m really not even sure. Even though Atlanta’s strip club records were different than Miami’s, the up-tempo was kind of the same.
DX: Right. So Miami had a bounce, Atlanta had a bounce, and New Orleans had a bounce, but Memphis...
Mike WiLL Made-It: And Texas. UGK…
Mike WiLL Applauds Juicy J; Compares Memphis & Atlanta Sounds
DX: Yeah, but UGK weren’t really known for that.
Mike WiLL Made-It: They hade “Take It Off” and “Let Me See It.”
DX: To me, they were known more for “Pocket Full Of Stones” and “Ridin’ Dirty.”
Mike WiLL Made-It: I’m 24 too, so I could just use an imagination. When I heard Pimp C say, “When she shake it from the back, you see that hairy ass hole,” and all that wild shit, it was all slow. I guess Pimp C just made more fuckin’ music. His shit was more about being in the hotel getting wild. But, I don’t really know why Atlanta went more towards the up-tempo bounce than the Memphis bounce. Memphis, and really Tennessee always had their own little thing. I was always a fan of Three 6 Mafia, 8Ball & MJG and even Yo Gotti.
DX: Did you like Tela?
Mike WiLL Made-It: I wasn’t really to up on Tela, but I did like Playa Fly and Tommy Wright III…all them niggas was going crazy. They always had their own little bounce—even going back to the Gangsta Walk. I even think Three 6 Mafia sometimes had a fast bounce in their strip club records, like “Slob On My Knob.” To me, 8Ball & MJG was more on that player shit.
DX: How does your perception of currently working with an artist like Juicy J match up to what you imagined when you grew up listening to him?
Mike WiLL Made-It: I love Juicy J, and that’s why I had to work with him. He’s a legend to me. All these folks be looking up to someone like Nas, and I respect the shit out of Nas. Growing up, he was one of my favorite rappers out of New York. Jay Z was always one of my favorites out of New York, too. They’re two different types of artists, but Juicy J is a legend out of the South like that. He’s been in the game for so long producing, and he’s had a lot of success, but he’s always kept it in an underground manner. Three 6 Mafia was always for the streets, but they did so much big stuff. He’s a legend to me.
DX: How much emphasis—if any—do you think fans put on those labels of underground and street versus commercial?
Mike WiLL Made-It: I don’t think the fans really care; they just like good shit…good music. The politics just get involved with things like that. Sometimes it has to translate to everybody, because you can’t just play, “Slob on my knob, like corn on the cob,” for certain audiences. Juicy J been doing that ratchet shit, so now being ratchet is in, and now that shit is winning. It makes even more sense for him to come right now with that raw shit. It’s easy for him to reinvent himself.
Back then, I felt like it was more cleaned up, even though Rap itself was kind of dirty. The sound has drifted to the South, so artists from the South can shine now. You’ve got New York artists like Jay Z fuckin’ with Juicy J. He got with UGK and did “Big Pimpin’,” and then he did a joint with Scarface and got with Juvenile. I feel like everyone likes all different kinds of music, but there’s just a time for everything. But the South is influencing a lot of music, and with me being the go to guy from Atlanta, my transition into Pop means that sound is standard for any type of music. People aren’t too scared of it anymore.
DX: There was a time when kids in the suburbs weren’t perceived as listening to “I smoke kush, I smoke beans.” How much does the change in times work in your favor with everything bleeding together?
Mike WiLL Made-It: That shit is great. When “23” came out and went straight to #13 on iTunes, it was my first single ever. The video made it shoot up, and we hadn’t even hit the radio or anything like that. So it’s dope, because I lived in the suburbs for some time. People just want to hear good music, and that definitely includes suburban kids. They don’t give a damn just as long as it sounds good. They don’t care if it’s Pop or Rap. Some people will say, “I don’t listen to Rap; I only listen to Rock or whatever,” but a lot of them grow out of that shit and start listening to all types of different music. Moving around, meeting different people and learning different cultures does that.
DX: What about the flip side? Is the hood listening to Queen and Bon Jovi?
Mike WiLL Made-It: Nah. But once niggas make they way out the hood and start meeting different people and cultures, then they’ll be like, “Yo, that shit’s kind of hard.” Future’s a good example of that, because he’s a person that can transition where people from the hood can listen to Sting or The Police…they probably don’t even know who in the fuck Sting is. But Future sounds like Sting on one of these new records, and he kind of sounds like Sting on “Turn Off The Lights.” So if somebody really likes that record, then they could say, “Who is Sting?” But after they look up Sting, they’ll see that dude was the shit. So you just learn from different artists that have that music knowledge.