It must be difficult to stand on the shoulders of Hip Hop’s biggest hit singles over the past several years and not receive proper compensation, let alone production credit. One Los Angeles native coming into that understanding with haste is Mike Free (real name Mikely Adam). Since his days making beats within the confines of a Hampton University dorm room, he began collaborating with Dijon McFarlane a.k.a. DJ Mustard.

According to Free, beats sent to Mr. Mustard wound up becoming “Rack City,” “I’m Different,” and “My Nigga” among others. Not receiving his just due, he ended up suing the “hit making” producer  late last year. Regardless, everything seems to be alright for someone one also has creative collaborations with E40 and Lil Jon under his belt. Then there’s his biggest undertaking as owner of production company 4th Quarter Entertainment.

Speaking with HipHopDX, the producer talks the on-going battle for proper credits from DJ Mustard, originally going to school to become a writer and what album he sees as a production barometer.

Mike Free Talks Working With Lil Jon And Days At Hampton University

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DX: You just celebrated a birthday earlier this month. What did you do to celebrate?

Mike Free: Yeah, I just turned 23. Just got turned up and went to the studio to work with Lil Jon. That was real cool.

DX: Speaking of Lil Jon, What’s been the result of that and how exactly did you two connect?

Mike Free: Man it was cool; real cool. He taught me a lot as far as frequency and sound are concerned in my production. He also gave me game in terms of business and branding myself. It was really cool. We came out with a hell of a lot of beats. Now, we’re going to work again.

DX: Have an earlier memory of Lil Jon in terms of how you approach music?

Mike Free: I remember hearing Lil Jon for the first time when I was in the fifth grade. He had that song with the Ying Yang Twins “Get Low.” [Starts humming the beat] That shit was banging. That was my first memory so just seeing him and working with him now ten years later was like dope.

DX: When you began making beats while at Hampton University, what was your production setup like and how has that evolved overtime to reflect your sound?

Mike Free: I had like a small ruler sized keyboard and a Macbook that my mother bought me before I went to school.

DX: What you originally go there for? Why change?

Mike Free: I originally went to school for English. I wanted to write books and be a writer. I just wanted write and I like thinking critically. I been making beats though and music was always my first love. I know that the game is damn near impossible to get in. People were always telling me it’s about who you know. So of course, I had my backup plan was going to school for English. When I was out there, my main goal was to make beats and break out on the East Coast maybe as a producer. 

DX: I’m assuming in college you had your dorm room set-up and a grip of people were trying to get free beats out of you right?

Mike Free: Hell yeah. I made like two mixtapes for my homies in college and we put them out. It was cool. Basically, at that time I was like fuck school. I wanted to do music and this was something I really wanted to do. I was trying to get my homies to drop out with me but they wasn’t down. So around that time, I produced “I’m Different” and that was the keys to the lock that let me in.

DX: If there was an album you set as your production barometer, what would that be and why?

Mike Free: Probably Eminem’s Marshall Mather LP. Those beats were so tight and it sounds like not only beats for the street but they were so crossover and big. They sounded like movies. Every beat sounds like a movie and I wanted all of my beats to sound like a movie.

Mike Free Explains Meeting DJ Mustard And Not Receiving Production Credit

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DX: You grew up in South Central near DJ Mustard right?

Mike Free: I grew up in the Crenshaw District. I grew up around 49th and Gramercy. They shot the “International Players Anthem (I Choose You)” video down the street from the church. When they shot that, I wasn’t there. I was in New York with my dad because he lives out there. I was like damn, I missed it. That was around ninth grade.

DX: Who are you currently working with at the moment? You mentioned that “IDFWU” was originally for Justin Bieber at one point. How often do instrumentals and songs make the rounds before eventually make its way to the right artist?

Mike Free: Well honestly the way the game is now. You have a bunch of artists trying to hop on beats. I don’t think producers necessarily create certain beats for different artists except the one they started out with. So lets say I was working with YG or Ty Dolla $ign, I would make a beat specifically for them as opposed to what I would do for other artist. I’ll make a batch of beats and they’ll come and choose one that they like. We just do a lot of hot shit though.

DX: What’s your relationship with DJ Mustard now?

Mike Free: Right now, it’s a lot going on as far as… I do wish him the best in his career and like maybe if everything gets resolved, we can work again.

DX: End of last year had you make strong claims against DJ Mustard over the production of “Rack City.” That had to be hard considering you guys were friends right?

Mike Free: Yeah that was really hard. Pretty much, I wanted proper compensation and credit for my work. During that time, I was doing my own thing and now I have my own company 4th Quarter Entertainment with my own producers and engineers. I got Wizzo who engineers and produces for Nipsey Hussle. I got J. LBS who producers for Dom Kennedy and did some production for us a few months ago. So yeah, we got a solid team.

DX: Explain your working relationship with DJ Mustard. Can you explain the way in which production workload is divided between you two?

Mike Free: Sometimes, I’d start the beats. Matter of fact, all the time, I’d start the beats. Then that was about it. He’ll probably do the post-production. Lets take “Rack City” for example. It wasn’t any type of goal with that beat. I was literally going hard in my dorm room. It wasn’t a goal, I was like I’m going to send it and whatever happens, happens. What it sounded like was [starts doing the melody] and then he added his drums on it. Maybe he saw the beat way bigger than what I saw it as but I was just going. I was just making as many as I can because at that time, YG had just dropped the Just Re’d Up mixtape and that shit was catching flames in L.A. Everybody wanted to hear it. I had came back out here my freshmen year of college to go to a few proms. Like females a year younger than me wanted me to go with them. Every limo I was in was playing Just Re’d Up. I was like damn, it’s on. I went back and started going ham. 

DX: Explain your working relationship with DJ Mustard. Can you explain the way in which production workload is divided between you two?

Mike Free: I used to [know] this girl named Eygpt and she used to be DJ Mustard’s play-sister. We were pretty much into leadership at school. I only did that shit because it got me out of class. I hated being in class because I knew how to do everything and I felt like it was a waste of my time. We ended up putting on the school dance and she was like I want my bro to DJ this party and she was talking about Mustard. I was like fa-sho, I’m with that because I was dating her at the time. When she brought him to the school to DJ for the first time, she put that bug in his ear like he’s a producer. From there, we got cool and I figured out he lived like a fucking block away from me. I was like this shit is dope and I felt that it was like a damn movie or something. It was like bound to happen.

DX: When did you initially go after DJ Mustard for what you thought was due to you? Was it an issue with labels, miscommunication or anything like that?

Mike Free: Well honestly, I don’t know but it definitely had to be miscommunication and I felt like it could’ve been resolved if the compensation and credit was properly given. But, it wasn’t so I had to, you know.

Mike Free Talks Drinking Mangoscato With E40 and 4th Quarter Entertainment

DX: What’s the objective with 4th Quarter Entertainment?

Mike Free: For one thing, I was told before that you’re only as big as your last hit. So, I took that to heart. Every time I was in the studio making beats all night, I was always thinking that. I’m only as big as “Paranoid,” “I’m Different,” or “My Nigga.” That kept me going then and it keeps me going now. That cultivated the idea for 4th Quarter Entertainment; always being in crunch time. I use to play basketball a lot and I couldn’t sign any artists but I could have some producers on my team to partner up. I’m making everyone feel like they’re apart of the team because they are. I work with everybody equally.

DX: You seem to enjoy weed a lot. How often do you smoke during a studio session? What makes the perfect munchies?

Mike Free: Man, I love weed. That’s my vice. We smoke before, during and after the studio session. I don’t know about munchies. I eat beats.

DX: Have any opinions on the recent allegations revolving Suge Knight?

Mike Free:  Suge is I don’t know. He’s cool; definitely a heavy hitter in the game as far as his impact in the 90s. I know he was trying to get back into it from what I’ve seen. I don’t know, I just wish the best for him.

DX: You sight Timbaland and Pharrell as sonic influences. What about them specifically can you pin-point in terms of your approach to music?

Mike Free: I felt like they were always in the club coast-to-coast. You’d have a West Coast artist on their music, an East Coast artist and a down South artist on their production. Timbaland and Pharrell were killing the club. I definitely fuck with that and then on top of that, they would switch it up and give you some real shit. That was tight. 

DX: You solely produced E40s Sharp On All Corners album. Describe that experience if you can. You grew up listening to him and what were your expectations and did they change?

Mike Free: Man, I didn’t really get put on to E40 until I was in middle school. But, when I got put on and got around all the OGs, they put me around “Captain Save A Hoe” and “Sprinkle Me.” I was like damn, this dude got game. It came together through “IDFWU” joint. I guess he saw my name on the first initial split agreement sheet. Through that, we got into contact through this producer named Raw Smooth. He use to produce a lot for E40 and he’s doing his own shit now. Pretty much, he set that up. Me and E40 got real cool, real quick. There wasn’t anything awkward about it. I just showed him much respect because of everything he’s done. He’s overcome a lot and still successful after some twenty-something years. He’s definitely someone to look up to. When we were in the studio together, I couldn’t stop making beats. I made like thirteen beats that night.

The first track we did together was “That’s Right” featuring Ty Dolla $ign. When we first did it, he was like man I fuck with it because it was real simple. Like I said, I was just going in beat after beat. I felt like if I was doing anything corny, I would just move on to the next one. As soon as I did that first simple beat, he was like wooo that shit is tight. He didn’t even write to it, he just sent it to Ty and Ty sent over the hook like a week later. 40 added his verses and everything came out dope. Once I heard it, I was like man, he’s really dope. I’ve heard him already on multiple beats because I heard him spit to my beat on Mustard’s first Ketchup mixtape. It was that “4G’s” track. On that one, he was pretty much spitting game. I look at all my old beats like they’re not up to par with my new ones but even on that one he ripped that beat. 

DX: You drink Slurricane? I just had it last weekend.  Had me turnt watching Netflix.

Mike Free: Naw but we was fa-sho sipping that wine. That shit is good, the Mangoscato. [Laughter] I fuck with that. I didn’t try the Slurricane yet but everyone in the streets say that it rolls. I’m going to have to try it for sure. He’s suppose to send me a pack so I’m waiting.