Los Angeles, CA – The production of Mike & Keys is best served with a glass of Hennessy, on ice. It’s soulful and timeless. With a combined influence of Louisiana panache from Mike and Bay Area swag from Keys, the duo formally known as The Futuristiks has been making waves in the music industry for over a decade. After linking with Nipsey Hussle for the making of Crenshaw, they’ve continued that trek into Nip’s highly anticipated album Victory Lap, which is slated for release on February 16.
HipHopDX was able to catch up with the Grammy Award-nominated team at the renowned Record Plant recording studios in Los Angeles to talk about their work on Nipsey’s Victory Lap and everything else. A lot of funk was permeating through the speakers during their session at The Plant. The musical kind, that is. Best of all, it was complemented by visuals of Dragon Ball Z projecting from two large televisions while a long-haired engineer directed the sonic vision of a song former Pharrell artist Buddy was recording (who is now signed to RCA and who also made an appearance in Khalid’s “Young Dumb & Broke” visual as the “Most Talented”). Mike & Keys had been employed to make sure the vibes were just right. With Victory Lap finished, the pair is already on to their next venture. And for Buddy, there couldn’t be anyone better to get the sound right than Mike & Keys.
Speaking openly, Mike & Keys shared with DX everything we needed to know about Buddy, why they had to give up their former moniker The Futuristiks, what it’s been like working with Nipsey Hussle, and of course the story behind their song picks for this session of the #DXHitList.
“Church” — BJ the Chicago Kid f. Chance the Rapper & Buddy — That was around the time we first met Buddy. This is the beginning stages of working on BJ the Chicago Kid’s album and this song just had a hook on it. It wasn’t even a song it was just a hook. We would just play it for people and everybody just thought it was tight. We thought it was just going to be a song and nobody was going to care about it so for it come out and actually have Chance The Rapper on it, that was dope. — Mike
“Shine” — Buddy — Buddy did that at like three in the morning and we was just making the beat. Buddy was right there writing and 20 minutes later he came up with the full song. — Mike
“Hood Now (Outro) — Lupe Fiasco — We made this beat for Dom Kennedy at first. Larrance from 1500 produced a lot of stuff on the Lupe album and he co-produced this with us. They was like you got one more shot to make the album, if you guys pull up to the studio you will make the album. That was the first song that ever got us nominated for a Grammy. We just really like this song. — Mike
“Life Changes” — Casey Veggies — Life Changes is special because I just feel like that’s one of the most slept-on mixtapes. How the song happened was just fire. From the sample we got from Duwane and Phil [Beaudreau], it was original music no one had ever heard of before. We sampled it and made a beat then gave it to Casey. It was like one of those songs that people still talk to Casey about. — Keys
“Lucked Up” — Lecrae — That was a song that we collabed with Tariq Beats and DJ Khalil on. Tariq is the one who gave it to Lecrae. We always collab with them so it was tight to get a song with Lecrae. — Mike
“Bouncin'” — Nick Grant — We did that with our brother Mars from 1500. We didn’t even think Nick Grant would rap on this beat just from how we heard Nick Grant. When we heard what he did we was like ‘Wow, that’s tight.’ We didn’t expect him to do that, to that beat. — Mike
“Hold Me Down” — 50 Cent — That beat was made on a coffee table. That’s crazy because the people I was working with they managed me before we was Mike & Keys. They ended up getting that placed. That was the first placement we ever got. — Keys
“The Way We Ride” — T.I. — We made this around the same time we made Crenshaw. That was tight because that’s when we started changing our production style. Around 2012 DJ Khalil started telling us to sample musicians. That song we sampled [was] 1500 or Nothin’, Larrance and Mars. They’re both great musicians so that was like our beginning stages of sampling. What a lot of the producers are doing now, sampling; what they’re doing now, we were doing. That idea was brought to us from DJ Khalil. DJ Quik brought Suga Free through and gave that song the thumbs up. We were actually working on that beat in front of Suga Free while he was getting his hair braided. The name of the beat is “DJ Quik In Space.” — Mike & Keys
“After School” — Dom Kennedy — We just always knew Dom was going to kill that. That’s probably our favorite Dom Kennedy song. — Mike
“Checc Me Out” — Nipsey Hussle f. Dom Kennedy & Cobby Supreme — That’s our favorite Nipsey Song. That was our beginning with Nip production-wise. It was the first song we did together with Nipsey in the studio for Crenshaw. We did that with Larrance from 1500. — Keys
“Rap Niggas” — Nipsey Hussle — That took a long time to make because it was a song that Nipsey had already did. It was dope already. We had to remake it like five times. It had to feel aggressive. The way he was rapping was aggressive so the music had to sound like that. It still had to sound West Coast too but not too West Coast. It took a minute. Nipsey was even feeling bad for telling us ‘No, this won’t work,’ because we did a lot of versions to it but we got it with this one. When Nipsey play something over and over again that’s how you know this has to go. — Mike & Keys
HipHopDX: Who is Buddy?
Keys: Buddy is this talented, young artist from Compton. He was signed to Pharrell when he was 16 and he’s starting to get his popularity up. People are recognizing him by his music. He’s been doing it for a minute though. He’s a real talented kid. He’s signed to RCA right now and we’re just doing his album and keep it going.
Mike: He’s from Compton. He’s one of the newer guys we like working with.
DX: How did you guys start working with Buddy?
Mike: We started working with Buddy because this guy that we knew, Brett. He brought him through to the studio and was like you guys should be working together. We did one song and he never left our studio. Literally, for like a year. Literally, an organic vibe. We didn’t even know Buddy. Everything was just based on the music.
DX: What’s going on with him now? You guys did the Magnolia project, correct?
Mike: That was Buddy’s idea. He said he wanted to put out an EP with us.
Keys: This was around the same time we was doing Victory Lap.
DX: And you guys are working on his album right now?
Mike: We are executive producing it with Brody Brown.
Keys: Brody is part of 1500 also and he did Bruno Mars, Adele … he’s amazing.
DX: Is this your first time working with Brody?
Mike: We’ve been working with him since we’ve been in the music industry but it’s our first time working on an album with him professionally.
DX: How has it been? I noticed walking into the studio he sounds real Jazzy and Funk.
Keys: It’s been fun! I think that’s naturally how Buddy is. He’s a funky person and fun.
Mike: His album is coming soon we’re just trying to wrap it up. He’s so creative, we’re just trying to work on one thing at a time.
Rebuilding After The Futuristiks
DX: You guys used to go by The Futuristiks. Why the name change?
Keys: There were some disputes with that name. We was fighting for that name for a long time but someone else ended up buying that name and we ended up going by Mike & Keys. We like the name Mike & Keys better anyway because everyone always naturally calls us that, like our friends and family even before we was Mike & Keys. We just ran with that.
Mike: People know us as The Futuristiks with Dom Kennedy and Get Home Safely.
DX: How were they able to just take your name? Were there things that you could have done to prevent it?
Mike: Yeah, there were things we could’ve done. But just like with anything else it was more politics involved in the situation. For us, we felt like we had the name first, everybody knew us first and that’s just what it is. We don’t ever really speak on it. We know what it is. We let the music speak.
DX: How did you guys rebuild your name after that?
Keys: We definitely started from scratch with a new name. People knew the name, The Futuristiks, but didn’t know Mike & Keys at all. It’s like producing from the start all over again.
DX: How long did it take for you guys to get your profile back up?
Keys: Not long! The right people knew that we were The Futuristiks. The important people. They knew who we were, it’s just that the vast majority didn’t know.
The Steady Marathon Of Working On Nipsey Hussle’s Crenshaw
DX: How did you guys like lock in with Nipsey?
Keys: [Nipsey] probably doesn’t even remember this. We met Nip in like 2004 from a producer named Phonics. He really introduced us to Nipsey. Then Larrance from 1500 [Or Nothin’] re-introduced us to Nipsey.
Mike: ‘Rance would always give him our beats and then one day Nip was like, ‘Where are these guys?’ It’s funny because we had been around Nipsey since 2004, it was just a lot going on at that time so we weren’t in the same position to be like, ‘Yo, Nipsey pull up to the studio and listen to some beats.’ It wasn’t that type of situation for us at that time. Larrance made the real, official introduction to us working with Nipsey.
Keys: I can say when we started working on Crenshaw is when we really started working with Nipsey full-fledge. We was sharing studios together and we’ve been working with him doing mixtapes since then.
Mike: We’ve probably been with Nipsey from 2007 to now, probably 80 percent of the time, for sure. We were living at the studio and he was right there, living with us.
DX: Let’s talk about Crenshaw! Do you guys still get praises for your work on Crenshaw?
Keys: Yeah. People still love Crenshaw.
Mike: That was originally supposed to be Victory Lap. That was like a batch of songs.
DX: How did it end up becoming Crenshaw instead of Victory Lap?
Keys: Well, some of the songs that we did around that time is on Victory Lap. They were supposed to be on Crenshaw but they were so good we ended up using them on the album so no one has even heard these songs.
DX: Crenshaw has a lot of Houston influence in it. That’s what got me into it. What was going on at that time where you guys were like, ‘Let’s throw Z-Ro on a record with Nip, let’s make a song and call it “H-Town.”’
Mike: Nipsey loves Houston in general. Me being from Louisiana, my dad, my sister, my whole family, lives in Houston so we’ve always loved Houston music no matter what. We was just like what if we just made like some Geto Boyz/Bone Thugs … that’s the mind frame we were thinking. Z-Ro is official in Houston so why would we not have him? Slim Thug too. Those are official people in Texas that’s why they’re on the project. It’s always better to work with people that you like.
DX: Now, with this Atlantic deal Nipsey inked, does it include you guys as well?
Keys: No, we’re not included in that.
Mike: Everything that Nipsey has done, we’ve always been a part of it so it’s like he tells us, ‘If I’m doing it, we’re doing it.’ Nipsey always has a plan for everything he’s doing. He’s been the person to help us really re-brand Mike & Keys. He’s been the one who was like, let me help you with that because we cared about changing our name. That’s why we ended up doing so many songs with Nipsey.
DX: In working with Nipsey since 2007. Did you guys know things would go this far?
Keys: We knew things were going to go far when we were working on Crenshaw and Mailbox Money. We was like, if we’re doing this we’re doing the album. He had faith in us as producers and we had faith in him as an artist. We just believe in each other so much, it’s going to work.
DX: So, when did y’all know you had something special going with Nipsey?
Keys: “Checc Me Out.”
Mike: The first day! It’s funny because Dom Kennedy picked us up and we went to the studio with Dom Kennedy at 1500 Studios. That was the first beat and everybody just jumped in. Wasn’t no thoughts. The vibe was so crazy, we were like, ‘This is going to work! This is the vibe!’ That’s when we knew we had something special with Nipsey because we knew what he was trying to do and it worked.
The Making of Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap
DX: How involved were you guys in creating Victory Lap?
Mike: For us, five years. For Nipsey? Even longer.
Keys: He was working on it way before he even met us.
Mike: But we came in 2013 to start working on songs. We didn’t even know what we was doing. We was just like giving him beats. At this time Nipsey was just rapping on everything because we had a studio with TeeFlii and TeeFlii was doing like 10 songs a day so Nipsey was like, ‘Well I’m going to do 10 songs a day.’ That’s how it started.
DX: Out of Crenshaw, Mailbox Money and Victory Lap which one was your favorite to work on?
Keys: Crenshaw. It was a certain energy around that time. Like Mike said, we had a studio with TeeFlii and DJ Quik was there too. Everybody used to come to the studio. [Dr.] Dre even came to the studio. So that vibe was just…
Mike: Crazy. No one has known Dr. Dre for pulling up to anybody’s studio. So when he pulled up it was like the vibe here is crazy.
Keys: And we did Get Home Safely around that time too. So it was just something special.
Mike: We did Get Home Safely and Crenshaw at that studio at the same time.
DX: So with some of the songs that were from Crenshaw being on Victory Lap, can fans expect Victory Lap to be a continuation of Crenshaw?
Keys: I don’t think so. Victory Lap is totally different from Crenshaw.
DX: Is it like “Rap Niggas”?
Keys: “Rap Niggas” is like different from the album kinda. What people hear from Victory Lap, I think they’re going to be shocked. Musically and just the stuff that Nip is talking about is just going to blow people’s minds.
DX: So what type of vibe is it?
Mike: It’s hard to say. It’s a little mixture. It’s the Nipsey Hussle vibe.
Keys: To me it feels like when Nas was in his prime or when Tupac was in his prime. When JAY-Z did The Blueprint. Victory Lap to me, it sounds like that. This is Nipsey’s prime right here.
DX: Big shoes! Now, let’s talk about this Nike commercial! How did you guys find out the song you produced was going to be in a commercial for Nike?
Mike: Nipsey called us and was like I’m shooting a commercial in San Antonio, Texas for Jordan. So we flew to San Antonio and Nipsey hit us and was like ‘Oh, yeah they’re going to use “Rap Niggas” in the commercial.’ So it literally happened there that day. It’s so ironic his album is coming out All-Star Weekend because when we were making his album we were watching basketball highlights 24/7 in the studio. I remember that’s how a lot of songs got made.