“Jimmy Iovine once told me, ‘You got the opportunity to make pop radio urban again,’ but I didn’t quite see what he was saying at the time,” says Mike Will Made It. But in retrospect, the former Chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M’s vision became a lot clearer for the producer. He realized that he had the opportunity to change the game, and change the game is exactly what he did. At a time when the platinum producer was being told that only EDM and dupstep could survive on pop radio, Mike Will-produced hits by Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Miley Cyrus, and Juicy J began crossing over to pop radio, subsequently opening the door for an array of other urban acts to garner success on the pop charts. “A lot of people get a few strikes before they hit their first homerun, but I’ve been blessed to be able to hit homerun after homerun,” says the “23” producer. “And I know that those homeruns are great, but now I’m trying to get them grand slams. Plus, I haven’t hit nowhere as many homeruns as Kanye, Pharrell, Timbaland, Diddy, and Dr. Dre – the people I look up to.”
Determined to establish himself as much more than just a hit-maker, Mike Will has quietly been building an empire. His Ear Drummers imprint’s first act, Rae Sremmurd has already scored back to back top 40 Hot 100 hits with their debut singles, “No Flex Zone” and “No Type”, and next on the label’s agenda is launching the careers of the recently signed Atlanta collective, Two-9. Ever the multi-tasker, the mogul in the making has been splitting time between his executive’s chair and the studio. That heavy studio grind of Mike Will has recently resulted in not only hit records for Rae Sremmurd, but also records like Future’s posse-cute “Move That Dope”, the Rick Ross and Jeezy beef-squashing “War Ready” and soon-to-be released records from Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Fergie. Mike Will also has two projects of his own hitting the streets in the near future. There’s his long-awaited debut album, Est. in 1989 PT 3 (The Album), which is slated for release sometime next year and his Ransom mixtape, – his first tape to feature all original music – that is set to drop December 15th.
Life + Times met up with Mike Will Made It during one of his recent stops in NYC to discuss Ransom, the success of Rae Sremmurd, discovering ILoveMakonnen and his work on upcoming projects for Nicki Minaj and Fergie.
Life + Times: How did you come up with the concept for Ransom?
Mike Will Made It: When I was coming up I would pull up to the studio with guys like Gucci Mane, Future and 2 Chainz and we’d just work. The records we’d work on would end up on their mixtapes or I would just put them out. Every week I’d have something on the blogs and stuff. Then 2013 came and I had a bunch of records going to radio. That’s when I started to redirect my focus. That’s also when I stopped having as many records drop as frequently. One day my homeboy was saying to me, “Why you ain’t dropping shit like these other producers? These other producers are on your ass.” I don’t really look at things like that. I just make music, but when he told me that, I just started playing joints that were on my computer. I had all of these different records, because I was still working on shit. I just hadn’t been putting them out. I was like, “How about this Migos record? How about this Young Thug record? How about this Rich Homie Quan record?” I asked him if he wanted me to drop the records I had played him. He was like “Hell yeah.” I started shit talking like, “I’m holding all this shit for ransom.” Then at some point I was like, I should just drop a mixtape featuring the records I had on my hard drive with a lot of the new people that I’d been working with and call it Ransom.
L+T: Who are some of the people you’ve worked with for Ransom?
MW: 2 Chainz, Gucci, Chief Keef, Rich Homie Quan, Young Thug, Two-9, Rae Sremmurd, ILoveMakonnen, Riff Raff and a few others are on it. There’s a lot of underground shit on there.
L+T: Why are you choosing to release Ransom as a mixtape, instead of as an official album?
MW: I feel like my first album doesn’t need to be one dimensional. Ransom really isn’t one dimensional, but it’s just catering to some hard shit. You know what I’m saying? I feel like that’s what people want to hear right now and it’s been a long time since I put out a bunch of shit like that.
L+T: What has been the delay with the release of your debut, Est. in 1989 PT 3 (The Album)?
MW: I feel like my album is only 50 percent done. I originally planned on putting it out this year, but I’ve decided to drop it next year instead. My album shows more of my diversity and range. I worked with people like Miley Cyrus, Chance The Rapper, BJ The Chicago Kid, Jeezy, Future and Rae Sremmurd. I’m about to go in with The Roots. I worked with Lil Wayne. Me and Wayne got so many records, so we’re just trying to figure out what records will be tight for his album and what records will be tight for Tha Carter V.
L+T: What was it about Rae Sremmurd that made you want to work with them?
MW: Really, it was their energy. They had a lot of energy. They’re positive kids, they’re humble, they’re hungry, they support each other – they’re just dope. Their melody choice and their approach to records is just retarded. They can do tracks that are so catchy, but at the same time they can really rap. They be snapping. I knew from when I first was put on to them that these dudes were it. They just kept working at it and now they got a solid ass project. This SremmLife album is retarded.
L+T: Their first two singles, “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” were top 40 hits. Are you feeling any pressure having to follow up the success of those records?
MW: No. Those records came together organically and the people happened to connect with them, which made it kind of easy for us. The first two songs we put out went top 40, and those records to us aren’t their best records. We just felt those would be the most trend-setting for the time being. This upcoming SremmLife project is just a starting point. You’re really going to see them grow from there.
L+T: You’ve compared Two-9 to the Dungeon Family and that’s a pretty big statement, so how excited are you to be able to properly introduce the Two-9 collective to the world?
MW: I can’t wait. I wish the world knew about them right fucking now. Them dudes is serious. They can really rap, they really put together dope music, they work sun up to sun down, they’re super creative, and they got great taste in shit. All of the guys in the group are dope as fuck. Their stage presence is retarded also. They know how to put on a great show.
L+T: While building your Ear Drummers imprint, you’ve continued to produce hit songs. How have you been able to successfully juggle your business and creative endeavors?
MW: I never looked at it like I was going to be a mogul. I’m just hungry as fuck. I remember them days in the basement, because that shit was three years ago. Everything has happened so fast, but it has all been really organic. I’m still a young producer and at the end of the day I’m going to continue to work with the people I came up with, while at the same time building my dynasty. I’ve been rocking with Two-9 for a couple of years now. Rae Sremmurd has been a part of the family for a minute. So it has all really been organic.
L+T: What can you tell us about “I Lied”, the record you produced for Nicki Minaj’s upcoming Pinkprint album.
MW: Since the album is dropping at the end of 2014, I feel like that song will be one of the biggest records of 2015. “I Lied” deserves a Grammy. It’s one of those. It’s something that people aren’t expecting from me and Nicki Minaj at all. People may think one thing when they think of what a Nicki and Mike Will collaboration would sound like, but this is completely different. This record is some real next level shit. She really took it there. On the production side, it just feels good. I call it, “lighters in the sky music.” I feel like it’s going to be every girl’s favorite song. It’s a female anthem. It’s going to be huge. I’m not even gassing it. I’m honestly not giving it as much credit as it’s due.
L+T: You’ve been working with Fergie on her sophomore album. How has it been working with her?
MW: That shit has been dope. I always tell people that Fergie is hard as fuck, musically and as a person. I fuck with Fergie the long way. Me and Fergie got like three or four smashes right now on her album. She’s a legend, yet she kicks it like she’s so young. She’s just so hip and up on everything. She’s always down to try new shit and she keeps this great energy and great vibe. She’s just dope as fuck. And she can really sing. She can do anything with her voice, because she has this dope ass voice. I’m excited about what her and I got coming for real.
L+T: Aside from the off-kilter verses, ILoveMakonnen’s “Wish You Well” has the qualities of a really big record, but it sounds more like something for an artist like Chris Brown. How exactly did it become a Makonnen record?
MW: To tell you the truth, that record right there was so fucking weird in how it came together. We were all in my homeboy’s basement and I was just skimming through beats. Makonnen heard that beat and was like, “Hold up. Let that play real quick.” As he was listening to the beat, he just started mumbling this melody. After a few minutes he was like, “Alright. I’m ready.” My engineer then started recording. This man [Makonnen] was just looking at the wall. He sang that whole song in one take, while staring at one spot on the wall the whole time. I discovered Makonnen two years ago and signed him like a year and a half ago to a publishing deal. I didn’t have a label deal at the time. I only had the pub deal. I signed him just so he could have some money in his pocket so he could continue to create. So him having the number one song on urban radio and Rae Sremmurd having the number two song is like the greatest feeling for me.
L+T: Wow. He really cut the record in one take?
MW: For real. First verse, hook, second verse, hook, third verse, hook and that was it.
L+T: So he’s a lot more talented then most people would assume?
MW: Hell yeah. He’s like a super rockstar. He’s super dope. He’s going to get his recognition very soon. We got a record that’s going to be on Ransom called “Swerve.” That shit stupid too. It’s a record for the club. That’s going to be another standout record for him too.
L+T: You’ve already accomplished so much at a really young age, but you’ve said that there’s so much more work for you to do. What do you think is next for Mike Will Made It?
MW: Just bringing dope artists in the game, making more hits, being innovative and continuing do some trend-setting shit. I really feel like this is just a beginning. I honestly look at it like I’m still an up-and-coming producer. What I did for Miley’s last album was tight, but the new stuff we’ve been doing is on some next level shit. It’s just on some different shit that people aren’t expecting.
L+T: You’ve had an impact on popular culture. What does that mean to you?
MW: It’s definitely dope man. With Miley’s last album we proved that pop radio could be changed. A lot of people told us that “We Can’t Stop” wasn’t going to work on pop radio. They told me we couldn’t change pop radio. That record dropped and fucked everything up. Fuck changing pop radio, it changed pop culture. It’s a year and a half after that record dropped and pop artists are still putting in grills and girls are still twerking. After we dropped “23” you had pop artists like Katy Perry with records on urban radio featuring Juicy J. It’s just dope to turn your doubters into believers, but with the way everything is panning out I really can’t ask for more. I just thank God every chance I get.