I’m in the basement of the TriBeCa Grand Hotel at 2 AM. St. Louis-bred producer Metro Boomin is DJing. The room overflows with leather sleeves, mesh jerseys, and floral print, sometimes on the same garment. Bucket hats sprout like mushrooms. Metro is playing predominantly Young Thug, Migos, Rich Homie Quan, and Future, a mixture of unreleased tracks and some of the biggest songs of the last 18 months: “Honest,” “The Blanguage," and "I Won.” Every song has one element in common, his instantly recognizable producer tag: "Metro Boomin wants some more." Rap hands erupt volcanically every time it rings out.
Metro Boomin, BKA Leland Wayne, rose to prominence with the new Atlanta wave. As a freshman at Morehouse College his early production for OJ Da Juiceman caught the ears of Gucci Mane. Gucci, who deserves a lifetime achievement tastemaker award, invited him to his studio, where he encountered Future, Young Thug, Migos, Peewee Longway, and more. He's swiftly developed a recognizable palette of stuttering trap percussion with airy, melodic synth elements. I'm honestly shocked at these dudes' success: a song like "The Blanguage" really shouldn't be a hit. Thug's incomprehensible warbling and Metro's dark synth flutters use the radio-hit rule book for toilet paper. Recently he's been pushing his sound into stranger territory still: peep the I Love Makonnen EP, which he produced four tracks on. It sounds like ATL meets Stardust-era Bowie.
Twelve hours before his DJ set I met Metro in the TriBeCa Grand lobby. He wore dark sweats and Nikes, with a fitted-tshirt and a simple chain. Only his iced-out watch betrayed radio dominance. He's soft-spoken and laughs easily, and his eyes light up when he talks about drum sounds. He's 20-years-old, and he's about to take over the world.
Noisey: I’ve noticed a lot of major producers like Mike Will recently shifting from a street-oriented sound towards songs geared more for pop radio. Do you see "I Won" as that moment for you?
Metro Boomin: Yeah. It’s growth; something that I’ve always wanted to do, but it takes time and steps. I’ve always wanted to make beats like that, but I’ve but making street beats and street music for so long that’s what people always want from me, they always ask for that, so I provide. The whole Future "I Won" situation was a great way of letting people know, “Oh, he can do this too, and it’s still hard.” I’m definitely going to do a lot more stuff like that. I’m still gonna always do street music and stuff like that cause I love rap, but I’m gonna shift it up.
Have you been making beats like that for a while and keeping them to yourself?
Yeah, I’ve always made beats like that. I mean, that’s one of the better ones, but stuff in that range, yeah. I wouldn’t say I make too much of it, but I definitely make a lot more of it now than I used to.
Did any major pop songs inspire "I Won"?
Really, the “I Won” inspiration, it wasn’t anything pop related, it was Kanye related. Before we even knew he was gonna put a verse on it, the drums were inspired by Kanye.
You’ve mentioned that you want to get into making movie soundtracks. What kind of movies do you see yourself scoring?
I’d definitely do like a horror movie. Doing the sounds, and really changing it up and making it crazy.
What’s your favorite movie soundtrack?
There were a few when I was a kid, but I haven’t listened to a movie soundtrack in so long. I’d probably say 8 Mile, Get Rich or Die Trying, and the first Friday.
Do you ever make ambient tracks, the kind of background moody shit you'd find on a soundtrack?
II definitely have. Like experimental, not to really play for anyone. I’ve also done it for people to record song, without the drums they can really think. It’s really fun to go back and replace everything to get the drums right.
What element of a song do you produce first?
Oh, drums are always last. I wouldn’t say last, but they’re never first, or really rarely, maybe two times out of ten. I’ll start with synths or play out some chords or something, and then I might add drums midway and add more sounds, but it’s never really drums first.
You don’t seem particularly interested in sampling.
Money-wise and publishing-wise, hip-hop doesn’t pay as much as other genres, so samples already take away what you got. So I really stayed away from that. I mean recently I’ve been messing with them a little more, just to have a little fun to try and hop in those other crowds, but generally I do it all from scratch.
How was the rap scene in St. Louis when you were growing up?
When I was younger we were on, there was a lot of platinum artists, singles, albums coming out of there every year. But as I started to get older, like around high school, all that was pretty much dead. So it was just musically dead after that, when Nelly moved on and did his thing. It was like a ghost town as far as rap.
So you were looking to other cities?
Exactly, in high school, middle school I listened to a lot of Atlanta music. Like Gucci Mane, Jeezy. I would just email beats to people in Atlanta all day, my mom would drive me to Atlanta, stuff like that.
What was your swag like in middle school?
Just a whole lot of Jeezy, whole lot of Gucci. Basketball jerseys, cargo shorts, air forces. Y’know, country shit like that.
Do you work approach production differently when you're working with someone like Future or Thug, with a melodic singing element, compared to a straightforward rapper?
It might be a different in which beats I play or select, but I love melodic music period. I put a lot of melodies in my music and my beats, and I’ve always enjoyed melodic elements. I don’t wanna say there’s too much of a difference, since these days everyone wants to add that element to their rapping or whatever. A little singing.
What’s your favorite beats of yours?
Damn, I’m one of the most indecisive people as it is so it’s always hard for me to pick favorites. But one of my favorite is definitely “Can’t See Em’” by Thug. I’m always gonna love that song. I’m gonna play that at my wedding. It's so epic and melodic, but then Thug came through and killed it. From front to back, I can never not listen to that song.
When did you first link up with Thug?
I first met him at Gucci’s spot about the first year I moved to Atlanta. I went to college that first year, and then dropped out. I was listening to some of his other stuff, and I started hitting him up, and we started linking after that.
It seems like Gucci’s been a really important mentor figure.
Definitely. Man, there’d be times when I’d come see Gucci everyday. Gucci’s definitely a mentor figure, he’s the big homie to everybody. In Atlanta, he’ll get anyone to shine, if he sees your potential. Gucci's the kinda nigga where I could bring my homeboy through, like, “Yo this nigga’s dope,” and if he thinks they’re hard, he’ll give them a deal.Gucci really would try to make other niggas bosses. A lot of artists in Atlanta, they’re not on that. But Gucci definitely has one of the best ears in the industry.
Was it crazy for you when you were in school, trying to go to class, and also making radio hits?
I would really be in class, come back to my room, have an hour between my next class. I had my speakers and everything on my desk in my dorm room, and I’d be in there making beats. Everybody in the hall would hear it, knock on my door trying to get in.
What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent with someone in the booth?
Man, there’s been some long sessions. Like twelve-hour-plus shit. Might pull up to the studio at 3pm, leave at 8 in the morning. Future does shit like that sometimes.
So you and Thug are Metro Thuggin'—what famous duo would you compare yourselves to?
I don’t want to compare us to anybody, but man, I feel like this is some Atlanta futuristic 2050 Snoop and Dre shit.
Tell me about "Metro Boomin wants some more." Easily one of the best producer tags out there.
Honestly that’s just some shit Thug made up in his head, I don’t even know where it came from. He just said it. But the cadence and the tone he said it, whatever he means. I know what he means, but like, what would make you say that? I remember when we did the song, me, TM88 and Sonny Digital made the beat while Thug was there in the studio, and me and Sonny went up the street to Waffle House to pick up food, and fifteen minutes we came back, the song was done.
Is Thug always mad productive like that?
Yeah, Thug’s a monster. Future works that way too. Once they get going, they get crazy, and momentum just builds up.
At what point do you think Metro Boomin could say “Alright, Metro Boomin’ does not want anymore, I’m satisfied”?
Never. Never, man, I need more, more, more. There’s so much to do. I’m glad and blessed to be where I’m at, and I thank god but I haven’t had anywhere near enough yet.
Ezra Marcus is waiting for all the real heads over on Twitter dot com - @ezra_marc