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Mike Will Make It Through This Year If It Kills Him (And It Almost Killed Him)

On Miley Cyrus, "segregation of genres," and more.

by Kathy Iandoli
Dec 18 2013, 3:48pm

We've been hearing “Mike WiLL Made It has had one hell of a year!” since 2011. It all started with the aggressive “Tupac Back” (Up until we realized Meek Mill was calling himself Tupac), the hypnotizing loops on “Mercy,” the anthem “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” and the venemous “No Lie.” This past year has been no exception. Mike Will is responsible for Rihanna’s banger, “Pour It Up” and in turn, flipped "My Boo" into Ciara's “Body Party." And of course, he single-handedly played a role in Miley Cyrus' return too.

Let's be real: it was hardly Miley’s naked body riding a one-ton wrecking ball that resuscitated her career. A lot of her success was sparked with Mike WiLL’s charged up beat on “We Can’t Stop,” along with his heavy hand in most of the production on her album, Bangerz. It gave Miley a soundbed to twerk on and ample fodder for the internets to destroy her for it. For a producer who has made hip-hop palatable to pop and pop palatable to hip-hop, it’s no wonder why he defies labels. Mike Will's success rate in throwing caution to the wind has proven effective, considering that his name is everywhere. He already won the Producer Of The Year Award at the BET Hip-Hop Awards this year, and now he's got a potential Grammy waiting for him, too: Rihanna’s Unapologetic is nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album

As for Miley (and even Ciara), the ill snub happened. Perhaps that’s why Mike WiLL is so adamant about expressing his views on Miley’s musical talent (he brings it up a few times during this interview). There's that and the artistic imprisonment known as the genre, which plagues him in the accolades department. Still, he’s emerged as that go-to guy for genre-jumping beats and it’s paid off—“Pour It Up” and “Love Me” went platinum, “We Can’t Stop” went triple platinum. It’s more than that for him though. He wants the glory, and he doesn't just want to be the hip-hop producer: Mike Will wants to soundtrack the shit out of your life.

He throws it all out there (and then some) for us in his in-depth interview, so take off your clothes, find the nearest steel ball in your sight, have a seat and read up on music’s most promising young beatsmith.

Noisey; What was the difference in, I don't want to say your work ethic, but in your output, your process and everything from 2013 as opposed to 2012?
Mike Will Made It: I feel like the doors are opened up for me. 2012, I feel like I was still grinding. It was a good year for me, but that was my year breaking down the barriers. It was like my introduction. In 2011, a lot of people didn't even know I did “Tupac Back.” If a lot of people weren't fans of Future and Chainz and different people, then they would have missed a lot of those mixtape records that I was putting out in 2011. Then in 2012, 2 Chainz dropped an album and then Future dropped an album. “Turn On The Lights” was my first record that went No. 1 in urban and crossed over and went pop, and that showed me any person who had doubted me, [my music] doesn't have to just be urban. So, 2012 was the intro of that, and then after that I just followed up by coming right back with songs: “Pour It Up” and “Bandz A Make Her Dance” or “Love Me” to end the year, and doing work with Ciara like “Body Party.” And Kendrick, we're already back to work. That's like my brother that people don't even know, because we haven't done any music together that came out. But that's my brother that people don't even know.

When you first aligned yourself with Miley, outside of her own tracks, but putting her on a track like “23,” did you expect to get any heat for that? I mean, she was probably one of the first genuine pop artists that you ever really aligned yourself with, and people have these polarizing opinions about Miley, but you took a huge risk with her and it worked. What was that whole scenario like?
I really don't get caught up in that. I really didn't look at it like I was going to get any slack, because anybody who gives you slack for good music are just people that are in the peanut gallery that just want to talk to just talk. I don't put myself in any box or say that I can't work on any kind of music. I'm not just a producer that only makes urban music. I'm a producer that makes all types of music and I listen to all types of music, so for anybody who has something to say, those are people that's going to have something to say about anything. So if I wouldn't have made a move and started working with Miley, then they would have been like, “Man, all Mike WiLL's beats sounds the same!” or “All Mike WiLL does is produce hip-hop beats! He's not great. He'll never be Pharrell. He'll never be Kanye.” They're always going to find something to say. I go in with an artist, I meet an artist and if I vibe with them and we got a good chemistry, then we vibe out from it and we work. And that's what happened with Miley.

It wasn't necessarily like, “Yo, this is a pop chick and I need to align myself with her and I wonder how people are going to look at it.” I just met her, I had a song for her, she knocked out the song and I heard her vocals and she was amazing. Once we were just around each other more, it was like, she's cool as shit and we ended up being cool. That's my little homie. I love her for life. Her whole family, her brothers, I'm cool with all of them, so it was just good vibes. With an artist like Future in the hip-hop world, I love him for life. That's like my brother. It's been the same thing. When I met him, we just had a good chemistry, and we took off. If I had the access to Miley Cyrus or a Justin Bieber or whoever—whatever pop artist people might have given me slack for—if I had access to them before, I would have been working with them before. I like making dope music.

How do you get in the zone when you're making beats for hip-hop artists, and then you're making beats for R&B and Pop stars?
I just have all types of music on my iPod, and I do a lot of traveling, so I listen to the songs on my iPod. One fun. song might come on and then a Young Scooter song comes on, then a Drake song comes on, then it'll go to a Queen song, and then it will go to some Biggie. Then it'll go from Biggie and go to Portishead. I listen to a lot of Portishead. Then it'll go from Portishead and go to Kanye. I just listen to a wide variety of stuff. Different things constantly come on my iPod, so I'm never ever in a zone. Either we go in and come across a sound and then we just start messing around with the sound and see what it does. We just continue to build on that sound, add some drums to it and then wherever really the beat leads us. Like when we did a song like “My Darlin” on Miley Cyrus' album, that beat originally had all live drums and sounded real anthemic. It was kind of like a Coldplay feel, because Coldplay is one of my favorite bands. I just try to bring stuff my way. I feel like we're in the generation now where people listen to all types of music.

Slavery is over. Not slavery is over, but segregation is over with. I feel like genres are like segregation. That's how I look at genres of music. Caucasians drink from this water fountain, African Americans drink from this water fountain. This is hip-hop and this is pop. No! Pop is nothing but popular, you know what I'm saying? The only thing that can be popular is something that's good. It's either cool or it's not, and if it's cool, then it'll be popular. That's why it'll be cool in the hip-hop world, and then it will cross over and hit the Pop charts and be popular. And then it's all about how much you push it on that side and in that world, which might become a bigger song. But you've got to make a song that nobody's scared of. You don't want to scare anybody away.

Even with “23”?
Even with “23.” I think “23” was a prime example. That song was just good and cool. Some people who are extra hip-hop heads and all the way in that space might be like, “Yo, I heard '23' and that's not hip-hop to me!” Cool, you're right, because I don't do music in genres. I just feel like it was a dope song with Miley, Wiz and Juicy J. Anybody else who put Miley, Wiz and Juicy J on a song would probably do a twerking song, or they would probably do like a smoking song. I just wanted to do something out of the box.

I'm a sneakerhead, and I know that Jordans are popular right now, and the sneaker community is at an all-time high right now. We stood in line for Jordan's, we woke up early mornings for Jordan's. The whole sneaker community would feel that song, and it would be like an exciting thing to see Miley Cyrus rap. She's known for doing big pop, anthemic songs. She's rapping, but at the same time, she's not saying nothing crazy. She's not saying nothing wild, she's not saying nothing that she's lying about. I just feel like that's what hip-hop is. As long as you have a dope flow and you're pretty much telling the truth, or you're just saying something fun that people can relate to and whatnot, that's what hip-hop is about. I don't really feel like there's any kind of colors behind that. I was a fan when Blondie was rapping and stuff like that. It's just a different type of music, and I just feel like it's all about somebody opening their head up and having more of a broad view on things than just having such a narrow view.

What genre do you think is more afraid of change, though? Hip-hop or pop? I can’t call it, personally.
I feel like people think that pop is a certain sound, and it's not. With hip-hop, it's really like people have a certain view on hip-hop because hip-hop was ran in New York for so long. So they're so used to cyphers and stuff like that. But when I grew up, I was a fan of New York hip-hop: I was a fan of Jay Z, I was a fan of Jadakiss, Styles P, Nas. Big fan of Nas! I was a fan of Biggie. I love New York hip-hop, but I was raised in Atlanta, so I really grew up listening to Three 6 Mafia, Lil Jon, Pastor Troy, UGK, Trick Daddy, different people like that. T.I., Jeezy... But at the same time I was a fan of Snoop Dogg, I was a fan of Dr. Dre, I was a fan of Ice Cube. West Side Connection was the first rap CD that I ever bought, and it had curse words and my mom had took it from me. Then Cash Money, I used to think I was a part of Cash Money. No Limit, I used to think I was part of No Limit.

A lot of times, a lot of people get stuck in the whole New York hip-hop mind frame, where they're like, “No, no! Hip-hop is this cypher, freestyle, blah blah!” But really hip-hop is a culture and a way of life. That's how I look at hip-hop. It's new, fresh, who has the new style, who has the new cadence, who has the new way of doing music? That's why Drake is on top of hip-hop, because he has all the crazy cadences throughout his verses. He might sing this hook, and then rap right here, but he knows how he wants his beat. He has a real producer's mind frame. That's why Kanye is on top of hip-hop right now. That's why Jay Z is on the top of hip-hop right now. Jay Z never had a problem with reaching out to Southern artists like Juvenile or UGK, or doing songs like “Forever Young” with Mr. Hudson or doing “New York State of Mind” with Alicia Keys. He understood that. I feel like the people that are on top of hip-hop right now are people who really understand music and understand that hip-hop is just a way of life of being the new and the fresh.

Miley felt like your first real foray into pop, though.
I just feel like when I did “We Can't Stop,” I wanted to come with a whole new pop sound. It was real melodic, people liked it, but at the same time, it could have worked in the clubs because it had the knocking drums and it still had a groove to it. It had this funk to it. A lot of people were telling me when they heard “We Can't Stop,” like, “Oh nah, that's not going to work on pop radio. It's too slow.” And I'm like, “Man, it's a Pop record, my nigga! It's real melodic, it moves. How could you say that this won't work on pop radio? It's anthemic, people can sing along to it. Why won't this be popular?” And it came out, and it busted open the doors for Miley to do whatever she wanted to do with music. And it broke all these crazy records on VEVO, and then she came through with a slow ballad. That's a homerun! The doors are already open. She's popping her grill in at the beginning [of the video], she's doing shit like that. People were like, “What's going on?” and then every pop chick after that went and got grills! They started taking pictures with grills. That was the new thing. It's really like a culture thing. You're having that effect on culture. You're making the new hot shit. That was damn near a hip-hop move.

Yes, the infamous grill pop.
Her popping the grill in on her pop status is like a hip-hop move because that changed the culture of pop, because then you start seeing Madonna and different chicks starting to go get grills! They weren't scared to wear grills then. Miley, she started twerking and then that was a hip-hop move because then you start seeing Nicki Minaj and Ashanti and different chicks start making twerk videos. It's all about the trendsetting thing. Me and her had these phone conversations and I was just telling her this same shit and she was already on that and that's why I was so with working with her, because she was with culturally getting it. It's my job as a producer and executive producer on her album to step in her project and do what she wants to do, and do it times 10.

We was already on the same page. She was already like, “Okay I love rap music.” She already was listening to rap music, she already liked dancing in the studio and then she did the twerk video when I first met her. I only knew her for like a week and she already had the twerk video and she was telling me, “Hey man, RT my twerk video!” And then I went to her page and I was looking for it and I went to the link and I saw the video but I'm like, “Nah, that ain't her!” I watched the whole shit and when she pulled her shit up at the end, I was like, “Oh shit! That was her!” But that's why I wanted to work with her so much, because she's fearless and she's a young person that understands this new generation as well. She doesn't do media, so the media gets to say what they want to say about her because she's on top, so all they do is get pictures and make up a story. I really can't tell you what world is not willing to change.

What's 2014 going to bring for you now?
I'm trying to bring my EP, Fuck Verses, which is just a production EP with just instrumentals and hooks, no verses on it. I'm trying to bring new artists. I got my label deal. Me and Jimmy [Iovine] been doing a lot of talking. I've been letting him hear a lot of different people. I'm just trying to figure out who I want to go with first, or do I just want to come out with my own Chronic type of album and just come out with a whole bunch of new artists at once. I'm not going to drop anything project off of my label until it feels right. I just feel like right now, yeah people love “23,” but I don't feel like people are waking up in the morning like, “Yo, I can't wait to hear this new Mike WiLL album! Man, when is Mike WiLL gon' drop that album?” When that feeling is there, then I'll drop it, because I don't want to drop an album just for me, just to say, “Yo man, I dropped my album, dog!” and then watch it go double wood and nobody hears you and I put all this time and energy into it and nobody hears it, just because I wanted to drop it. I could sit around and listen to my album all day by myself, but I want to make sure that when I do drop an album, it's something that people want to hear and people are ready for it.

Find Kathy Iandoli on Twitter - @kath3000