The thunderous productions of Atlanta beat-burster Michael “Mike WiLL Made It” Williams were undisputedly the sound of 2013. Except WiLL doesn’t exactly have a “sound” at all. He’s the man behind the trunk-caving boom and clatter-trap hi-hats of Ace Hood’s oppressive rap banger “Bugatti”; the neon throb of Miley’s “We Can’t Stop”; and the murky caress of Ciara’s minimal R&B grinder “Body Party” – wildly disparate songs aiming for wildly different audiences. He’s a rap-centric pop chameleon adept at striking gold with anything, as long as there’s a place to put some A-town bass and melancholy chord changes. Florida Georgia Line could stand to give him a call if they haven’t already.
A year-end wrap-up of his nine Hot 100-charting singles (which would also include Rihanna, Juicy J, Kelly Rowland, and his own Miley-assisted “23”) could have been one of the best pop listens of the year. Instead, his third annual state-of-the-MWMI address focuses on his more ignored tracks. As if to make the point, his tried-and-true crowd-pleaser “Bugatti” screeches to a halt after just 14 seconds. Instead, #MikeWiLLBeenTriLL is a loud tour through some of the year’s quietly solid rap releases: both of his tunes from the under-appreciated 2 Chainz album B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time, both of his non-singles from Juicy J’s similarly under-appreciated Stay Trippy, and that 56-second noise-jam tucked in the back end of Jay Z‘s Magna Carta Holy Grail. “No More” is some rubbery broken-spring trap-pop you may have missed if you didn’t listen to all nine of Gucci Mane’s 2013 tapes; and WiLL’s successful attempt to dramatize the gloriously repetitive Migos in widescreen (“Whippin a Brick”) gets some more attention than 129k SoundCloud streams.
The twin deep-cut ballads, Ciara’s “Where You Go” and Miley’s “My Darlin,” tie modern synths to timeless chords (the latter assisted by the melody from “Stand by Me”), but the real star is the lean-droid croon of AutoTune lothario Future. In fact, if you’re looking to watch the rapper’s slow transformation from gurgling alien anomaly to the human-after-all rapper with the most anticipated album of 2014, you could do worse than the exclusives on display here, which start to peel off layers of C3PO to showcase the cracking, anguished fissures in his natural voice. His headbanging GoldenEye-tweaked shout-rap single “Sh!t” was an artistic victory but a commercial flop, and so a bunch of hip-hop A-listers form like the Avengers to right that wrong on a pyrotechnic 11-minute remix – Drake, Schoolboy Q, Fat Trel, Meek Mill, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, T.I., Pastor Troy, Diddy, Juicy J, and MMG sweepstakes winner Tracy T. The sound of 2014?