In February 2016, Beyoncé released “Formation” without warning. “That was a culture shock,” remembers Mike Will Made-It, who co-wrote and co-produced the single. “I thought that was going to go Number One. When that shit didn’t go, I was like, I ain’t never gonna get a Number One. Fuck that. I’m just gonna keep making hot shit.”
The following February, Mike Will Made-It was at the Grammys, nominated for his work on the song. “I’m like, I know for a fact we about to win a Grammy,” the producer recalls. But Beyoncé was largely shut out that year, so Mike Will Made-It resigned himself to a Grammy-less existence. “Fuck it,” he decided. “We don’t do it for trophies anyway.”
The producer has since remedied both these disappointments. Nine months after the release of “Formation,” the frenetic hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” topped the Hot 100, giving Mike Will Made-It his first Number One on that chart. He returned to the summit in May as the producer on Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.” And he got his Grammy this past February, when “Humble.” took home the Best Rap Song honor.
With those goals checked off – the producer has also worked with the biggest stars in rap (Kanye West, Future), R&B (Ciara, Ty Dolla $ign), and pop (Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry) – he’s now focusing his attention on his record label Ear Drummers this year. He just released Edgewood, a project from new signee Trouble, and SR3MM, the ambitious triple-disc set from Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi.
The producer took a break from “the same old shit – chilling, listening to SR3MM, playing NBA 2K” to discuss collaborating with Rae Sremmurd and Lamar, the key to becoming a super-producer and how Drake ended up on Trouble’s mixtape.
How did Rae Sremmurd evolve on SR3MM?
The next Sremm album is the first Sremm album. This is the reintroduction. The first two albums, it’s like, alright, these guys are hitmakers. They’re hard, they make hits, they make some of my favorite songs. That’s like their two mixtapes. They only got 26 songs before this project. Eleven or 12 of ’em are platinum. Their batting average is so high. People put way more songs out than that with no platinum joints. And it’s not some cookie cutter, forced platinum. It’s shit that makes people a certain way, like, damn, why didn’t I make that song?
This new album is a continuation of that, but we felt like we had to give them something new rather than just 12 bangers. Some people like Swae. Some people like Jxmmi. Everybody likes ’em all together. But that’s the only thing they’ve seen. So it’s, let Swae hop in his artist mode a little bit. Let Jxmmi hop in his artist mode a little bit. Then we got these Sremm bangers right here where they’re both like ying and yang.
“The next Sremm album is the first Sremm album. This is the reintroduction.”
I showed ’em [Outkast’s 2003 album] Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and I was like, we need to do some shit like this. But I feel like the only thing that was missing off this project right there was the group project. Outkast fans, we still waiting on that, the next project with both of ’em together. So I’m like, it can’t be that. We gotta give ’em the group thing, too. And we got cool features – Young Thug, Travis Scott, the Weeknd, Future, Trouble. But it opens the door for you to drop your solo shit. Now they’re getting a taste of what Swaecation will sound like.
Were there challenges to putting together a triple album?
I ain’t never seen that before. There’s somebody who’s done it, but nobody in our day and age and our field will put out a triple disc. It’s fresh all the way around if somebody can pull it off. And these guys really pulled it off.
It was a challenge. And as a producer, that’s all I be looking for. That’s what makes me want to help new artists, help ’em blow all the way up. That’s part of being a super producer as well. If you’re a super producer you can produce on all levels. Any genre of music. You can produce artists. You can produce clothing. You can produce movies. You produce more than just a record. I wanted that super producer title.
As you’ve become more successful, you’ve spent more and more time helping up-and-coming acts – why?
I ain’t really have the help. I’m self-made, but I had to go against all odds. I was a young cat coming from nothing to something, and all I was getting was people’s asses to kiss.
“I’m self-made, but I had to go against all odds.”
After you produce an album, it’s like, where are your artists? What artists are you gonna bring to the game and break? Jimmy Iovine was talking to me like, you have all these songs, you work with all these hot new artists, but you don’t have a label. He’s a producer I respect – a different lane, but one I respect – so I’m like, damn, you makin’ sense, bro.
But I was thinking about bringing new talent anyway. That was my mindframe the whole way. I’m gonna work with Miley [Cyrus] because she ain’t dropped a song in years and nobody’s thinking about her right now. I’m gonna work with Juicy J because I know I can give him a banger and bring bro back to life like he’s a brand new artist. Future: people were sleeping on Future, but I’m telling people, this dude’s a poet.
My first artist, I knew I wanted them to be somebody that no one had ever heard of. Where the fuck did these dudes come from? How the fuck? What the fuck?
And that was Rae Sremmurd?
Rae Sremm always been rocking with us. They always fuck with my boy Marz and my boy P-Nazty – he’s from Tupelo, and his cousin is their DJ. Sremm was living with P-Nazty for a time, and he would let them hear their songs. I’m moving around with everybody in the city; all these cats got all the new lingo. When I’m hearing Sremm, I can hear they’re getting this lingo from somebody else. But I like the way they’re putting it together.
They called me up to the house like, come check these boys out right quick. I might have heard a song here or there, but I hadn’t been in the room when they were recording. I pull up to the house one night, P and Marz are just playing beats, Swae Lee just freestyling, his veins are popping out of his face, Jxmmi jumping so high in the air. Then all of a sudden Jxmmi started freestyling and Swae doing the same shit. They just keep going until I stop the beat. I’m like, y’all niggas is hard as fuck. I told Swae Lee, you gonna be a little player, bro. The girls gonna fuck with you. Jxmmi, you gonna be an ill-ass entertainer and an ill-ass rapper. Niggas gonna say, this nigga’s snapping. So I started to give ’em hella advice. Y’all should record freestyling the way you just freestyled for me, and let us put the song together, because y’all be having so many different hooks in your freestyles.
At the same time, I’m working on my deal with Interscope, walking through the halls like, these young niggas is next! People are hearing me, but at this time, Kendrick was on super-fire, SchoolBoy [Q] was on super-fire. The label’s like, I don’t know how to feel about these kids.
Were you nervous about trying to break an act?
I went to Jimmy [Iovine’s] house like, I ain’t gonna lie, I’m nervous as fuck. He’s like, why are you so nervous? I’m like, I don’t like rejection or failure. Those are two things I’m scared of. He’s like, those are two things you need to learn to embrace. Sometimes people are going to reject you. Sometimes you are going to fail. But sometimes things will work in your favor. If you feel like the song is hot, your peers feel the song is hot, put it out for you and your peers. I’m like, damn, that’s a whole different way of looking at it.
When “No Flex Zone” was going up, everybody was telling me, you gotta change [the group’s] name. No one knows how to say their name. I’m like, people know how to type in No Flex Zone! Then it’s, oh man, these guys must be one-hit wonders. Cool, here goes another one. We put out “No Type.” That shit instantly shot up. We put out the video; that shit shot up. This is my first artist!
A lot of times you gotta do the 0-to-50 work, show your vision, then bring an act to the major label to get the rest of the way. So we did “No Flex Zone,” “No Type,” dropped “Throw Sum Mo,” then we dropped the album. Album does 20,000, 30,000 first week, something like that. But we keep pushing the singles. Swae Lee says something on Twitter about SremmLife 2. Everyone’s like, we need that! I’m like, SremmLife 2 will drop when SremmLife goes platinum. Blogs were saying, this dude Mike Will is fucking insane, what the fuck is wrong with him. Next thing you know, SremmLife goes platinum.
Did you expect that “Black Beatles” would go to Number One?
“Black Beatles” wasn’t even gonna be on SremmLife 2. I was working on Everybody Looking with Gucci. I just did the [“Black Beatles”] beat real quick. Swae was like, this beat is so fucking hard! He sent me back the hook and the verse. I let Gucci hear it like, you gotta get on this shit. Then I bring it to Jxmmi like, I need one more verse for SremmLife 2. He’s like, man, hell no. You keep pushing the dates back, changing the songs. He was burned out. I’m like, Swae did this hard-ass hook, Gucci got on it. So he’s like, send it to me. Then he’s like, this shit’s hard.
By the time Jxmmi did his first, Swae Lee sent me three more verses! I’m like, that first verse was it, bro. He’s like, I’m fucking with the third verse. I’m like, that’s not it, but certain parts are hard [raps “Black Beatles in the city be back immediately to confiscate the moneys”]. I’m gonna use that on the intro. But there was a certain bar in the song that I couldn’t stomach. I told Swae, when this song comes out, this could arguably be the biggest song of this year. But if we keep the verse like this, some people are gonna be like, eh. We’re going back and forth. And he’s trying to take out the part where he’s like, “I’m a fucking black Beatle, cream seats in the Regal” – he had other bars in there where he was singing. He’s like, that’s cool, but I ain’t fucking with it like that.
“I’ve checked off the goals and challenges that I wanted to put myself to in my twenties as far as being a producer.”
I’m like, you’re overthinking. I ain’t never said nothing wrong to you yet. We’re disagreeing for like three days. The album is two days late to be turned in. I tell Swae – look, we’ll just hold “Black Beatles” for the next album. By the time that come around, one of us will have given in.
His manager, my homeboy that I grew up with, called me up like, Swae done listened to you this whole album, just give him one. I’m like, nah, I can’t! I can’t! I can’t live with it! Let’s just hold the song. He’s like we turned in the track list already and it’s on there. I say, switch the name of one of the other songs and call it “Black Beatles.”
My A&R was like, y’all agree on how the verse comes in. So why don’t you keep your part, the fucking black Beatle part, keep two of the bars you want on the end, and two of the bars he wants on the end. So I tell my engineer, do it like this right quick. My engineers supposed to be on vacation at this point. But I sent it to Swae with that edit. He changed one bar, shit sounded good. That shit just came out and exploded. All the long nights, not sleeping, arguments paid off.
Now that you’ve had Number Ones two years in a row, do you feel pressured to top that?
This is the last year of my twenties. I just turned 29. I gotta start gearing up for my 30s. I’ve checked off the goals and challenges that I wanted to put myself to in my twenties as far as being a producer.
We had “Formation” in 2016, that shit went up. After “Formation” came out, I could have got complacent, got comfortable. We worked with Beyoncé, that’s the biggest shit we could ever do. There’s no topping that. Fuck it, let’s go to Hawaii or Spain. I’m done with this production shit. We made it.
But right after that, “Black Beatles” came, and that shit was Number One for eight weeks. We ended 2016 in the fourth quarter at Number One on the Hot 100. We started first quarter 2017 with the Number One on the Hot 100. Second quarter, “Humble.” comes out, and then that’s the Number One. I’m like, damn. Then here comes the third quarter, [Yo Gotti and Nicki Minaj’s] “Rack It Up” is out, and that’s climbing the charts.
Last year we had a good production year. But I didn’t put out any projects from my record label except Ransom 2. This is the year of the Ear. This might not be the year of a Number One on the Hot 100. If it happens, it happens. But I’m not chasing that. We smoked that up. We got that high already. “Black Beatles” – the person who gave me my first shot, Gucci Mane, and the first artists I gave their shot to, Rae Sremmurd, that’s who I get my Number One with. You can’t make that kind of shit up.
How did you end up working with Kendrick Lamar?
I’ve been rocking with Kendrick since 2010, people don’t even know that – him and Schoolboy Q. Schoolboy I met first. They were in Atlanta at two different studios. Schoolboy told me to pull up on Kendrick ’cause he was working on his album. He’s like, my boy K Dot’s finna blow up. I ain’t never heard of him at the time, but I pulled up on him anyway, gave him some beats. We swapped numbers, and every time he came to Atlanta from that point on, he’d call my phone. Where you at? Come to the studio, I know you got some new shit.
He was working on good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but he never let me hear none of the songs, he was just getting a whole bunch of beats from me. I was like, I know I’m gonna have something on there. It came out, and I didn’t have nothing on there, and when I heard the project, I was like, now I see why. The beats I was giving him really didn’t match.
Then he was working on To Pimp a Butterfly, and it was the same thing. He’s coming to Atlanta like, where ya at? We always rock with each other like that. He was bumping Rae Sremmurd six months to a year before they even come out. He’s like, I just pulled up in Compton bumping those young niggas. They’re my favorite young ‘uns. These little dudes gonna blow up. He was bumping “No Flex Zone,” “No Type,” before they even came out. But we didn’t have no music out together.
“This might not be the year of a Number One … I’m not chasing that. We smoked that up. We got that high already.”
But you just always stayed in touch?
Yeah. Around 2015, 2016, he was telling me I’m about to start back going in, what you been cooking up lately? I’m, like, come to the house, I’m on a whole new wave. I’m back on the beats going nuts, come to the crib. He came over around 9 a.m., got beats, we kicked it, boom. Came back another time. Then there was a week when he went in on all my shit. Did “DNA.” Did “Humble.” Did “XXX.”
“Humble.” was always so hard to me. But Kendrick was like, you think it’s hard like that? I’m like, bro, it’s hard as fuck. He’s like, well, you wanted me on that Ransom 2, why don’t you put “Humble.” on Ransom 2, and I’ll use the other songs for my album. I’m like, hell no! You need to use “Humble.”! He’s like, I don’t really match the album right now. Alright, well you gonna give me “Humble/”? It ain’t gonna sit on the drive. It gotta come out.
He was about to send it to me, and then [Lamar’s label head] Top Dawg was like, nah, we need to use that. That’s single material. Kendrick hit me back like, you think that’s single material? I’m like, fuck yeah. He’s like, well, shit, I don’t want to be an Indian giver or nothing, but what if I use “Humble.” on my album and I get on that song “Perfect Pint” you wanted me to get on with Gucci Mane and Rae Sremm? I was like, hell yeah!
Then he hit me back like, we trying to figure out, “DNA” or “Humble.,” which one should go first? I’m like, “Humble.” for sure. “Humble.” is a record like, I’m dropping my album next week. Boom, kill the radios. Then when your album drops and they hear “DNA,” they’re gonna be like, whoa. “Humble.” drops, that shit went up. Then the album drops, and everyone lost their shit – it’s like, oh my gosh, quality!
So you made “Humble.” with Lamar in mind?
Rewind – I made that beat in 2016 the day before Gucci got out of jail. I knew Gucci was coming home tomorrow, I gotta have some urgent shit that can go on the radio. I made that beat, I made “First Day Out tha Feds.” I went over to the studio and PLUSS [a producer signed to Mike Will Made-It’s label] was there. I get on his computer to make some new shit; he went outside to smoke a cigarette. He comes back in, and he’s like, damn, you made this shit that fast? I just had the drums at that time. I added the piano. He’s like, that’s hard – but layer it. Do it with another octave. I’m like, you do it. Then he’s like, what about this, and he pulled up that little siren that’s in there. That took it all the way out of here!
I tried to get Gucci on that beat [“Humble.”]. He liked it, but he was like, I just need some hard shit. It’s a banger, but I already got that with “First Day Out.”
“I’m just trying to follow the footsteps of God. I don’t question him. Just keep moving. He never fails.”
Fast forward, we back at the Grammys. I’m like, we ain’t winnin’ no Grammy. I know how it went with “Formation.” You’re just gonna get let down. And we’re up against some good people. I’m on my Instagram in the middle of saying even though I won’t win, it feels like I already won, when my manager says, I just got an email congratulating you on your winning your first Grammy for “Humble.” with Kendrick Lamar. PLUSS is a producer I’ve known since high school, he adds one sound to my beat and layers the pianos, and we win a Grammy. And I feel like, if he didn’t add that one sound, we wouldn’t have won. ‘Cause that’s shit you can’t make up. That’s the stars aligning. That’s what I feel that Drake song right now, “God’s Plan.” I’m just trying to follow the footsteps of God. I don’t question him. Just keep moving. He never fails. He always amazes me. It’s like, damn, the sky isn’t the limit.
You’re working with most of the biggest names in music – how do you know when to work with who?
Not everything is pre-planned. Me and Kendrick didn’t know we were about to make a Grammy-winning song. We were just always working; I was always giving him beats.
With Yo Gotti “Rack It Up,” that was him hitting me like, bro, I’m about to put out a single next month, I want you to produce it. I’m like, cool – I always fuck with Gotti. He comes to the studio while I’m mixing Ransom 2; I didn’t have the time or energy to go in and do a whole project. I’m just giving him beats – this can go in the club, this can sound urgent. He did “Dogg” right in front of me. Then I’m mixing Ransom 2, tell him I’ll pull up on him when I leave. I walk in the room, he’s doing “Rack It Up.” I’m like, this is the one. He’s like, hold up, I’ve done two songs to this beat. This one’s some Too Short shit, the other one is that “Rack It Up” shit you heard when you walked in.
I’m like, this is the same song. This right here is your intro, this is the first verse, this is the hook, that other one that you said is another song is your second verse. That’s it. Then he’s like, Nicki would sound hard on that shit. So I just texted her. She hit me back like if you don’t send me this beat right now – I got six bars for this already. So I sent her the beat.
So you’re winging it a lot of the time?
It’s not like I know, I need to work with Beyoncé this year. We sent her the idea for “Formation” after Coachella in 2014. She went in, did all her verses. She wanted to put it out 2015 at Made In America. But she’s like, I want to shoot a movie too. Do I want to do the movie or just put this out? She told me the ill concept for a movie. She wasn’t sure. Then Hov hit me up like, I’m making big moves for the team. Next thing I know, Beyoncé called me to her dance rehearsals. She’s like, you know we’re performing at the Super Bowl in two weeks. We’re shooting the video this weekend, dropping it right before the Super Bowl. It was bam, bam, bam. Shit just lines up.
You know what’s crazy? The first time I took Rae Sremmurd to radio in Atlanta, they played “Throw Sum Mo” on the radio, Gucci called me from jail like, who were the little niggas you was on the radio with? I’m like, they’re my new artists. He’s like, get one of my verses and put me on a song with them. I’m like, hell nah. I want you to do a song with them when they come home. Everybody keep dropping songs with you while you’re in jail, I don’t want to be a part of that. You my boy – when you come home, we’ll do that. They’re from Mississippi; they would love to do a song with you. But I don’t want to do it like that. We waitin’ until he comes home; the first song they do – “Black Beatles,” boom.
If you’re doing it just to keep up with who dropped what last month, how many songs he dropped or interviews he got or retweets he got, throwing out anything, I never really got into that. It’s not about hype, it’s about heat. When I put out some shit, I’m thinking, this is some hard-ass shit. It’s about putting the hottest shit out, not just putting shit out.
“It’s not about hype, it’s about heat.”
When did you meet Trouble?
I first heard Trouble in 2008. At that time I was on my grind, trying to work with all the next-up artists. I had sent him a couple beats; he had done a couple songs. We was always around the same age. I’d be working with Future, working with Gucci [Mane]. We’d link up, see each other in different studios. I probably got five or six numbers on Trouble. At the beginning of my career before anything started propelling, I used to blow up everybody. I was trying to work with whoever got next. He was taking his music serious, but he wasn’t full time with it.
When shit with me and Future started blowing up, my shit was moving more and more. Trouble dropped this hard-ass tape, and I hit him up like, that tape was hard as a motherfucker. I always felt like Trouble was hard, but I felt if me and him locked in, I could get him some solid street records, throw ’em out right quick, and that would be a level up, the look he’s been needing. That was the plan.
We were about to just throw this shit out as a mixtape, and I pulled up on Drake just working on some other shit. After we got done doing what we were doing, Drake’s like, what you been working on lately? I’m like, me and the boy Trouble did a whole project together. He’s like, for real? What does that even sound like?
So I just played him all the songs. When he heard “Bring It Back,” he’s like, I gotta get on this song right here. He’s like, look, when this comes out, this shit is gonna change the sound of music. Y’all are onto some shit. Please let me get on this song. I’m like, nigga, hell yeah. He’s like, matter of fact, call Trouble, I don’t want him looking at me crazy like, this dude just got on my song and shit. I’m like, you don’t have to worry about that, I’m executive producer of the project, I got it.
He was supposed to hop on it, but it was crazy: I left my phone in the Uber that night. I had the engineer send me the session on my phone, and I was gonna forward that to Drake. But I left my phone in the Uber so I couldn’t. The Uber dropped my phone off at the hotel concierge and I got it the next morning. I had hella missed calls from Drake. He’s texting me all night – yo, bro, you didn’t send the session. You still didn’t send the session. I’m in the studio right now, you didn’t send the sessions. I hit him next day – my bad, I left my phone in the Uber. He was still up!
How long did it take to get Drake’s verse?
I know it’s Drake, he approaches stuff at his own pace. He’s perfecting his shit. I wasn’t expecting it to be a super quick turnaround. Later on that evening he called me like, I just went crazy on this verse. He’s like, call Trouble so I can double check that he’s cool with me on this song. I’m like, hell no, I’m not calling this man. I’m just gonna pull up on Trouble in Atlanta with your verse and I’m just gonna play it. That’s a better way of doing it.
So I get with Trouble in Atlanta to listen to what we got so far. My boys were in their with the camera because they knew what I was about to do. I was playing it, and the first thing he does was go, who the fuck is that bro? I just kept bouncing to it. His homeboy was like, that’s Drake! By the end of the verse, he was like, that shit too hard. Bring that back for real.
At that point, we got a Drake feature, so I’m like, what’s your situation? We gotta put this out the right way. But I’m not looking for just another song on the internet. I want it to be put out right, not here one week and then chewed up and spit out. So I’m like, who you signed to, who [do] I need to talk to to make sure this is put out right? So I’m like, I’m gonna coach you through this shit. I like doing production, but it’s not about me getting beat placements at this point. We’re doing something strictly to turn people’s necks.