interview by @petermarrack
For all the mothers (that is, moms, not motherfuckers) out there in blogland, Mike WiLL is the guy from Atlanta who produced “Tupac Back”, you know the one that goes, “Tupac back, Tupac back, there’s all these bitches screaming that Tupac back.” You’ve probably trotted to it at the gym if your hip-hop head kid syncs up your iPod for you. Then again, old folk are getting awfully brave with their gadgets nowadays, not to mention in their hip-hop knowledge. Hell, my mom even knows not to mix her promethazine codeine with Gatorade. Did you know that?! That being said, Mike WiLL has done further work with Rick Ross, 50 Cent, Ludacris, 2 Chainz, Future, and Jeremih, and I promise you your parents have not heard of half these tracks. After all, there’s a big difference between “mommy a soldier, daddy is dead” and “addicted to codeine, my side effect is a red girl, if I buy the pussy you payin’ for it, put your head through the headboard.” 2 Chainz!
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I was just listening to your rant about ‘89 babies. I was enjoying it thoroughly. My birthday’s February 5th, 1989.
Sweet, man. You understand what I’m saying, man?
You pay any attention to horoscopes?
Naw, I really don’t, man. These girls be trying to tell me shit about it, like, “Ah, you’re an Aries so that means-” But sometimes they be on point.
Yeah, I don’t know how they get that stuff right. But you’re not an Aquarius, you’re an Aries?
Yeah, I’m an Aries.
Oh, that’s right.
Yeah, March 23rd.
What’s the significance of ‘89, as opposed to ’90?
Man, I don’t even really know. Maybe I just started early. Maybe I started early on a lot of shit. I have a couple homies who were born in the 90’s, and shit, I got homies who were born in ‘89, and I don’t know, it just seems like they’re different. Everybody be like, “You’re only one year older than me.” I’m like, “It just don’t seem like it though.”
The 90’s babies grew up on different cartoons.
[laughs] Word, they grew up on different cartoons, different music. They don’t like certain shit. I don’t know how to explain it, man. I fuck with the ‘90 babies, the ‘91 babies, all of them, man. It’s crazy. But Est. In 1989 (Last Of A Dying Breed) was a little deeper than that. That’s why I had the baby picture, because if you see me right now I’ve got on a Jordan t-shirt, a snapback, and these new Jordan Timbs that just came out. I got that shit on right now. This shit really ain’t changed, and I was just at my mom’s crib and I was going through the pictures and I saw that picture, and I’m like, “Shit, this is crazy. I was fly when I was just a young nigga.”
Yeah, I was wondering if that photo had been photoshopped-
Naw, that’s real. I have a whole bunch of photos where I’m fresh. I had older sisters and shit.
You predicted the trends, man. You were wearing snapbacks when you were like three.
Exactly, man. I was looking for them probably four, five years ago. I was like, “Bruh, I want a snapback. You can’t find snapbacks anywhere.” Matter-of-fact five years ago I was wearing this Charlotte Hornets snapback, and then I was looking for more snapbacks. My homies used to be like, “Yo, why the hell do you want to wear a snapback. Are you crazy, dawg?” I’m like, “Naw, my nigga, I’m telling you, bruh, that’s the shit.” I fucked around and found a Sacramento Kings snapback in the mall one time, and I used to rock that shit. That was four years ago, then I lost that one, and I couldn’t find any more snapbacks. Then they started going crazy and ended up being the new trend.
Yeah, and with Est. In 1989 I’m saying that’s basically where it started. When I was in elementary school, like 4th grade, I told this one girl, “I’m going to have my own label. I’m going to have my own music company one day.”
How old were you?
I was in like 4th grade. But you know what the craziest thing was, I wasn’t even doing music back then. I don’t know who the fuck I thought I was. I was playing basketball back then, and baseball, and football, and I just told this girl in 4th grade that I was going to do music. I drew out this label and shit and was like, “This is going to be my logo. I’m going to be poppin one day.” And she kind of laughed and was like, “Oh yeah?” I’m like, “Yeah,” dead serious. It’s crazy because when I see this girl today she tells me like, “Man, I remember you told me this in 4th grade, that you were going to pop off on the music shit.” So that’s where I get the Est. In 1989.
Yeah, I was wondering what sports you played, because you said your dad was shocked when you quit the sports and started doing music.
Yeah, I started off playing tee ball. I was playing basketball too. I had a basketball net in front of my house. We used to hoop from sun-up to sundown, through the rain and all that shit. I played football for about three years, then I kept playing basketball. I never got cut from any basketball team but then I fucked around and got cut in high school. So I was just like, “Fuck this, man.” The music stuff was coming natural. But my pops was like, “Hold on, you quit baseball, you quit football, now you’re talking about quitting basketball. You’re talking about picking up music. Naw, man. I can’t let you become a quitter, man. You got to keep going with the basketball.” I was like, “Naw, this music is it.” He was like, “Man, I haven’t heard it before-”
But wasn’t it his brother, your Uncle Al- or was it your mother’s brother, who was big into music?
Naw, it was my Auntie’s husband. He always did the music. I used to go over there, and he could play the guitar right then and there. This man could lay the drums from the keyboard, he could play it all the way live. He’d play the drums for three minutes. He didn’t do no looping. He’d come right back and play the guitar over the drums.
He was like a wizard.
Yeah, he’d come right back and put the keyboard on top of what he did with the guitar. I was like, “This shit is crazy. How the hell does this man do this for four minutes?” And then when I started making beats he used to try and teach me the old school notes, like, “If you hit this key, this is the key Motown used to be in. This is the key da da da used to be in.”
When your dad was put off by the music how did you move past that, that your parents didn’t support it? Were you just like, “Fuck it, I’m going to do it anyway.” Or was it an ongoing struggle?
It was really, “Fuck it, I’m going to do it anyway.” When I started doing the music the homeboys and I had a crazy buzz on our side of town. I was only 14. I wasn’t doing too much rapping. I was facilitating, getting our shit to the DJs, setting up our little shows, and then I was making the beats. I used to be on the phone with the homies and they would tell me to switch around stuff, but I was like, “Naw.” Then all of a sudden we had this crazy buzz and started performing with niggaz like Dem Franchize Boyz and Shawty Lo, when they used to come on our side of town.
Dem Franchize Boyz did “Lean Wit It Rock Wit It”, right?
Yeah, “Lean Wit It Rock Wit It” and they had that “In My White Tee” song back in them days. They used to come on our side of town, and one of my homeboys did production and he started popping off, so I started getting tunnel vision, like, “This shit could work.” We were already the shit on our side of town. I started spending all my time on the beats, and then I met Gucci.
That was when you were 17 right?
Yep, I met Gucci. We linked, but then I fell out of contact. Then Waka and I linked back up when I was about 16 or 17 and he was trying to link Gucci and I back up. We finally got in the studio and we knocked them joints out. When I was 18 the joints started coming out, No Pad No Pencil, Guapaholics with Shawty Lo, shit like that.
The movement back then was pretty underground, but could you tell at that time like, “Damn, this is going to explode at any second,” or were there times when you were skeptical?
To tell you the truth, when Gucci did those with me, the 15 or 16 songs to my beats, I didn’t know what the hell he was going to do. I didn’t know if he was just warming up on my beats, but we had a couple classics. I loved the records because they were on my tracks. I used to ride around to them. Gucci always used to tell me like, “Bro, we’re going to do a mixtape. We’re going to do a mixtape, my nigga.” So I was like, “Let’s get it.” We used to ride around and Gucci would love the songs. Everybody fucked with the songs, because I brought a whole different sound, different than Zaytoven and them.
Were you still going to school at this point?
Hell yeah. I was going to high school. Really though when I was going to the studio with Gucci, I wasn’t in high school. But when those songs got done, it was the year I graduated. That was ‘07. That summer we knocked the tracks out and then in the winter I started going to college.
I went to this one school, Chattahoochee Tech, and then I transferred and went to Georgia State. I was going to Georgia State and then it was just like, “Man, I don’t even understand what I’m doing.” At the same time I liked the fact that I went to college. College helped me out and got me thinking how I’m thinking now, because I was taking marketing classes. I was taking introduction to the music industry classes.
Yeah, understanding the business. I took accounting classes, understanding assets and liabilities. I try to keep liabilities away from me at all costs. I learned a lot going to college, but at this one point my pops was like, “You got to graduate, just put the music shit on hold and focus on the school. When you get out of school you can go back to the music.”
Did you graduate?
No, I didn’t graduate. I was just like, “Hell naw.” I kept telling him that I couldn’t do both. There was no way.
So that was two times you defied him.
Yeah, if that’s what you want to call it. I just couldn’t do both. I was messing with all these artists, all these artists were messing with me, boom, I’m going to these clubs, I’m waking up and trying to go to school. But I still had good grades. I had real good grades and shit. I had a 3.1 or something like that. This one semester I told my pops, I was like, “Yo, I’ve got tunnel vision right now and I’ve got my plan together. I’ve got my sound together. I’m not going to school next semester.” He was like, “Naw, you got to go to school next semester.” I’m like, “Well, shit, I’m not.”
Were you paying for it?
Yeah, I took loans out. But I was like, “Naw, I’m not going.” And he was like, “You got to register,” and I never registered. He was like, “Have you been going to school?” I was like, “Naw.” He was hot about that, and at that same time when I didn’t go, boom, I landed “Tupac Back”.
So this was all pretty recent?
Yeah, at the end of 2010 I was going to school.
What’s your dad saying now?
He was like, “Shit. I’m happy you had a plan together.” His whole thing wasn’t that he wanted to knock me, he just didn’t want me out here with no plan and just being another cat chasing the dream.
Well yeah, he wanted the best for you.
Exactly, because I’ve got family and I’ve got close friends that went hard on the music. It’s not easy to make it in the music industry. I’ve got family and close friends that went hard on the music, and shit, they didn’t make it. I just needed to get in the room with the right people. Back then I was working with 2 Chainz, and I was telling people, “2 Chainz and Future are about to be the hottest shit.” They were like, “Who the hell is Future, and why you think 2 Chainz?” I’m like, “Man, look, I’m about to be the hottest shit. 2 Chainz is about to be the hottest shit, and Future’s about to be the hottest shit.” Boom, I locked in with Future, locked in with 2 Chainz. First, at the beginning of 2011 Dirty Sprite came out. I heard the Dirty Sprite intro with Future, and Dirty Sprite started picking up in the streets. Then 2 Chainz, his mixtape came out, Codeine Cowboy, and I did that “La La” track with him and Busta Rhymes. That hit the streets and was doing numbers. Then “Tupac Back” came out. Bong. That put me on the map.
That was the big one, yeah.
Even my mom loves that song. My mom goes running every day and she listens to that song.
[laughs] She’s getting her energy, man. That’s what’s up. So then 2 Chainz, after Codeine Cowboy, he had “Spend It”. “Spend It” put him on the map.
The Drumma Boy song.
Exactly. Then Future had a couple joints off Dirty Sprite that were hot in the streets. He had “Watch This”.
Future has such a unique voice. Is he from an island or something, or is he just from a part of Atlanta I’m not familiar with?
That’s just his voice. He’s from Atlanta though. When you hear the joints we have on his album you’re going to be like, “This nigga’s got to be from the islands.” Word up. Because we did this one joint, and the way his voice sounds on the record-
Is that a new one that hasn’t come out yet?
Yeah, it’s going to be on his album.
What’s it called? Can you say?
It’s called “Turn On The Lights”.
I’m looking forward to that. I actually just heard “Way Too Gone” for the first time yesterday. I was going through Jeezy’s album. It’s an incredible record, man.
You like it?
Yeah, well, I really like that one with Boosie-
“Mama Know Love”?
Yeah, “Mama Know Love”, that one’s sick.
Yeah, that shit is crazy, man. I was happy I got a chance to work with Boosie before he got locked up. And we had done a couple more records too. I haven’t had a chance to hear those, but he hit me and said he had four or five joints. But that “Mama Know Love” came out-
It has like half a million views on Youtube on some random guy’s account.
Exactly. And I felt like “Mama Know Love” was a new-age “Dear Mama”. It was like the Down South, new-age “Dear Mama”.
Yeah. Anyway, that’s how the music shit went, man. I was getting pulled a couple different ways. When I was at Georgia State I wasn’t in the ‘in’ crowd or anything. I was going to class and then heading straight to the studio to work with all these kids’ favorite rappers. They didn’t even know. That shit ended up working out. I learned a lot.
I’m assuming you’ve paid those student loans then.
Yeah, I had to pay those off, man. I had to get those off my back.
You think you got anything on God Forgives, I Don’t?
Ah shit, I hope so.
It seems like that would be a honor, just with the way Ross has been traveling around the country to work with all the producers. Did he get in the studio with you?
We haven’t got in yet. Hopefully we will. Actually the joint “King Of Diamonds”, that was on his mixtape-
Yeah, I heard that. It’s good.
Actually that joint was a track that was supposed to be on God Forgives, I Don’t but it ended up landing on that mixtape. The streets are fucking with it. He did that “King Of Diamonds” joint the same time he did “Tupac Back”. That song was like a year old, but it came out and people were like, “Yo, the beat is crazy. This song is crazy, da da da.” I’m just like, “Man, that shit is a year old, my nigga.” That just shows me and Ross, we make timeless music.
You said once that it’s your pet peeve for artists to remove the tag from your beats, but did you feel that way about “Tupac Back”, because they took it off for that one?
Where did you read that?
In some interview for a producer’s website.
Well, I used to be like that when I first started, but now sometimes it’s cool. I look at it like I mess with whoever messes with me. And if a person isn’t really too familiar with my sound, and they’re not too familiar with Mike WiLL Made It the brand, or sometimes the tag might just not fit in the record. If my tag gets taken off it’s no problem because at the end of the day if the beat is hard then somebody’s going to open up the booklet and be like, “Yo, who did this beat? Oh shit, Mike WiLL Made It. Who the hell is that?” Google, boom. Follow on Twitter, and then they see I did all this other shit. With Jeezy I didn’t even ask him to keep the tag on, and he kept the tag on. Gucci keeps my tags on. Future keeps my tags on. Ludacris kept my tag on.
Did you put that Tupac sample on the beginning though?
Naw, that was Ross. Yeah, Ross told me when he heard the beat he instantly came with the hook and after that he grabbed the sample and put that on. But man, when Mike WiLL Made It was taken off of “Tupac Back” there wasn’t any love lost at all. It’s out there with my tag on it and it’s out there without my tag on it. On the album my tag is off of it, but in Atlanta- or I’ve been to a couple other cities where the song is on radio and my tag is still on it. It’s not a big deal. Shit still hit the Billboard charts. It was one of the hottest songs on the streets. It popped Meek Mill off. It popped me off. We got a lot of recognition from the record, so it’s definitely not an issue.
Have you ever gotten the feedback that some of your beats have this retro video game sound to them, like when you play the old Pac-Man or Space Fighter games?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, most definitely. The new record with me, Gucci, and 2 Chainz, we sampled Tetris.
So I’m right on.
Yeah, yep. Did you hear that record yet? Gucci and 2 Chainz, it’s called “Get It Back”.
No, I don’t think so. You guys have so much material. It’s hard to listen to it all.
Exactly, man, it’s all over the place. It’s going to be on Gucci’s next project though, called Trap Back.
Lastly, is there a better combination than Chick-fil-A and Gold Peak Tea or is that as good as it gets?
Yo, you’ve been paying attention, man.
[laughs] I love Chick-fil-A.
Chick-fil-A is the greatest, man. I’m there every day, man. I’ve gotta get my 8-count. Gotta get my 8-count and my 12-count, man, with the honey mustard, or I gotta go to the breakfast, man.
Oh, the breakfast biscuits, yeah.
Oh my gosh, man. The Chick-fil-A biscuits, and you add the 8 onto it, it’s crazy, man. You already know, but this is RESPECT. Mag so I just want everyone to know that I’m 22 and up to this point I’ve been doing everything on my own, no management, nothing like that. I’ve just been out here moving, grinding, hustling and bustling, and I’ve got my own production company called EarDrummers Entertainment. I just dropped my first mixtape Est. In 1989 (Last Of A Dying Breed), got artists like Big Boi, Ludacris, Jeezy, Gucci, 2 Chainz, and Future, on there. I’ve also got a writer, Sean Garret, that’s my brother. I want everyone to pay attention because this is just the beginning. I’m about to come out with Part 2 of my mixtape and it’s going to have different people like 50 Cent, Jeremih, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, Gucci, Future of course-
What about that thing you did with Dr. Dre?
Ah, I don’t know what you’re talking about, man. [laughs]
I saw pictures- [laughs]
I don’t know what you’re talking about, man. [laughs] But yeah, all I know is we’re working and Part 2 of that mixtape is coming out and I want everyone to pay attention to that. Gucci’s working on an album and a mixtape. I’m all over both of those. Ludacris is working on his album. I’m all over that. I’m really just working. And for all the young kids who are looking up to me, y’all go to school and finish. Y’all go to school and finish, man. Even if you don’t finish just make sure you have a plan. Don’t let anybody tell you what you can and can’t do. Straight up.
– Special thanks to Dan Friedman
Taken From http://respect-mag.com