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THE GRAMMY CONVERSATIONS:
MIKE WILL MADE-IT

Interview by Simon Glickman

Atlanta native Mike WiLL Made-It’s canny, urgent approach to hip-hop has helped reshape the sound of the mainstream in the last few years. Most recently he worked on Kendrick Lamar’s colossal DAMN. (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope); his other recent biggies include Beyoncé’s “Formation” (Columbia)—nominated for Record and Song of the Year Grammys and the winner for Best Music Video—as well as breakouts Rae Sremmurd (on Mike’s Interscope-distribbed Ear Drummers label) and killer music from YMCMB/Republic’s Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus (whose RCA set Bangerz he exec-produced), Def Jam’s Big Sean, Capitol’s Katy Perry, TDE/Interscope’s ScHoolboy Q, Freebandz/Epic’s Future and many more. Even so, making lemonade out of a conversation with a lemon like HITS will be challenging.

What have you been up to?
I’ve been working on my record label lately, building and developing artists. I’ve always respected Jimmy Iovine, the way he did it with Interscope, and the way Dr. Dre did it with Aftermath. I’m evolving as a producer.

Who are some of the key artists?
Rae Sremmurd
was my first artist. Jimmy always said, “Throw everything at the wall and see if it sticks. If you and your peers like it, put it out.” Rae Sremmurd were two kids from Tupelo, Mississippi who had no fancy clothes, no glitz or glam, no music videos, nothing. We instantly connected and they caught a major wave.

We just signed an artist called Trouble from Atlanta. He’s been working for a long time; we’d been working on this project and it came out dope. He’s a true artist. I just respected his grind and his truths. I feel his music could be relatable. We did a couple of songs in six days and it sounded so new. I was working with Drake and he heard the project and he said, “I gotta get on this song right now.”  I’ve also been working closely with my newest artist, Eearz, and I just finished a whole project with the legend JR Reid.

It seems like there’s something about Atlanta—an openness and collaborative spirit.
Definitely. Everybody knows you’ve gotta be original; that’s the only way you’re gonna make it out of Atlanta. People gotta see you grind—it takes hard work, dedication, and being a solid person, too.

The producers I looked up to, like Pharrell, Lil Jon, Dr. Dre, Juicy J, they all came through with their own sound, changing the sound of music. Everybody started making beats trying to sound like them.

You’ve become one of those producers, changing the sound of what we call pop.
When I came into the game, pop music was a certain way. It was being driven by European sounds. I wasn’t even thinking about pop radio at that time. I was just trying to be heard in Atlanta. I started getting on mixtapes and kept working with people like Future, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane. We were coming from underground, and these were the only artists I had access to. But there was something about them that was different. I knew they were gonna be big, and we developed together.

Jimmy Iovine told me, “You’re the producer who’s gonna make hip-hop go pop.” I looked at him like he had a UFO on his head. But he said, “Look, hip-hop was pop when you were coming up. Puff Daddy, Dr. Dre, Timberland—those guys were pop, running the clubs, running the charts. Now, those guys from Europe run the clubs. You’re coming with a new sound.” That just clicked with me.

"Jimmy Iovine told me, 'You’re the producer who’s gonna make hip-hop go pop.' I looked at him like he had a UFO on his head." 

What do the Grammys signify to you?
It means hard work has paid off, all the way from the beginning to now. “Formation” was an idea we came up with in the car! Giving it to Beyoncé and her performing it at the Super Bowl and getting nominated and winning a Grammy for it, that was a major accomplishment. We worked on that song for two or three years, getting the song together, the video, the performance.

I made the beat to [Kendrick Lamar’s] “Humble” really quick and I knew this would be an urgent beat for the club. I chose Kendrick for it because it kinda had a West Coast/Dr. Dre feel but at the same time it was down south. That was the last song he picked on the album, too—we were super-excited about “DNA,” but at the last minute, everyone felt “Humble” was the one. When we dropped the album, everyone loved “DNA” too. For “Humble” to be nominated for a Grammy—and even win—would say a lot.

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GO HMMMM
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MORE GRAMMY SECRETS
The biz talks committee.
NOT PIZZA AGAIN!
Seriously, can we order something else?
A BIG FAT DEAL
With a gigantic check. Soon.
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