If It’s A Hit, Then You Know Mike WiLL Made-It

Photographed by Tyler Shields. Grooming: Vgo at Mastermind Management.

We talk to hip-hop’s resident super producer about the artists he works with and his signature tag

The following feature appears in the June/July issue of NYLON Guys.

For contemporary rap producers, the ubiquity of your tag—that catchy vocal calling card at the beginning of a song—is synonymous with your stature, and few are as recognizable or prevalent as that of Mike WiLL Made-It. He sold his first beat to Gucci Mane in 2006, and in the years since, the 28-year-old Georgia native (born Michael Len Williams II) has worked with a who’s who of hip-hop superstars: Future, Rick Ross, Rae Sremmurd, Migos, and, most recently, Kendrick Lamar. 

If that weren’t enough, he’s also crafted platinum-certified singles for Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Beyoncé. With each beat, he finds a way to wed the hallmarks of Southern-bred trap—cavernous 808 drums, skittering hi-hats, dark synths—with irrepressible melodies, so even when Mike doesn’t put his tag on a beat, you still know he made it. These days, Mike splits his time between Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York, the three unofficial hubs of the rap industry. We meet at the Viceroy L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, where he’s staying while putting the finishing touches on a new project, to discuss his work on Lamar’s DAMN, his EarDrummers label, and how Oprah changed his life.

Rap has always been defined by regional sounds. Does true regionality still exist in the internet era? 
That’s still a layer that people are interested in, but I don’t feel like it’s as dictating as it used to be, like, “New York and boom-bap drums is real hip-hop.” We’ve gotten down to the roots of music; it’s all about rhythm and melody. Do I like this beat? Do I like this melody? Do I like this song? It’s either cool or it’s not. When you make genre-bending songs, those are the questions that matter. The way people talk definitely tells you about where they’re from. But as far as production, I don’t think so. [Kendrick Lamar’s] “HUMBLE” could’ve been a down south beat, [the same way] it feels like a West Coast beat. I try not to think about the region. I’m trying to bend those barriers.

What qualities enable you to work with such a diverse roster of artists?
I’m a student of music. I love all types. I might listen to Stevie Wonder and then turn on Kendrick. I might listen to Bobby Womack and then to Queen. I might listen to Alanis Morissette, Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Kanye West, or Adele. I might turn on some Kenny G. Or I might just listen to three Portishead albums straight through. At the end of the day, I’m inspired by the music that I hear, and I’m inspired to bring something different.

Do you approach a session with ideas specific to the artist? or do you start with a blank slate?
Starting out, we created the sound among my team [before meeting with the artist]. Now, I’m challenging myself. I’m more comfortable. I’m not like, “This is how you have to sound in order to make it.” One person I want to work with is Adele. I feel like we could do something game-changing. I’d want that session to go like this: She and I show up to the studio, my laptop and keyboard are plugged in, there’s three or four analog keyboards and maybe a turntable with a stack of records, and she’s at the microphone. As soon as she feels something, she starts laying it down. By the end of that night, we’ll have a solid concept for a record, or a solid hook. With that, I just want to build. I think we’ll create one of the best songs ever created. And that’s starting with a blank slate. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have said that.

What changed?
The new mentality really came from a conversation with Oprah. She didn’t really know what I do, but she talked to me for two hours. You could tell she was just being a vessel—it was coming from somewhere else, but it was coming out of Oprah’s mouth. She told me, “God put you here to be able to live your life to the fullest expression. Don’t second-guess yourself. You have to wake up every day and figure out how you can be as creative as you can be.”

Humble,” the lead single you produced for Kendrick Lamar’s Damn, sounds grittier than anything else you’ve done. Does this record signify another shift in your sound?
I’m telling you, that came from that conversation with Oprah. After that, I quit doubting myself. I started going in and making 10-minute beats and just knowing, “This is the shit. This beat is done.” Right after that conversation I made a bunch of beats and Kendrick came to the house. It was the same thing with “DNA.” I made the first half in 10 minutes. I made the second half at Kendrick’s studio right in front of him.

None of the songs that you produced on Damn feature your signature tag. Is it no longer necessary? 
Some people like it. I feel like it’s not about that anymore. I started off with no tag. I started using the tag to bring attention back to my work. I added the EarDrummers tag when I started adding people to [the label]. Then it became a thing. Sometimes you have to kill with silence. Sometimes those are the best ones. [Beyoncé’s] “Formation” doesn’t have my tag. But [Rae Sremmurd’s] “Black Beatles” does. You just balance it out.

You invite multiple collaborators into the studio with you. What is it about collaboration that helps you? 
It forces me to be open-minded. You can love a beat, but if you got 20 people in a room and that one sound is throwing people off, you see what your probability [of success] is. There might be some more people in the world that are just like you, and you can put it out just for them. Or you can listen to the other 20 people in the room and take that sound out. Then everybody loves it, and your probability is way higher. You can also be so deep into a beat that you [don’t think of how you might change it]. On “HUMBLE,” I never would’ve thought to put that siren that [producer] A+ added at the end. That siren sound took it to a whole other level.

Some people wrote Rae Sremmurd off as one-hit wonders, this generation’s Kris Kross. How did you know they were going to be successful?
I never understood the Kris Kross comparison. Even Jermaine Dupri didn’t understand it. We were trying to be way beyond that. Salute and respect to Kris Kross, but that wasn’t the goal. A lot of people slept on Rae Sremmurd. I blew up a lot of phones, and people gave me their straight asses to kiss. It was discouraging. People were like, “Why is that their name? Nobody knows how to say their name. Nobody knows how to spell it.” I was having all these conversations, like, “But y’all are talking about them, right?” Their first album had five platinum singles. The second album is a success, and everybody loves “Black Beatles.” People love their positive vibe and the energy that they bring to the game. Now people are more open to talk about being happy; they’re more open to being melodic. They’re game-changers.

What’s the future of your label? 
I’m looking at EarDrummers like a boutique label, like an Interscope or a Def Jam. That’s what I want to do. It’s all about continuing to build that team and putting the players in the right position. We want to get into movies. Sremm is ready to act and to get in those big theaters. Same with fashion. I want to have a creative team and give young cats the opportunity to build businesses.

Does platinum certification mean as much to you as it did in the past?
I’m not going to lie: The first time I saw a platinum plaque I was in the studio, and I looked at that shit on the wall like it was a UFO. I’m like, “How do you sell a million copies?” Now it’s like, “Black Beatles” went five-times platinum, so it’s not the same thing. But I do count my blessings. It doesn’t matter if it’s platinum or 10-times platinum—it’s a certification that lets me know that I’m not wasting my time in the studio. That being said, I don’t let those certifications run my life. Ransom 2 [his debut studio album, released in March] might not have gone platinum, but I know it’s a solid-ass project. I didn’t give a damn if 500 people, 500,000 people, or 500 million people heard it, I just wanted to put out a solid project as Mike WiLL Made-It.

What goals are you still striving to achieve? Do you want a Grammy?
At this point, I want to figure out what my next moves are going to be and keep changing the game. I have a nonprofit, and I want to continue to help [my community]. If I get a Grammy, that would be dope. I feel like I should win a Grammy next year. If I don’t win one, that’s cool. I feel like I should be producer of the year. Who else would they put in that category?

Photo courtesy of Helen Sloan/HBO

"And now our watch has ended"

In a thoughtful tribute on Instagram, actress Emilia Clarke said goodbye to Game of Thrones, and her character, Daenerys Targaryen.

Clarke posted a gallery of photos including some group shots with the rest of the cast, as well as a closeup of Dany's intricately braided hair, and a still from the show. "Finding the words to write this post has left me overwhelmed with how much I want to say but how small words feel in comparison to what this show and Dany have meant to me," she wrote, continuing to say that "Game of Thrones has shaped me as a woman, as an actor, and as a human being."

"The mother of dragons chapter has taken up the whole of my adult life. This woman has taken up the whole of my heart," she wrote. "I've sweated in the blaze of dragon fire, shed many tears at those who left our family early, and wrung my brain dry trying to do Khaleesi and the masterful words, actions (and names) I was given, justice." She also gave a nod to her father, who died in 2016, saying that she wishes he was still alive "to see how far we've flown."

Clarke finished by thanking her fans, telling them that "without you there is no us... I owe you so much thanks, for your steady gaze at what we've made and what I've done with a character that was already in the hearts of many before I slipped on the platinum wig of dreams," she said. "And now our watch has ended."

Photo courtesy of HBO

Don't reusable cups exist in Westeros?

Apparently, no one could keep their drinks off-set during the final season of Game of Thrones. The show, which has been known for its meticulous editing, has featured a Starbucks coffee cup in an episode, and now, a plastic water bottle. Someone get these characters a reusable cup!

Yes, in the final episode of the series, there's a disposable water bottle hidden in plain sight in one of the scenes. If you look closely enough, you'll see the bottle peeking out from behind Samwell Tarly's leg in a scene where many characters were arguing about the fate of Westeros.

Another water bottle was spotted by someone else, hiding behind Ser Davos Seaworth's foot.

It seems that everyone was too parched on the set of the final episode to worry about a misplaced water bottle making it into the final shots. Some are speculating that the team left them in on purpose as payback to the writers for the series' ending.

We just really hope that everyone in the series recycles. If there are disposable cups and plastic bottles available in the fictional world, we hope that there's an ethical way of disposing of them. Otherwise, well, it might be more disappointing than the series finale itself.


Think about all the ways you've begged for ruin

I'll admit I can get a little possessive about full moons; I was born on a full moon, you see. I'll admit there's something that makes people go mad over a full moon and there's something in that madness that situates me, gives me a place to drop my anchor. I see the full moon, her one wide open eye, and think of the first gods—the cyclops and the titans—how they betrayed each other. The full moon reminds me that each of us walks this life having inherited the stories of the lives that brought us here, we carry moments of great suffering in our DNA and we carry moments of great joy too.

A Scorpio full moon is especially prone to these sorts of reminders, dancing partner to the Sun in Taurus, since both these stars are so devoted to the past, since both like to mine a wound just to see how deep it goes and how much they can stand to endure. It's true, too, that Taurus is the sign linked to the Hierophant in the Tarot. The Hierophant is a figure in service to Mysteries: guarding and teaching the sacred. The Hierophant is pre-occupied with devotion and desecration and so is Taurus. Steadied by worship and undone by violation, a Taurus knows that a cycle is a cycle, there's always a hunger that thrives in the devotional figure, that seeks to be defiled and, in that way, tested. What better consort, what better polarity, for an Earth sign like that than the watery depths of Scorpio? Scorpio, the sign of transformation, of the occult, of karmic debts, fertile and secretive darkness. Scorpio, the snake that eats its own tail, our sexual power and our sexual shame. Scorpio rules money and Taurus loves to feel wealth, to sense abundance, to roll around in the rich black dirt.

While the Sun goes down under the star of Taurus and Uranus activates Venus, so the planet of love can pour her light over the bull's horns, the Moon rises in Scorpio and we are tasked with acknowledging the many ways we begged for ruin. Is there a heaviness on your heart, dear reader? Wasn't there a time when, green as a new stem, you begged the world to give you something real to experience, to bring you to your knees with wonder and revelation? You must have known that you had to break the bud to bloom, you must have sensed—somewhere in that ancestral memory of yours—that to love something, to pour your life into something, is to prepare to lose it. That's the deal we've made with god, or what governs time.

Have you left a cup out overnight and awoke to find it brimming with memories of betrayal, of loss, of something you felt was owed to you and never retributed? You can drink from the cup of the past searching only for the taste of it, seeking only to sate your thirst for bitterness. It's your right to feel everything you feel, to remember everything that happened to you and everything you set into motion, everything you did. But, listen. The sun is warm and generous, calling new life out of the ground. You move over the Earth like a cloud heavy with emotion and memory, threatening pour, while night waits on the other side, smelling like freedom—sweet, sharp and ineffable—full of poison blooms. You can hold the truth of this wild living world, its sacred promise to consecrate you with beauty and ruin you with it too. You can sip from the cup of the past with gratitude for your past self—the one who gave her life so that you could rise again, three times as powerful and wise.

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Screenshot via YouTube

It's so good

Lana Del Rey released a cover of Sublime's 1997 song "Doin' Time," and she made it completely her own. That means it's the perfect combination of trippy melancholia and full-out lust.

According to Rolling Stone, the cover will appear in an upcoming documentary which will "[outline] the history of the iconic California band." In a statement, Del Rey said, "Not a day goes by that I don't listen to at least one Sublime song. They epitomized the SoCal vibe and made a genre and sound totally their own."

Bud Gaugh, a member of the band, "We are so excited to be collaborating with Lana on this. The smoky, sexy, and iconic sound of her voice breathes new life into one of our favorite singles." It certainly does.

My personal favorite part of the cover is the fact that Del Rey doesn't change the gender of the person the song is about, like so many musicians often do. Instead, Del Rey's intonation of "me and my girl, we got this relationship/ I love her so bad but she treats me like shit" is gay rights.

Listen to Del Rey's cover of "Doin' Time," below.

Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images

Sounds fake, but okay

In a new interview for Australian Vogue, Kendall Jenner makes the claim that being associated with the Kardashian name was a setback in her modeling career. Hmmm, that's funny, because power and influence usually works in their holder's favor.

In the interview, Jenner addresses skeptics who doubted that she would make it as a professional model. "A lot of people assumed that because I came from a 'name' that it was a lot easier for me to get to where I got, but actually it's the completely opposite," she says.

"I've always been the person to prove [critics] wrong, even when I was younger," she says. "I've always been a hard worker: that's in my blood. My parents raised me and my little sister to be that way and the rest of my sisters, too." In the profile, it's revealed that Jenner used to attend castings "simply as 'K' or 'Kendall' to distinguish herself from her famous family."

But keeping her name off her portfolio wasn't going to fool anyone, really. Her face has been on television for years, and it seems unlikely that a casting agent wouldn't know who she was even if Kendall didn't come out and say it. Perhaps Jenner was more closely examined and more readily criticized by people who doubted her, but I'm not sure I believe that she had a harder time gaining a modeling platform or booking big jobs, even if she didn't use her last name.

After all, Jenner was likely able to get into those big casting rooms right away because of her family's connections, and she was able to devote her time to pursuing that career because of the wealth they have. She would've had a much harder time making a name for herself if she didn't come from an influential family. She probably wouldn't get to be so selective about which shows she walks, and she definitely wouldn't be the highest paid model in the world.