Mike WiLL, Rap’s Producer Of The Moment, Makes It – XXL Issue 149
Expanding his horizons and expanding the parameters, rap’s producer of the moment wants you to know that he’s making it.
Words Dan Buyanovsky
Images Ahmed Klink
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of XXL Magazine.
It’s a balmy Monday afternoon in Atlanta, and Mike WiLL Made It is in a gym near his recording studio, multitasking, as usual. working up a sweat on a stationary bike, he pants over the phone about his plans to one day produce a full-fledged country album. This might seem strange, coming from hip-hop’s reigning trap-rap producer, but it’s not such a stretch. Mike just got back from Los Angeles, where he’s working on Miley Cyrus’ next album. You read that right: Miley Cyrus—the country-pop star, Billy Ray’s daughter, a.k.a. “Hannah Montana”—has recruited Mike to make her beats.
By now, you’ve surely heard that sensual voice alerting you to the man behind the music of your favorite turn-up anthems: “Mike Will made it…” In the past two years, he has amassed an impressive portfolio of hip-hop hits. Now he’s looking to follow in the footsteps of folks like Pharrell and Timbaland and carve out a place for himself as a go-to beatsmith for artists across all genres.
Born Michael Williams in Marietta, Georgia, the 24-year-old Mike got his start as a producer a decade ago at the behest of a neighborhood friend who wanted beats to rhyme to. By the age of 16, he was producing one-off mixtape cuts for the rising regional star Gucci Mane, building relationships with Gucci’s cronies Waka Flocka Flame and OJ Da Juiceman.
“Gucci was the first person to do it right there in front of my eyes,” he says, of watching colleagues blow up. “Seeing OJ take off, too, he was the next person to see success right in front of my eyes. So I’m like, ‘Yo, this shit is real.’” Staying busy with high school classes, as well as varsity basketball and football, and then enrolling at Georgia State University, Mike didn’t catch his own musical break until fall 2011. That’s when the whomping synth beat he constructed propelled Meek Mill and Rick Ross’ Self Made Vol. 1 cut, “Tupac Back,” onto the national radio waves.
Mike dropped out of school and got into the studio with two little-known Atlanta artists he’d been collaborating with for years. The results solidified his status: 2 Chainz’ “No Lie” and Future’s “Turn On The Lights” became two of 2012’s biggest hits. “It’s crazy because when I was riding around bumping nothing but 2 Chainz in 2008, people were like, ‘Why the hell do you only listen to this dude?’” says Mike. “Now they’re like, ‘Yo, bruh, you tried to tell me!’ And the same people who were like, ‘Why are you so crazy about Future?’... So it’s like I saw a vision with them early.”
It was this ability to explore new sounds with different artists that captured the attention of Kanye West, who tapped Mike to co-produce on “Mercy,” the G.O.O.D. Music posse cut that would come to outshine everything else in Mike’s catalog. Soon after, Mike continued his streak of summer smashes with Juicy J’s strip club banger, “Bandz A Make Her Dance.”
Next came Rihanna. Going through a reinvention of sorts as she put the finishing touches on her seventh album, Unapologetic, the world-famous R&B star chose a slowed-down, minimalist trap beat with a massive drum break for track No. 4. And when “Pour It Up” became a sleeper hit, its producer, Mike, had his first taste of true pop success.