What's the connecting thread between Skizzy MarsG-Eazy and Melanie Martinez? Producer Michael Keenan. The name may not look familiar now but it will be. Keenan has quietly seen his stock skyrocket within a year due to both artists hitting their stride at relatively the same time thanks to his beats.

G-Eazy's monster platinum single, "Me, Myself & I," which features Bebe Rexha, peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and its music video has over 159 million views on YouTube. Atlantic Records signee, Skizzy Mars, released his debut album, Alone Together, in April and climbed to No. 1 on the iTunes hip-hop/rap charts. Melanie Martinez, a budding pop star also on Atlantic, released her debut album, Cry Baby, last August and it debut at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 200. All three of those artists have worked with Keenan extensively over the years.

The beatmaker, who was born in Western Massachusetts, got his start in music by playing the drums throughout his early years in life. The 28-year-old studied jazz and classical music growing up but shifted his focus after he discovered how to make beats on his computer. Through years of repetition and tutelage at school, he turned his hobby into a profession plus met a handful of future stars along the way.

Now he's rising up the ranks as one of the newest young producers to help today's artists make a radio hit. Michael Keenan tells XXL about how he became a producer, meeting G-Eazy in college, producing for Skizzy Mars and having Eminem and Wiz Khalifa reach out to him for work.

XXL: Michael, let's discuss your background.

Michael Keenan: I was born in Western Massachusetts and I grew up out of there as well. My family is from New York so I was down in New York a lot. I just kind of naturally ended up going to college there for music. After college I moved to Brooklyn and started hustling and continued on that path until I gradually broke down a wall. Sounds like a short story in this version but it was a long ass process.

How you get into music? Was producing something you always wanted to do?

Yeah. I started playing drums when I was in the third grade. I’ve been playing drums through the school system as well as I studied with this group called the Empire State Orchestra when I was in middle school and high school just a extra curricular thing in Albany, N.Y. I only studied really jazz and classical music so I kind of honestly hated it [laughs].

Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing but I didn’t want to be that for the rest of my life. So when I started to figure out colleges I wasn’t going for music at first. I did my first semester at a community college and it just was like I hated that even more. Then I got a chance to get a program on my computer and make every instrument on my computer and make these full tracks. That’s what kind of triggered my brain that I should learn how to record properly and make that my career.

How did you get better? 

School along the way, whether it was middle and high school, learning how to perform, read percussion music. That definitely helps. Going to college definitely helped with learning how to work equipment and the technical aspect of recording the proper vocal and mixing. But getting better at producing records just came from constant repetition, everyday making something, sometimes more than one thing a day and go and get better and see progress as I move.

Some say school helps, some say school doesn’t. What do you think?

I think that everyone is different and everyone learns differently. I also think that every school is different and for me I went to a school that was really focused. There were a very small amount of students when I was studying and it was structured in a think-outside-of the-box type of way. I think going to school and being taught music out of a book is kind of lame. It doesn’t really get the job done.

Some schools, I can totally see why kids would say, "No, it wasn’t helpful or wasn’t worth it and it's better to just teach yourself." But if you can find the right environment, whether it's just school or a mentorship, just through the right situation to just learn from somebody more experienced than yourself and be able to apply what you're learning and talk to them about how to make things better, it’s definitely helpful. It just doesn’t necessarily equal going to college.

What are the difficulties of bringing a beat to artists?

I’ll answer this in like a two-part question. I used to kind of just make beats and send them to people and I honestly didn’t get too much success out of that until I just started meeting people and making tracks for them on the spot. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing ever since then.

I still do send tracks to people and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but my process has always been tenfold, more productive and successful when I meet with them, hang out with them and make a song from nothing. Meeting these people has mostly come through friends introducing me, people I work with introducing me. More recently has come from word of mouth, people are starting to find out and know who I am and what I done because they think I can offer something for their project. But that’s only been a recent thing.

What’s the relationship between you and G-Eazy and Skizzy Mars?

G-Eazy I met back in college a long, long time ago when I want to say when I was like 20, I’m 28 now. G was just one year younger than me so he was like 19. That was the first time that I got together with a rapper and actually had a song that came out and was semi-successful back in the day. That was outside of just working with people that was at my school. G was the first person that I ever got together with the sole purpose of making music.

Skizzy came a little bit later, years later. Besides that, it was more people in the writing scene; I was just meeting up and sending stuff too. In college it was just people from my school and G. I would make random beats. There has to be hundred of beats back then that just aren’t used 'cause I didn’t know what I was doing and I was just spewing out beats.

“Me Myself & I” is a huge song. It took G-Eazy from budding artist to next star. What was it like making that?

It feels incredible for me because mostly the history G and I have and the story that we have. Not a lot of people know about our two songs ["My Life Is a Party" and "Zombie Land"] way back in the day, before he really started to break headway with his career. After that, five, six years passed where we didn’t work. “Me Myself & I” was the first time we came back together to make something. Just that story alone and being attached to someone I admired and worked with for that much time, from very far in the beginning to someone that is playing huge crowds and a household name, that’s extra special for me.

The song itself, the way it was kind of created and built was I knew G was working on his album and I’ve been hitting his manager up like, “We haven’t done anything in a while, lets see what happens.” He played me everything that he had so far, which was partially what was on the album. Some of it got swapped out for newer stuff. I felt like he needed something that could do what this song did, take him to that next level. He had a bit of radio play on the last record and I felt like that was the next step, to get him higher in that world.

I suggested Bebe Rexha because with her track record it seemed almost perfect for G and to me it seemed like it was the perfect match. So eventually we scheduled the session and the three of us got together in my studio. Bebe came in with a couple ideas written, just topline and piano. The first one she played wasn’t 100 percent right so we moved on from that one. The second one she played was basically “Me, Myself & I” written out in a full song for a dance type beat. She was kind of like, “I don’t know if you guys like this.” Me and G looked at each other as soon as that chorus hit and was like, “Oh my God, this will be perfect we just got to restructure it out.”

She actually just hung out, went and got coffee for everybody and came back and put down extra vocals so I could sample that into the track. She kept writing, G was kind of like pacing around my room all day writing. He didn’t record his vocals here. So I didn’t know how big the record was going to feel until a couple of weeks afterwards. At that point I was like holy shit this is too good to be true because it felt so big so I said, “This is amazing and do your thing.” I forgot about it for a little while then it came out [laughs].

How about working on Skizzy Mars’ album, Alone Together? I really enjoyed that project.

I did The Red Balloon Project as well as the mixtape before it [Pace]. So we have been slowly building this incredible chemistry these past two years. Once it was time to do the debut album we were already on the same page with everything. Skizzy, in that aspect, is one of the easiest people I had to work with. Sometimes when we making music I don’t even need to turn away from the computer to check in with him to see is he’s liking it.

We made most of [Alone Together] out here in L.A. I was in a transition period when I was moving from New York to L.A. It was a bit of a process with getting Skizzy out here for a month or two and he would have to fly back to New York or have other obligations to do. So we try to cram everything as much as possible. It came together really well. I reached out to a group of people depending on the song. Whether it was 4e, who helped on “Comb” or James Young with the chorus on “Hit Me Harder.” So yeah, it came together. Some of it was a little bit more difficult than others but piece by piece we put it together then invited our friends to help with it.

Who have you been working with and what do you have in the future?

I have been focusing a majority of my time on Melanie Martinez’s album. I had a couple songs on her debut. It’s been a similar process with Skizzy where we’ve just been growing together and she’s kind of put me in charge of her next album for the most part. So we’ve been just writing all over the world. That’s shaping up pretty nicely now.

Besides that, I’m working with a lot of different writers because there have been a bunch of people reaching out who are looking for singles for their projects or songs for their project. So like Eminem has reached out and Wiz Khalifa has reached out, so I’m trying to do a couple things for them right now to see if they do a little collaboration. I’m actually so bad at remembering what I’m working on [laughs]. Me and Logic's producer 6ix we got together for like a week straight and made a bunch of beats. We’ll see where those are going.

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