Studio Session: Mike Zombie Focuses on ‘Humble Genius’ Album After Finding Fame as Drake’s Producer
Mike Zombie is one of the youngest in charge on the production tip. At just 23, he's already a Grammy-nominated producer and scored a gig behind the boards as part of Drake's OVO Sound label. This guy has a bright future ahead.
Drizzy's platinum-selling single "Started From the Bottom" helped push his name even further into the spotlight when it hit in 2013. Alongside Noah "40" Shebib, crafting the beat earned them both two Grammy nominations for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song in 2014. Then there’s his work on DJ Khaled's 2014 anthem "They Don’t Love You No More" featuring French Montana, Jay Z, Meek Mill and Rick Ross. His resume speaks for itself.
Before getting signed to a production deal with OVO, the Willingboro, N.J. native did production work for prominent battle rap artist Hollow da Don. Since then, he’s been seen working with everyone from G.O.O.D. music signee and fellow South Jersey producer Charlie Heat to AraabMuzik and Joe Budden.
The path to Mike Zombie's success wasn't built overnight. “I’ve been making beats since the age of 14. People from my hometown will tell you I’d be in the studio all night. Even on school nights,” he tells XXL.
It was back in high school that he developed his routine of making a beat a day. His production deal with OVO is secured but Mike hasn't slowed down. In fact, the taste of success has made him go even harder (he's made 95 tracks this year alone).
But making music for others isn't the only thing he's focused on. Mike Zombie is an artist himself, dropping mixtapes like The End of the Beginning featuring tracks "616" and more recent songs "I'm Cool." This year, he's coming back with an album of his own.
XXL talked shop with the 609 savior about his relationship with Drake, his career-defining moments, his forthcoming album and a surprising story involving Meek Mill. -- Brian Roberts
XXL: When did you first start to get serious with production?
Mike Zombie: I got serious back in college when I was at Full Sail taking up digital art and design. During my off time I’d make beats. I was also trying to connect with people to send beats. I connected with Hollow da Don on Twitter, then I got his email and started sending him beats. He put a project out with one of my beats and that’s how it all started. Really without him none of this would’ve been possible at all. We spoke first on Twitter then through email, then text and phone. I even wrote him back when he was in prison. When he was out he started helping me send my beats to Juelz Santana, JR Writer and others. That’s when things started to change.
What took your career to the next level?
When I got Drake’s email. Knowing you have a chance to make music with your favorite artist... everything changed after that. You could feel the energy changing. I could feel my life changing. For a couple months into that process I’d wake up and pinch myself and just get right to work making beats, because slowing up is the last thing you want to do in a situation like that.
What is your relationship with Drake and OVO now? Did you contribute to Views?
As for Drake, whatever he asks for, I send. He asked me to send some folders [of beats] so I did. If he ends up using it, he ends up using it. But until something is for sure he doesn’t like to say, just in case things fall through. As for Views, I was working with some folks up there but nothing made it on. I see them every once in a while. I saw them at SXSW and we always get together for OVO fest. The guys at 1985. Future the Prince. All of them. I talk to my manager with OVO all the time. The relationship will always be good.
What details can you share about your upcoming album? Title? Release date?
The album title is Humble Genius and the date I have for it is June 9, which is 609, for the area code out here where I’m from. I’ll be working with a lot of upcoming artists from around the way and also guys like Trev Rich. I’m really proud of this because I had no other hands in it. It’s going to be 100 percent what I want it to be. The music on this is going to sound different than anything I’ve done before. It’s going to be a lot of anthems. A lot of summery vibes.
You were seen in studio with Joe Budden and AraabMuzik recently. What was that about?
Me and Joe [Budden] have been talking about working for months now and we finally got to doing some work at SXSW. AraabMuzik also laced me with some fire beats. I was so excited to get those. We also all did a song together which you may or may not hear on his upcoming project. Joe has a new energy right now, he’s the same Joe, but he’s different musically.
You’re signed to a production deal with OVO. Are you looking for a rap deal?
Having a machine behind you can make everything better but it has to be right. It gets it to more people than your one hand can because they have relationships. It’s an opportunity I’d love to pursue but it has be right and I don’t want to jump into a situation where I’m not happy. So it’s just a matter of the right thing coming along.
If you could pick one story that sums up your journey so far, what would it be?
I remember when I was 15, I sent Meek Mill’s camp one of my beats. They said I’d have to pay $5,000 for him to get on it. Funny thing was, years later, he ended up getting on one [The Mike Zombie record Meek Mill eventually got on is one of the biggest songs of 2014: DJ Khaled's "They Don’t Love You No More"].
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