We sat down with Mike Will Made-It to discuss his early beginnings, upcoming debut album, albums he considers “classics,” future endeavors and much more.

Best known for producing hit singles like G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy,” 2 Chainz’s “No Lie,” Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” Rihanna’s “Pour It Up,” Lil Wayne’s “Love Me,” Ciara’s “Body Party,” and most recently Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” Mike WiLL Made-It just released his fourth mixtape and plans to release his debut album, Est. in 1989 Pt. 3 (The Album), sometime next year under his label Eardruma Records and Interscope Records.

Mike also announced the release of his famous “23” hoodies and T-shirts on December 13 of last year, the merchandise marked the producer’s first attempt at apparel and has since become the stepping stone for future collections and a possible clothing line.

What made you get into producing?

Man, back in the day… I would be going crazy with the “pencil tapping,” or ink pens, to the point where I would either break the lead or be snappin’ on the pen so hard that the ink would start coming out. At the time I didn’t really understand rhythm, all I understood was the bounce. I feel like it was really influential, it was the start, that’s what made all my homeboys tell me that I needed to start making beats… I would be pencil tapping, but then I would go and fuck with keyboards, listen to the radio, find something I liked, and find the keys and the notes on the keyboard and play it back. I didn’t know how to play the piano or anything, but I knew how to find the keys and the notes, and play them back. That’s kind of what made me get into it, I feel like pencil tapping was really influential.

Before you became a household name, were you ever concerned about the Jay Zs or Kanye Wests knowing who you are?

To be honest, I never started making music thinking about if Jay Z was going to know who I was, or if Jimmy Iovine was going to know who I was, or Kanye. When Jeezy brought it to my attention that they already knew who I was, I was like damn… It was late 2011, I had “Tupac Back” and I had a placement on [Jeezy’s] TM:103 Hustlerz Ambition. After we did “Way too Gone,” I told Jeezy that I was working on a mixtape, he said ‘Man, shit. I see your moves, just keep working. All you gotta to do is keep growing… You don’t think Kanye knows who you are? You don’t think Jay Z knows who you are? You don’t think Lil Wayne knows who you are? Before you know it, all the people you’ve dreamed about working with are going to want to work with you. They just want to see the kind of moves you’re going to make.’

Three months after that I was in the studio with Kanye… He was listening to Future’s album, and he was listening to 2 Chainz’ album—he already knew “Got One”—and he was like ‘Who is this Mike Will Made-It?’ They called me up and flew me up to New York. That was out of nowhere… Literally, out of nowhere. That was a blessing, because Kanye is one of my favorite producers. I didn’t know how it was going to go, but we cooked up “Mercy” and we cooked up “I Don’t Like.”

You co-directed the music video for your single “23” with Hannah Lux Davis, are you interested in directing films?

It’s all about staying creative, trying new things and continuing to expand my mind. I feel like that video is memorable, the way it looks, the way it flows. People aren’t going to forget that song, and they aren’t going to forget that video. There’s a lot of things that aren’t in the video that I wanted to be, there were a lot of scenes that we didn’t capture and there are a lot of effects that we didn’t use… But at the end of the day, that was my first single and the first video I co-directed, so I can always use those great ideas in the future.

I want to be able to direct movies. I’ve been writing down different movies, and different ideas, different TV shows… I’m a fan of a lot of shit. I enjoy films that are shot in different ways, from a different point of view or perspective. It’s not as polished; It’s a truer perspective. I’m really starting to do my homework when it comes to films. I’ve always had a vision and different ideas, but recently I’ve been inspired to start paying more attention to the details.

I’m always going to work until the fucking buzzer goes off, and that’s what I’m going to do with my album. My first album might not be my best album, but it’ll be a classic.

Are you still working on your debut album, Est. in 1989 Pt. 3 (The Album)? What can you tell me about it?

I feel like an album is never done until it hits shelves, so yes… I’m always working, I’ll work until someone stops me. I mixed “We Can’t Stop” 20 times before it came out, I mixed “Body Party” 11 times, “Real and True” 13 or 14 times, “23” 18 times–changed up the beat, sped up the beat, slowed down the beat, added this vocal, added these ad-libs. I’m always going to work until the fucking buzzer goes off, and that’s what I’m going to do with my album. My first album might not be my best album, but it’ll be a classic.

With me being a producer, and not an artist, every time I release a project it has to be eventful. I’m not dropping a single-disc CD with 10 songs, I’m dropping a compilation of collaborations with 10 songs and two more discs, so make it a triple-disc CD. One disc might be a documentary—so people can really get to know me—and then the other discs… I’m still trying to figure it out.

I learned a lot from speaking with Andre 3000, we were talking and he was like ‘If you wanted to have me on the album, how would you use me? What position do you see me in?’ And I was like ‘Man, shit. I feel like we could just do a hard ass song and throw it on there.’ He was like ‘Oh, ok. So you don’t have a specific beat?’ And I didn’t… I had a bunch of beats that I knew he would go crazy on, but I didn’t have any set aside specifically for him and my album. After we had that conversation, I realized that I needed to start shaping the album.

It’s kind of what I did with “23,” it was tailor-made. I knew Juicy J is the man with the chants, nobody’s going to sound better than him saying J’s on my feet (you know it) / So get like me. And I knew I wanted to get a pop chick on the record to sing I’m in the club high off purp with some shades on / Tatted up, mini skirt with my J’s on. And because it’s easy for me to get a rap chick or an R&B chick, I wanted to get somebody that nobody was expecting… I want to make sure I continue to do that for my album.

How important is melody?

Melody wins, man. Melody always wins. Melody is something that people can sing along with, people are always going to remember melodies. Like “No Lie,” even if you don’t know what Drake said you’re still going to remember No lie, no lie, no lie-ee-I-ee-I. Melody is key.

When Future was doing the hook for “Love Me,” I couldn’t figure out why it sounded so familiar when I had never heard it before. And then I realized that it kind of sounded like the melody from “Mochingbird.” I knew when that shit came out people were going to be thinking the same thing I was thinking, they were going to love it and not know why. Melody is always good, even with… Gator boots, with the pimped out Gucci suit / Ain’t got no job but I stay… “Still Fly”Gilligan’s Island. Familiar melodies help people connect with the music.

What are some projects that you consider “classic?”

Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Kendrick Lamar’s albums, Jeezy’s TM:103 Hustlerz Ambition, Gucci Mane’s mixtapes… Gucci Mane is classic: No Pad, No Pencil, Guapaholics, Chicken Talk, Chicken Talk 2, Trap Back… Future’s Dirty Sprite is classic. Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz is classic. All three Portishead albums are classic to me… There’s too many, man. Kanye’s [The College Dropout] is very classic to me, and Jay Z’s The Blueprint.

What can we expect from Future’s Honest?

I’m executive producing the album, we’re trying to push the boundaries. We do songs like “Sh!t” and everybody wants to get a verse on it—everybody snaps on it. We’re continuing to elevate, we want to set the bar with songs like “Sh!t” and “Turn on the Lights,” and then come back with records that are even bigger. Future’s choice of melody is fucking crazy, it’s not predictable, I don’t think people can predict what Future is going to do when he’s in the booth. He’s a dope artist, he’s creative as fuck, and he can really do anything. We’re still trying to put the album together, it’s all about elevation.

You recently released a collection of T-shirts and hoodies to coincide with “23,” could you tell me about the production process and what products we can expect from you in the future?

The first version of the T-shirts and hoodies is more like merchandise, because of the “Mike Will Made-It” graphic on the front. The next release is going to have a blank front with “Made-It” on the back so that people can put their own names on the front, design their own versions, make it a Made-It Mafia product, and turn it into something that more closely resembles streetwear. We have different colorways and designs coming out in the future as well. The duct tape on the shirts and hoodies is 3M, and I feel like people don’t really understand the quality and process behind the production. The products are hit 4 or 5 times—in regards to printing—and then we do the duct tape, and then the duct tape goes through a special process to make it feel a certain way over the Chicago Bulls logo. Then we have to heat transfer it, in order for the tape to stay on the shirt, and finally we print on top of that. I’m putting together my own clothing line too, but it’s in the very early stages; Ideas, sketches and stuff like that.

In addition to the apparel, you released a new mixtape in collaboration with Been Trill. Some people were hoping #MikeWiLLBeenTriLL would be all new music…

Yeah, some people thought it was going to be all exclusive songs, but the day I release a CD with all exclusive songs it’ll be the day my album drops. A mixtape is not supposed to be full of exclusive songs, when people do that they’re trying to build a buzz, they’re trying to impress record companies. And there is nothing wrong with that, because they don’t have a record label or distributor to put out their music, so the only way to put it out is to do a mixtape. Fortunately, I’m in a position where I have a distributor and a label, so I have to put together a real project, it doesn’t make sense for me to put out a project with all exclusive music when I have all these people waiting on me to release my debut album… I feel like that would be moving backwards.

Besides great music, what else can we expect from you in the next couple years?

A lot… I recently scored the LeBron James “Training Day” commercial, it was my first commercial but I plan on doing many more of those. I also want to start executive producing video games and scoring movies… Hopefully my own movies. Primarily, I’m focused on finding new ways of entertaining people from behind the scenes.

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