The name Mike WiLL Made-It is music’s most fitting double entendre. The highly sought-after producer’s trunk-rattling tracks typically open with a megaphone echo-like drop announcing his imprint, Ear Drummers. Another seductive, robotic voice follows pronouncing his pseudonym in full.
His beats consist of snare loops or crisp hand claps cracking and popping. Deep bass pounds and drops hard. The hi-hats’ staccato effects resemble ignited dynamite about to erupt.
The 25-year-old, self-identified “King of the Turn Up’s” discography includes producing tracks for Jay Z, Kanye West, Rihanna, Juicy J., Project Pat, Yo Gotti, Ciara, B.o.B., Ace Hood, Kelly Rowland, ScHoolboy Q, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Brandy, Meek Mill, Juvenile, Ludacris, T.I., Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, Trey Songz, Mariah Carey, 50 Cent, Usher, Young Jeezy and Rick Ross.
Seeming nervous at first, Mike WiLL speaks in short refrains. The Marietta, GA native’s deep, air-filled voice expresses how grateful he is to be successful. “It’s really a blessing, man,” he says wearing dark shades with his hands in his bubble coat pockets. “It’s everything I’ve envisioned, and it’s all coming together. This is a vision I had when I was 18 in my basement.”
Born to a mother who sang background for gospel singer Dottie Peoples, a teenaged Mike WiLL played songs he heard on the radio with a broken keyboard. He started tinkering around with a drum machine on a random visit to a music store, knowing that moment he wanted to produce records.
When Mike WiLL was 17, he handed rapper Gucci Mane a demo of instrumentals at Patchwerk Studios. They started collaborating frequently, encouraging the student-athlete then enrolled at Georgia State University to quit school so he could concentrate on music full-time.
The BET Hip Hop Award winner produced tracks for Future’s mixtapes, his major label debut, Pluto and executive produced his sophomore effort, Honest. Mike WiLL repeated his executive producer role for Miley Cyrus’ chart-topping, Grammy-nominated fourth LP, Bangerz.
These days, he’s eyeing new talent for Ear Drummers, which landed a deal with Interscope Records. His imprint’s first act is Tupelo, MS duo, Rae Sremmurd, or Ear Drummers spelled backwards.
Composed of brothers Swae Lee, 21, and Slim Jxmmi (Jimmy), 23, they released their energetic debut LP, SremmLife, featuring the infectious singles “No Flex Zone” and “No Type.” It’s evident during a promotional appearance for SremmLife in Atlanta that the siblings have lots of love for one another.
They sound like overdubbed vocals as they talk about their success. “We feel blessed,” says Slim Jxmmi beating a skateboard against his left thigh. “It’s like waking up everyday, looking under your pillow and finding $10,000,” adds Swae Lee with the same staccato timing as Mike WiLL’s hi-hats. “Just imagine that.”
Rae Sremmurd, known originally as Dem Outta St8 Boyz, originally recorded their uptempo music on a personal computer before uploading it to social media. They appeared on BET’s now defunct 106 & Park for the Wild Out Wednesday segment. They met with record label executives but was never able to secure a deal.
Homeless and working odd jobs for a short period of time, Rae Sremmurd persevered. “It was definitely a fight, but now people have adapted to it,” says a chilled Swae Lee. “It’s a new sound. We went with the evolution.” A laid back, gravel-voiced Slim Jxmmi chimes in. “We just had to make it out,” he says.
Then, fate intervened. One of Mike WiLL’s producers, PNazty, convinced the duo to quit their jobs and relocate to Atlanta after his cousin played their music for him. The brothers agreed.
Mike WiLL believes Rae Sremmurd’s passion mirrors his own. “When I met them, the perfect vision just played out,” says Mike WiLL still with his hands in his pocket. “We’re all young, like-minded and blessed kids. They’re super creative and know how to keep it raw.”
“They’re Ear Drummers. Their ears are super forward. These guys are cut from the same cloth. They’re family, so it’s a little bit different.”
Going around greeting everyone, the extroverted pair imitates Mike WiLL’s megaphone drop and sound effects. They lists titles of the producer’s songs. Slim Jxmmi calls it “hit after hit.”
“When I hear [Ear Drummers], I automatically think it’s gonna bang,” says a more extroverted Swae Lee still using staccato cadence. “You’re gonna expect smashes, good vibes, good collaborations, good times and great beats. It’s good music for your ears.”
A few feet away, Mike WiLL passes out copies of his latest mixtape, Ransom. The self-motivated producer keeps his affairs in-house, sharing how the mixtape’s packaging was created by his “day one homie.”
“Our whole squad put this project together,” says Mike WiLL. “Being able to do this on our own, seeing people respond to it and like it is a blessing. We just young cats out here working.”
As Mike WiLL and Rae Sremmurd progress forward, they plan to keep the energy in their music. It’s hard for Swae Lee to pinpoint specific what Mike WiLL says to keep them encouraged. “Mike WiLL taught us a lot of stuff,” says Swae Lee. “We can’t even process it all right now. He gave us so much game.”
Slim Jxmmi, on the other hand, does address something Mike WiLL always says to them. “Keep it consistent,” says Slim Jxmmi still playing with the skateboard. “It keeps the hits coming. We got the juice, so let’s get it.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.