Cowboys & Gangsters

Cowboys & Gangsters

Cowboys & Gangsters



Photography: Kevin Amato

Styling: Clare Byrne

Text: Miley Cyrus

Mike Will [Mike WiLL Made-It] had a vision for me first, before anyone else knew I was going to have this revolution. He saw it before he even knew if I was working on music. He was like, "Someone get ahold of Miley Cyrus. I don't know if she's making music, but she's gonna be working on it when she hears this song!" There isn't a huge difference between urban culture and country music culture. People don't realize that cowboys and gangsters are the same thing. I've talked to Mike Will about growing up around Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, and he would be like, "They're gangsters."

In 2013 I did the MTV VMAs. Mike was inspiring me a lot that year. To me, hip-hop was similar to how my mom described the good rock scene when she was young. Hip-hop became the new punk because that was the rebellious place to be making music. The idea of innovators versus imitators is something that he and I battle with a lot. Mike has such a sound now, it's hard to go to a club without hearing that sound. Even with me, you have to take it as a form of flattery, but people try to make a Mike Will sound-- and a knockoff isn't ever as good. Some people can't tell, but there is a sophistication to Mike's sound.

People are shocked by the fact that he's 24 years old. It's the same thing with me...people can't believe, when they talk to me, that I'm only 22. It's the lifestyle and the ambition. The reason people always listen to me in my business meetings is because nobody knows where young people are going more than young people. He's like me because when we want something, we don't take no for an answer. When you have that drive, people forget how young you are. He's more than a producer. I think he's building an empire. When you look at what 50 Cent did with Vitaminwater or what Dre did with Beats, it all started with music, and Mike knows how to build himself. That's like Dolly Parton. It's funny to mention her, because Dolly is a country star with big titties and glitter, but inside she is a businesswoman. I'm a musician, and at one time I was less credible than I am now-- although a lot of people accepted it because this is America-- and I know that Mike has so much more he can do within art and fashion and business. He's only 24 so he has forever to do it.

Of course, we have differences. I never had a problem, with my parents flying me in and out of L.A. to become who I am, but Mike had to do it all himself, out of a basement in Atlanta. He wasn't born into this, he got here strictly on music, which is more than a lot of people can say. That's where he got "Mike WiLL Made-It." He really got here because of himself and that's the most respectable thing. I love when people are underestimated. He started making beats at 14 and was working as a manager, hustling these three kids around Atlanta. He's always been above his age and trying to hustle. He would take risks and stay out late from school, and look at how his life has changed.

Miley Cyrus How did you start making music?

Mike Will I started making beats at 14, in a group with three other friends. We would go to the studio over the weekend. The whole school would buy all the CDs from me and the homeboys. We'd sell them for five bucks a record. We'd end up with maybe a couple hundred dollars each. After that group didn't work out, I just started moving around. That's when I met Gucci Mane, at about 15 or 16. He heard a bunch of my beats and he started freestyling on one. He was trying to buy it from me for a thousand dollars. My dad would drop me off at the studio and I would be out there by myself and Gucci just happened to be at the same studio as me. He pulled me into the room and asked me if I was the little dude with the beats. I said, "Mannnnn, you're gonna have to holler at my people!" He knew I didn't have no people. No manager. No nothing. Me and Gucci fell out of contact when he got locked up, but Waka and I met each other and just became real cool. But back then, Waka wasn't even a rapper yet. We just met in the club. We were about to fight each other but somehow we just got cool. We started chopping it up and he was asking me what I do and I said, "I do music. I make beats." That's when he said, "My cousin is Gucci Mane." I said, "Shit, Gucci Mane!? That's my homeboy." So Waka and I exchanged numbers and just ended up getting cool and then when Gucci got out of jail he linked us back up. Waka and I would hang with each other every day. I would sleep on his mama's couch, he would sleep on my mama's couch. He really wanted to be my security guard. His mom was an OG manager in the business, and his uncle managed Nas and all them cats in New York. So Waka just wanted to make sure my business was all the way straight. At the time, Gucci started saying Waka's name in his raps, and shouting me out. Then I told Waka, "Yo Gucci making us a name bro! You might gotta start rapping!" Before you know it, he became a rapper overnight. I was still making beats for Gucci, and the underground took off. But I didn't really get my commercial break through Gucci, I got my underground break through him. After all this shit was out I brought him another CD full of beats and he told me, "You don't needa bring me beats no more." He told me I had to take my sound to the next level, and that he's trying to go to the next level. I didn't really understand. I was mad as hell, because those beats were hard as fuck to me. Then next thing you know he started popping off and having bigger hits. Then I understood what he was talking about.

MC So I can really thank Gucci Mane for us ever even working together. I guess subconsciously he got you to want to fuck with more mainstream shit.

MW When I first started working with Gucci, we would do 20-something songs in three days. He would just go into the booth and rap on that shit. There wasn't too much thought put into it. I was just used to working that way, so when he told me I had to take my sound to the next level I was just like, Man what the fuck? But then when he started popping off and doing songs with Mariah Carey, that's when I realized what he was trying to do. But Waka was telling me the opposite. Waka was telling me I needed to go back to the old Mike Will. Waka's career was where Gucci's was at when I first met him, so I was kind of torn between the two. That's what got my sound where it is right now, though. It's a polished slash ratchet sound.

MC People who stay around forever are those who know that you have to evolve and change. Like me being from Nashville, they think I threw away my roots.

MW I was torn between the two, and then it got political. People were trying to sign me, but I had my own vision. I wanted my own production company. EarDrummers came about when I was doing all the songs for Gucci. I had about 30 songs with him and about 10 songs with OJ da Juiceman. I had all these songs out in the streets but I wasn't making a dime off of 'em.

MC So, for those who don't understand the "eardrummers" tag, Made-It Mafia.

MW When I went to go get a publishing deal, I wrote down all the songs I had out and the dude balled up the paper and just threw it in the trash. He said, "All this shit is just mixtape records." But I thought, How are motherfuckers like Lil Jon or Drumma Boy-- producers I was looking up to at the time-- how are these people breaking through? I just started doing my homework and realized, these cats got teams. I already had my homeboys I made beats with for fun but then I knew I needed to start my own team. I wanted EarDrummers to be a team full of writers and producers with the next-level ear. Always on the next shit. Trendsetters. It started with just me and my boy A Plus. He would make his beats and I'd make mine. Then, I wanted to build the team up even more. My boy Pnazty, who is dope as hell on melodies, was a missing piece to my super gritty, turnt-up puzzle. Pnazty knew Marz and brought him to the table and then we all just started vibing and coming up with this sound and it just became distinctive. A lot of rappers didn't even know how to write to our shit. A lot of rappers thought our beats were too weird. But that's when Gucci and I got back in the studio. Even Future told me at first he didn't really get the beats. All of our beats were always super knocking and distorted and then we came through with a new sound for Atlanta, the whole underground shit. That's when it started cutting through, and getting on the radar of Kanye West. I graduated from high school in 2007 and started going to Georgia State in '08. But by 2010, I was kind of fed up. I didn't really have friends in school. I would leave class and go straight to the studio. I went to school for my dad because both of my sisters graduated from college. I was learning Introduction to the Music Industry, and that's how I learned about publishing and how to build my own company. But after school, I would go and be around all the rappers that everyone at my school wanted to meet. I still didn't have any money, so in 2010 I told my dad, I can't eat books. I gotta focus on this music shit for real. I have my plan and I'm gonna stick to it. He basically said, "Fuck that, you gotta go to school." So instead of going back and forth I just got off the phone. And by the next semester, in 2011, I didn't enroll. At that time, "Dirty Sprite" [with Future] came out, and then "La La" [with 2 Chainz featuring Busta Ryhmes], and then "Tupac Back" [with Meek Mill featuring Rick Ross]. That was my first song on the Billboard charts. Then my dad said, "Well shit, I guess you were right." Then from there, I dropped my first mixtape, and after that, Kanye called me to New York in 2012. He reached out and flew me there for what was supposed to be two days, but turned into two months. He let me hear "Mercy" without the drums. He did the drums real quick, not thinking it was gonna be a huge hit like it was. When I was working with Kanye, "No Lie" came out with 2 Chainz. That was kind of my first hit. It was weird when I first met Kanye. I thought he'd be on some shit like what producer is this? But when I walked in the room he said, "It's about time a producer like you comes through with this crazy sound. All you need is the right voice on top of the beat. You have the potential to change sound." Then we just started working. In 2012, "Turn On the Lights" [with Future] and "Bandz A Make Her Dance" [with Juicy J, featuring 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne] were singles.

MC And that's how I discovered Mike Will. I'll never forget hearing the fuck-you beat you made in the Greenwich Hotel lobby; I was turning up with my headphones on. Then we met very soon after that, in 2013. But that's quick for you. Once you popped off, it was quick.

MW I used to go down to strip clubs in Atlanta, and I'd walk to the DJ booth, grab the mic, and say, "Stop the music, I got some new shit with Juicy, 2 Chainz, and Lil Wayne." Then the whole club would go off. I had to go back and forth with program directors telling us it didn't work on radio and the song was just cool, but I kept pushing and that shit popped off. After that, I was able to meet with labels and I would tell them that I got every sound and could work with any artist. After "Bandz," that's when I started working with Wayne. He just got out of jail. I had the "Love Me" hook on my phone and was in the studio with Drake and Future. It was kind of a weird vibe because Future and I have our thing. I told Drake to listen to what Future is doing and that's when Drake said, "Yo, bro, I think you should say some shit like...'long as my bitches love me.'" I knew I wanted them both on the hook so Future went in and said, "I got some good kush and alcohol." Drake went and laid down his part and I just had that hook for a long time. Future was about to put it on his mixtape, and I said, "You have to get Lil Wayne on it so he can put it out as his single." When I was working on "We Can't Stop," I kept saying, "Damn, this shit is the next 'Party in the USA,' and fuck, if I keep saying that shit, why the fuck don't I just give that shit to Miley?" So I hit my manager up and said, "I need to get in the studio with Miley Cyrus." He said, "I don't know if Miley Cyrus is even doing music right now." I said, "I don't give a fuck. If she hears this song she's gonna do music." So I went to New York to meet with all the different labels. My last meeting of a cold ass day was with RCA, and at that point I had no idea who Miley Cyrus was signed to. Labels didn't even really mean nothing to me at this point. So I went and played a bunch of shit and when I played "We Can't Stop" I said, "This song is a fucking smash. I don't know who y'all got, but this shit is ready to go." Peter Edge said, "This will work with Miley Cyrus." I was stunned. I said, "Hell yeah man, Peter, I already fuck with you, we already on the same page, dog." I showed them my text from not even a week before to my team looking for Miley fuckin' Cyrus. From there, your little wild ass heard the shit and they put us in the studio and I thought that maybe that was the only song we'd do, but then I played you "23" and you were with that shit. So we just knocked it all out, first day. After we worked, I said, "Miley cool as fuck, dog. You gotta keep putting us in the studio together because I think we can come up with some hard shit."

MC And I was deep in with Pharrell at the time.

MW I got a whole catalog of pop shit that everyone's scared of and you ain't scared to try shit. So let's just keep getting in. Even with "We Can't Stop," that was our first time working and a lot of producers want the artist to come in and sound just like the demo but you got that country twang, man, so I just wanted you to do your own thing. That was just the beginning. We made history.

MC Too many chiefs, not enough Indians!

MW You can't have anyone in the middle. You need direct communication. Talk about ideas and keeping beats on deck so you can work any hour and any state. [Bangerz] was our attention grabber, to get them talking and to have some safe hits. I would play people beats and they would think they were too trap for Bangerz and I'd say, "Just let us work." I think the whole thing with me is I represent the misunderstood. I'm a misunderstood motherfucker. I always think left as fuck. The easier way of thinking, man, I always think the opposite of that. No one really understands why I do what I do until they hear the finished product. Or it's topping the charts.

Mike WiLL Made-It's debut LP is out later this year from Ear Drummer/Interscope Records

vest BALMAIN hat (throughout) will's OWN


Credits: Grooming Laura de Leon using Chanel (Joe)  Stylist assistant Cleo Bennett Equipment rental K&M  Location Drift Studio NYC


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