mike will made it might be our generation's best collaborator
As he releases a star-studded clutch of back-to-basics trap cuts, we sit down with the hitmaker to find out more about his new album and listening to The Smiths with Rae Sremmurd.
When we meet Mike Williams on a chilly Monday afternoon in East Williamsburg, the sky is the same shade as his cream-colored Metallica hoodie. The Atlanta producer, better known by his beatmaking moniker, Mike WiLL Made-It, arrives calm and collected. I ask if this laid-back demeanor means he's recuperating from a blow-out weekend. On Friday, Will released his newest record, Ransom 2, and celebrated his 28th birthday. But no. "I just tried to take it easy and have a good day," he confesses. "I've had a lot of work going on, so it was nice to slow down a little."
The week before releasing Ransom 2 in its entirety, Will had been dropping its tracks one after another. First came "Gucci on My," an infectiously simple trap ode to the Italian house, featuring 21 Savage, Migos, and YG. It was followed by the Lil Yachty-assisted "Hasselhoff," "Come Down" — with one of Rae Sremmurd's three appearances — and Future's high energy guest spot, "Razzle Dazzle." Will saved some of Ransom 2's best tunes for the final countdown. "Aries (YuGo)" saw an unexpected turn from Pharrell, while "Perfect Pint" united Gucci Mane and Kendrick Lamar over an evocative Rae Sremmurd hook. Both of these bangers arrived in the 48 hours before the full release. You can understand why he wanted a chill weekend.
It's astrologically fitting that Ransom 2 dropped on Will's birthday. Susan Miller recently described March-born Aries as "always full of ideas, always thinking of new ventures to start, and always so enthusiastic about what you are doing." An even more cosmic excerpt from the birthday month reads: "One of your most engaging talents is your ability to build the ultimate dream team that gets results." When Will rolled out the rest of Ransom 2's 17 tracks on Friday, his fans found Young Thug, Rihanna, Big Sean, Ear Drummers signee Andrea, and 2 Chainz also in the mix.
Many of the collaborators featured on Ransom 2 appeared on the inaugural Ransom, released as a mixtape in 2014. Will says he approached collaborations with returning rhymers "really organically," and chose to partner with people he's already built strong relationships with. "You've been working with those people, you make dope songs with those people, why not keep going in with those people," he reasons. Though many faces are familiar, "[the tracks] all have a different vibe, and different tempos," says Will. "I feel like it's a soundtrack of the culture, but it's different than what we're hearing every day."
It's a bold claim for sure, but Will has the resume to back it up. Last year, he concocted Rae Sremmurd's bouncy "Black Beatles" which surged to #1 as the official soundtrack of the mega-viral Mannequin Challenge. An extensive Wikipedia page chronicles the laundry list of icons who made their own time-warped videos, but let's abridge ours to: Michelle Obama, Britney Spears, and an actual Beatle, Paul McCartney. Before that, Will and Rae Sremmurd's Mississippi-born brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi devised Beyoncé's tour-de-force: "Formation." "I wanted 'Formation' to be a woman empowerment song, but Beyoncé made it into a culture empowerment song," Will explains of the work's expansive impact. "It's always dope when an artist approaches the record in a different way."
Ransom 2's chief example of such a surprising departure is Pharrell's contribution to "Aries (YuGo)." "I already knew what I was looking for when I was going to the studio with him. Not only did I want to make an incredible song, but [I wanted] the song to be the best of all the different attributes of Pharrell that we love: singer Pharrell, rapping Pharrell, the new lingo, all of it," Will explains. "As someone who grew up listening to Pharrell, I want him to rap — so there's a section [in the song] for him to channel in with the best bars. But at the same time, I love 'Happy.' So I want that melody Pharrell, that uplifting, inspiring Pharrell." The mercurial Neptune even gave himself a brand new alter-ego to enshrine the all-encompassing sound: Station Wagon P. "This is Pharrell like you've never heard him before," says Will.
Will was able to bring his vision for the Pharrell partnership — and indeed Ransom 2 on the whole — to life by concentrating on the back-to-basics trap cuts that energized him in the first place. After all, some of his earliest work was made for Gucci Mane, while Will was still in high school. Twelve years later, they're still working together. "I thought to scale it back on the production and make things a little bit more simple," says Will. "This is what I started off doing, but it's also what really made me like this shit."
But Ransom 2 is anything but a 2006 revival record — each track has a different atmosphere that grounds it in the contemporary landscape Will helped shape. "I really like coming across all types of different music, and hearing new things," he says.
Knowing that he's a Smiths fan, I ask about his favorite track. "'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now,'" he replies without hesitation. "I already had a Smiths album on my phone, but one day I was riding and it came on [in the car]. I turned it up, and just started listening to what [Morrissey] was saying." He played it again later for Rae Sremmurd. "I said to Srem like, 'look, he's is really goin' off right here! He's just keeping it all the way real, straight to the point.' That's probably my favorite, but The Smiths have a lot of ill songs."
Given that Morrissey and Marr are among the most iconic musical partners in history, it's not surprising that a producer who's made so much magic with everyone from Migos to Miley Cyrus finds something to love in their union. And yet, Will says he's not in the market for any specific collaborator. "I can't really pinpoint what I'm zeroing in on because I listen to all types of music. I want to work with anybody original."
How best to develop a strong, unique sound? For Will, it meant dropping out of Georgia State University (with a 3.1 GPA) to invest himself fully in music. But that's not the path he recommends for all creative people. "At the time, I was feeling like I already had my plan together and I had to make a legitimate way," he explains. "So to anyone that's young and creative coming up, you've just gotta put all your time, energy, and focus into the right things, into the things that you want to see yourself excel at. Because that's what's gonna blow up. If you put all your time and energy into the bullshit, that's all you're gonna get: bullshit. If you put your time and energy into developing creatively, that's where you'll go."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Eric Chakeen