The day after Miley Cyrus’ denounced (and popular) VMA performance of “We Can’t Stop,” which Mike WiLL Made It produced, he filmed a video for his first-ever single, “23.” Photographer Sam Clarke captured a day on set, at South Brooklyn’s then-empty-for-summer Bishop Ford High School. After the shoot, Mike WiLL stopped by FADER offices to talk about the VMAs, his friendship with Cyrus, Future’s upcoming album and WiLL’s own signing to a major.
How did “23” come together? The single “23,” we did it in February. It was officially done in the summertime. We weren’t sure what project we were gonna put it on, whether it would be for Miley’s album or Juicy J’s album. I was working on my album, and I was like, this might as well be my first single. But I wanted to make sure I had everything geared up before I put anything out. I don’t wanna drop just anything, cause I know for me it’s album time. I got a lot of different situations on the table, so I’m trying to weigh out my options and make sure I press the gas with the right team.
Are you going to release your album with a major label? Most likely, yeah. The album could be good and I could make a lot of money if I released it independently, but at the same time I feel like I’m gonna make a lot of money regardless. If I team up with a label it’s even better, so now I have a budget to pay my people and make sure everyone around me is building. I feel like my empire could be built bigger. If I keep it independent, I could make a million or two million. Or I can sign with this label, and yeah, I’ll have to bust it down with them, but I can also then do different business ventures on different stuff. [After this conversation, Mike WiLL officially released "23" with Interscope.] I got like a lot of visions. I wanna do movies, videos, all types of shit. So I’m gonna need a budget to fund all that stuff, and I don’t want it to come out of my pocket. Still, I told all the labels I’m meeting with, you cannot give me deadlines. I just want shit to be perfect. I want someone to put in my CD or download my album and not skip one song.
Is Miley’s album, Bangerz, all done? I just finished it. This is the first album I executive produced. I don’t like to say anything is the best, but this is definitely some of my greatest work. The shit ended up dope. It’s also first time dropping an album in like three years. Besides what everybody wants to say about her, she’s 20 and having fun. As far as music, she’s dope as fuck. Nobody has a tone of voice like hers. I work with a lot of different artists, the labels show me every artist they got, so I know which ones are special. Miley has a real strong country voice. People get goosebumps when she’s singing. Once I figured that out, I kept working with her, started bringing in people like Rock City and Future to write on the project.
Last year, you told me that a big part of your job as producer is convincing artists to try new things. Did you teach Miley anything about herself? She’s still learning every day. So there’s a lot of stuff that I brought out of her, but she’s not scared of anything. When I let her hear something and I say it’s dope, she’s like, Oh let’s do it. She’s not the type of person that argues back or says, Nah, that’s not for me. She never kicked it like that. She trusted my judgment and how I see music. She respected me and then knocked her parts out.
Whose idea was it for her to rap on “23”? Me and Rock City were coming up with the song, and Wiz Khalifa and Juicy liked it. I was like, I’m gonna let Miley hear this and see if she wants to get on it. I was like, Man, you can’t pull it off. And she was like, Yeah I can. We just made sure she stayed in the right pockets and rode the beat right. Rock City wrote her verse. He made it to match her.
How do you feel about the negative reactions to her VMA performance? What other 20-year-old is on Miley’s magnitude? If she would have walked out on the stage and just been singing the song and been swaying to it, people would still say something. Like: Why didn’t she twerk? I thought she said she was bout that life! She’s saying she’s the new Madonna, but she’s too scared to take those risks? Oh she thinks she’s too cool? A lot of times, people are watching stuff to critique it. So the best thing for her to do is go out and perform it how she wants to perform it, her vision.
I heard people say the problem was her sticking her tongue out. I heard other people say the problem was her twerking, or her slapping the dancer’s butt. I don’t see what’s wrong with butt smacking. Baseball players slap other mens’ ass on the baseball field. Basketball players do it. But because it’s Miley Cyrus and she’s on the VMAs and she slapped a girls butt while dancing—who cares? The people who are talking about it probably play around and do shit like that with their homegirls.
How would you respond to the people who felt the butt-slapping was upsetting because Miley is white, and the objectified dancer was black? Black and white, that’s the country that we live in. When you see black fucking with white, you don’t look at it like why are they trying to get the white culture? When white fucks with black, and it’s from that high up, it’s like what the fuck is she doing? Why is she acting like that? Miley got black girls on stage dancing with her. Black and white America—they don’t like that. If she’d been up there with all white people, black people may have been like, Why is she working with all these rappers now and she don’t have any black dancers up there?
I’m around Miley a lot, and I think she clings to what’s real. A lot of people around her are white, and when I’m around her she doesn’t walk around like, “Ayo wassup my nigga? What’s good homie? What that check looking like?” She ain’t talking crazy. She’s still like, [impersonates Miley] “Oh this is so crazy! Oh it sounds so good!” She talks like a white girl. She’s just not one of those white girls that looks at it like, I gotta stay away from those black guys. The thing is, she’s all the way up here [raises hand]. She’s Miley Cyrus, she’s a big superstar in America. And she fucks with anybody. People don’t understand that. Most people who are way up here, they secure themselves, they stay out of people’s way, they’re only letting certain people in the room, and they don’t look at you the whole time. Those aren’t real people, those are people that dove into the light, they’re lost in this world. Miley’s a real person that real people can cling to. Just because she fucks with black people doesn’t mean she’s trying to not fuck with white people and only take from black culture.
You can never keep up. It’s a zillion people in the world. While these billion people are talking about this, these other billion people are talking about something totally opposite. You can’t please everybody. As long as you make dope music, you’re gonna have your fans. Next year, watch somebody else do something crazy on the VMAs, so they can get that much attention.
I heard a new song of yours with Future, called “Land of Fire.” That’s a massive pop record. That’s the biggest record ever. You got the pop melodies of the guitar, you got the live drum fill, but Future’s still talking that shit. He’s still venting out how he really feels. That’s the most important part of all the music I produce: making sure the artist is bringing themselves out in the music. Me and Future, we did “Dirty Sprite,” “Ain’t No Way Around It,” “Turn on the Lights.” Every time we record, we’re setting bars. When you have a great song like “Turn on the Lights,” you gotta go bigger than it. It’s hard. Then Future comes up with a song like “Land of Fire,” writing it with intentions for somebody else. I was like, Man, hold on, keep that, cause you might be able to kill that. Future’s been doing songs like “Bugatti” and “Bitches Love Me” that are going platinum. So when he comes out with his own, he has to come with some next shit. We have another song called “Real and True.”
I heard that one and thought: He really must be in love. He very well might be in love. I’m pretty sure he is in love—Ciara’s a great person and fucking they’re always together. But that songs for anybody who’s ever even witnessed love. Anybody who hears the record, it hits them. If you’ve got an ex, you’re gonna feel that record even more, cause you’re gonna remember having that same conversation.
Since the last time we spoke, you’ve successfully expanded from rap into R&B and pop, and spent a lot of time in LA. What’s it been like to leave Atlanta’s nest? What really happened is, I went out to LA and went to this club called Greystone. The most poppingest club. I went in there and they played not one of my songs. I was mad as fuck, cause I’d just left Atlanta and they play all my shit; back to back joints. So I’m like Ok, cool, I might have to take over LA right quick. Next thing, I started working with Miley. I started meeting people at the radio stations there, and now my shit is going crazy in LA. I’ve been out there getting relationships, meeting with the different labels and working on Future’s album. Me and Future both have cribs out there in LA now. But I love all these cities. There’s nothing like home in Atlanta. It’s always cool to expand, and always cool to go back to your roots. It’s cool to catch different vibes. I need to go to Europe now. I ain’t gonna stay over there as long as Kanye, but at least see it, so I can catch a vibe. That’s what music is all about, vibes. That’s what makes people react and relate to a song, what makes it soulful.