Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)
One day a band is gonna name their band “Miley’s Tongue,” for the way that single muscle caused a disproportionately high amount of mainstream scrutiny and ire. Ignoring the “PUSSY MONEY WEED” persona swiped from Rihanna, so much of Cyrus rebellion can be found in her tongue. A physical middle finger that cannot be censored no matter what it might provoke in the public. The sonic master that gave Miley this new musical foundation to craft this persona was Mike Will Made It. A person whose persona never sees a need to stick his tongue out, or really stick out in any way, except that he holds the Pop and Rap worlds in his palms.
His late 2013 mixtape, #MikeWillBeenTrill isn’t a victory lap of success or even a preview of his future, as much as an introduction to the Atlanta producer’s disparate musical sides. The tape features: Country-Mike Will (“My Darlin”), Post-Linkin-Park-Mike Will (“Where You Go”), Three-Six-Mike Will (“Be A G”) and even Windows-Down-Block-Beating-Mike Will with “Shit Megamix” and “Fork.” There is a kind of warble and stutter that permeates and would allow one to know the guy behind “No Lie” did “Be a G,” but the tape proudly enjoys its lack of uniformity.
About a third into the tape, he takes a trip back to his old days working with Gucci Mane on “East Atlanta 6.” Beyond Gucci’s brilliant sense of humor there is little show of talent that has vaulted Mike Will to the top of the rap world. The Atlanta producers working with Gucci at that time all had diverse styles whether it was the OG trap of Shawty Redd, the post-Mannie Fresh electronics of Zaytoven, the WTFness of DJ Speedy or even the lumber of a Drumma Boy. Mike Will back then wasn’t quite there.
Pharrell, who also shined in 2013, with “Blurred Lines,” “Happy” or “Feds Watching” were all tracks that held within the range of his lone solo album, In My Mind, or even late 90s/early 2000s work in the Neptunes. Despite the idea of coming back, Pharrell didn’t comeback, as much as the Pop world came back around to his singular sound. #MikeWillBeenTrill shows that as a producer Mike Will hasn’t congealed down into a Pharrell-like overall sound. That lack of precision increases the dynamism of the tape, as the sonic palette of songs leaps from one extreme to the next. Future’s solemn “Wolf” transitions to the abrasive Trap shit of “Fork” showing Mike Will as a producer whose beats mold around particular artists rather exist singularly as factory line produced units.
At one point last summer, Mike Will tweeted about releasing a solo project called #FuckVerses, which thankfully has not yet materialized. His beats aren’t malleable or interesting enough to stand alone, like an Araabmuzik or Clams Casino. 2 Chainz’s booming voice builds up “Where You Been,” and the weary of “Against All Odds” cannot translate without Future’s sorrowed croon. And the same way “Wake Up No Make” by Ciara and “We Can’t Stop” by Miley, were originally Rihanna tracks following “Pour It Up,” Mike Will’s original tracks for the artists, Ciara’s “Body Party” and Miley’s “My Darlin,” play more to their musical strengths rather than forcing out their best Rihanna impressions.
That artist awareness is what makes “Shit Megamix” worth multiple listens despite its 12 minute length. The original “Sh!t” was a classic lurching Post-Luger beat with Future doing his best post-rap howling, but Mike Will morphed the track into a classic 90s Three-Six track for Drake and Juicy J, and retooled it again into an early 2000s Crunk track for the Atlanta All-Star remix that included Pastor Troy. It’s a really music nerd remix of a song with a hook that throws out variations of “Nigga you ain’t pop shit” ad infinitum. That might be why Mike Will doesn’t, yet, sit with a singular sound, a-la The Neptunes or Timbaland, he’s still a sound synthesizer and figuring out what to distill.