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Hip-Hop Producer Mike WiLL's Makeover of Miley Cyrus Was Only the Beginning

Inside the moneymaking mind of the man with the hottest hand in hip-hop
Hip-Hop Producer Mike WiLL's Makeover of Miley Cyrus Was Only the Beginning
Photograph by Nathanael Turner

Mike Williams II, the record producer who goes by the name of Mike WiLL Made-It, arrives at a recording studio in Los Angeles trailed by a guy he recently hired to follow him around with a video camera. WiLL is collecting footage for a documentary about himself. The audience will discover, among other things, that he keeps very late hours. “I just woke up,” WiLL says. It’s 6 p.m.

WiLL is 25 years old, 6-foot-2, and bearded. Once he starts talking, speaking quickly and even mumbling at times, he doesn’t stop. He punctuates his phrases with “You know what I’m saying?” or a simpler “word.” He’s wearing a backwards ball cap, a Rolex, a diamond earring, a white All Saints T-shirt, a Christian Dior belt, Balenciaga boots, and jeans. These are brands rappers often boast about wearing in their lyrics. Yet for someone who comes from the gaudy world of hip-hop, WiLL doesn’t look like he spends a lot of time looking at himself in the mirror. “This T-shirt cost $65,” he says. People in the studio expected WiLL half an hour ago, but he’s not someone you can rush. In June the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (Ascap) named him Rhythm & Soul Songwriter of the Year, lauding him for hits such as Lil Wayne’s Love Me, Rihanna’s Pour It Up, and Juicy J’s Bandz a Make Her Dance, songs that exemplify the kind of Rabelaisian strip-club anthem for which, until recently, he was primarily known. WiLL’s other hallmark is the personal stamp he puts on every record, so you know right away who produced it. They all start with a female voice proclaiming, “Mike WiLL made it,” a double-entendre celebrating both his craft and financial success. The practice goes back to the 1990s, when mixtape purveyors such as DJ Clue shamelessly called out their names on their work. But WiLL is the first to turn his tag into a mass market brand signifying his self-described “out da box” style and a value proposition, much as Louis Vuitton did by peppering handbags, shoes, and sunglasses with its founder’s initials.