Behind every good chart-topping song is a good producer, usually -- but behind all that, and often sticking longer-term with the artist him- or herself, is a good engineer.
In honor of today, the Biggest Day In Hip-Hop History of 2010, the day Lil Wayne finally goes free, Crossfade brings you an in-depth conversation with Weezy's own right-hand man behind the boards, Mike Banger.
Born Mike Cadahia, Kendall-raised and Miami to the bone, the 27-year-old has, since 2009, quickly shot up the Miami studio hierarchy to become Wayne's official personal engineer. That means he's had a hand in everything you've heard from Weezy since: the We Are Young Money ensemble album, the No Ceilings mixtape, the I'm Not a Human Being album, and every feature and loose end in between. And finally, on I'm Not a Human Being, Banger scored his first bona fide production credit, for a beat he created for the song "YM Banger."
From an early age, his love for music was deep, but also broad. Besides '90s staples like Busta Rhymes and Pharoahe Monch, Banger had a serious penchant for the decade's punk rock and hardcore, name-checking favorites like Pennywise, Operation Ivy, and the Offspring.
"It influences my style today, but a lot of people who don't know about those styles of music wouldn't understand," he says. "Like the Offspring, they had dope melodies and harmonies." Actually, it's not that hard to pinpoint. Beats like the one for "YM Banger" may be fiercely, unapologetically electronic, but they're also driven by a punk-style aggro energy and sonic claustrophobia.
Drumming along to his favorite records eventually led him to an interest in beatmaking, and to an early departure from G. Holmes Braddock High. By writing to nearly every studio in the South Florida area, he scored his first internship, at Audacity Recording in Hollywood, by age 17. He's been building ever since, until a chance phone call landed him unexpectedly one day behind the boards at Hit Factory for the reigning king of hip-hop.
Crossfade recently caught up with Banger to discuss his early days in the Young Money/Cash Money camp, Lil Wayne's final recording flurry before he went to prison, and the next projects up on Weezy's slate. Here's what he had to say.
How did you finally end up working with Young Money?
It was pretty much through an internship. I met a friend named Drew Correa, and he got the call to work with Wayne. He did it for a few years, and eventually did some production -- he did "Mr. Carter." So he moved on from recording to production, and he gave me the recording position. I guess I'm kind of taking the same steps now; I got some production credits too on the last I'm Not a Human Being album. But basically one day he got to do a beat and didn't want to record, so he called me, and I said, alright, cool.
How long ago was that?
I met him years ago, and he did it for years, and we just stayed in touch. One day out of nowhere he called me, and I didn't really expect it, so it was kind of crazy. I had quit working everywhere and I was just making beats in my room. For some reason I didn't want to work anywhere anymore; I wanted to make beats and get better. I knew something else was going to happen, but I didn't know what it was. And at that point, the phone rang.
What was the first thing that you worked on with Young Money or Cash Money?
I worked with Wayne when they called me. I went into the studio that night, and it was one of the songs on the I'm Not a Human Being album, called "Gonorrhea." That was at Hit Factory, which now, I think of kind of like high school. There are so many rooms, and there's a gate and when that opens you're in the parking lot, and everyone might be hanging out there. You could meet people in the hallways, and then they have the vending machines too.
When you started out, you weren't doing any production stuff. You were just recording the raw sounds?
Yeah. He was going in the booth, and I was just recording him on all his songs, and making them sound as best as I could for the moment, and recording as many songs as possible. We did the Young Money album, the No Ceilings mixtape, I'm Not a Human Being, and part of C4. All his features, all the videos before he went in. He recorded a bunch of stuff in a rush.
How long ago was that first session?
I think it was like May of last year, or March. So almost two years. Then he went in and he's been in there for eight months, so almost half of the time that we've been working together, he's been in jail.
Were you nervous that first time? It seems like it was a pretty dramatic sink or swim situation.
It was probably the most nerve-wracking moment in my life. And I probably won't have another one thanks to him! But it was crazy, I had never seen anyone record him before, had never seen his songs opened up the screen, never seen him doing it tonight. I had never been to Hit Factory, either.
How did you build your rapport from there? How did you get to know them better and become the official engineer, or whatever your title is there now?
I guess I'm Wayne's personal engineer, but now I'm working for everyone, and mixing in general and producing in general. But I really, I guess the first day, he didn't like me that much. He must have liked me a little bit, but I had to ask if I could come again, because he had another engineer, named KY, who I'm really good friends with now. We have really similar styles working with Wayne, so watching him made it a little smoother for me at the beginning.
And then I guess Wayne started getting into crazy sounds, messing with the rock stuff, and they thought I'd be good for that.
So you just kept getting booked to come back until it became a regular thing?
Yeah, from one day to another, and they were like, "Okay, you know what the schedule is? Every night at 10 p.m." So we're in there pretty much from 10 to 10 in the morning. That's the average. Sometimes it's earlier, but sometimes it's later, like if he goes to the club or something.
What's a typical session like? Do you know what's going to happen before you go in there?
If I worked with him the day before, yes. But if there's been a period that we haven't worked, like right now, then no. I don't know what's going to happen right when he gets out, but I'm pretty sure after a few days I'll get the groove and have a plan.
Usually I get there, we have a bunch of beats. He picks one, and I'll loop a certain segment, and then he thinks of it all in his head and goes into the booth. If he finishes it, it's done, and if not, I know we'll be finishing it the next day. Then I just make beats in between.
What was the last thing you worked with him on before he went away?
Well, it was supposed to just be Tha Carter 4, because I'm Not a Human Being wasn't even supposed to happen. But they wanted to release something and took those songs to make it. A lot of that mixtape was songs that could have been on Tha Carter 4, I would say. But instead of doing that, he's probably going to make even better songs for Tha Carter 4.
Are you starting all over on Tha Carter 4 and doing new songs?
Mostly, but he's got a couple songs. I'm looking at this list right now of what was supposed to be Tha Carter 4. The very last thing we recorded -- I can't tell you because it didn't end up on I'm Not a Human Being!
You got your own production credit on I'm Not a Human Being, with the song "YM Banger." How did you manage to slip your own beat in there?
At the last moment they were picking songs, and some songs were incomplete. Mine was actually incomplete -- it didn't have a hook -- but I squeezed everyone together and put a little dope effect, and the beat's pretty crazy, so it worked out. We actually recorded it on a tour bus. I go with him pretty much everywhere he goes.
You mixed down I'm Not a Human Being based on a few instructions from Wayne over the phone from jail, right?
I spoke to him a few times, but not so much about I'm Not a Human Being. He was already like, over that. When he called me, he was talking more about the leftover songs for Tha Carter 4, so I think he was in there coming up with lyrics for Tha Carter 4.
How often did you talk to him about Tha Carter 4?
He would call and tell me just to play him songs, because he couldn't hear the music on his hard drive any other way. I'm not sure what his reasons were, but all our conversations he would say, "Hey, what's up, can you play me these songs." I guess he was trying to be productive in there, and I have all his material, so why not call me to hear all his stuff.
He's famous for not writing stuff in advance, though.
Yeah, so I don't know what's going to happen now. I guess we'll lay it all down some way or another, and then he'll keep on the way he used to. But I'm pretty sure he had to write it down this time.
So Wayne is also known for recording pretty much every night. Now that he's out, are you going to work with him tonight?
If he's not tired, then I'm pretty sure we'll be in there.
So you're on call, basically?
Yeah, but if he gets in town then I pretty much know what it is: Hit Factory, 10 p.m.!
Do you think Tha Carter 4 is now going to be your priority in the studio?
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Yeah, but, um, I'm thinking he's going to do a mixtape, but that's just me. I think he's going to come out, talk about Tha Carter 4, then get whatever he wrote in there out, and let it all out on a mixtape, and then continue with Tha Carter 4. That's just me, but I may bring it to life by speaking about it in that manner. That's what I think he's going to want to do: go ham on a couple beats, and then continue with Tha Carter 4.