ATLANTA — Whenever Mike WiLL Made-It receives any praise for his work on Beyonce's anthemic "Formation," he thinks about all of the people who doubted he would ever work with the Grammy-winning pop star.
"Back then, I was like, 'Man I could do something crazy for Beyonce.' But they was like, '...Beyonce don't be working with just anybody bro,'" he recalled. "People told me that 'Beyonce ... doesn't work with just anybody.' Now, I'm to the point where I'm face-to-face with Beyonce in the studio, and all that plays in my head.
"It's basically not letting anyone tell you what you can't do."
Mike WiLL stayed true to the advice his father gave him a long time ago — to remove "can't" from his vocabulary. It has helped him reach his goals as a producer and songwriter, and craft hits like Rihanna's "Pour It Up," Juicy J's "Bandz a Make Her Dance" and Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop." He also executive produced Cyrus' "Bangerz," her 2013 album that pushed her to full-blown pop star status, and he has produced for Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and more.
But last year Mike WiLL saw his biggest success as he co-produced and co-wrote Beyonce's "Formation," which earned him, and Beyonce, Grammy nominations for song and record of the year. He also produced Rae Sremmurd's "Black Beatles," which reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks. The song, featuring Gucci Mane, became so popular that it often served as background music to the viral "Mannequin Challenge," where people acted motionless while the camera scans them.
Despite the skeptics, Atlanta-raised Mike WiLL has really made it.
"Everybody was against him," said Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd, the rap duo that includes his brother Slim Jxmmi (the group is signed Mike WiLL's Ear Drummer Records).
"But he stays locked in on the art," Swae Lee continued. "He's focused on his craft. He's not worried about no one else. Today, he's like one of the greats in the industry."
Now, Mike WiLL has taken the next step as a producer: He released his debut album, "Ransom 2," last week — a day after his 28th birthday. The album features Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Big Sean and Young Thug.
"He'll take a small idea and make it into a big one," Slim Jxmmi said of Mike WiLL. "I've seen him take one of my freestyles and make a whole entire song out of it. ... Mike has this knack for putting it all together into a big song."
A freestyle is actually what led to "Formation."
When Swae Lee blurted out, "OK ladies, let's get in formation," during a car ride to the Coachella music festival, Mike WiLL knew he had something.
"Swae Lee might have a laundry list of voice notes, but never records the song," the producer said. "But I told him we got to record this. In my mind, I'm thinking we're going to get this to Beyonce. I'm thinking about it being a woman empowerment song like 'Single Ladies.'"
Working on "Formation" forced Mike WiLL to push back his own album, but also gave him time to hone his sound and tweak the songs.
"I wanted to drop an album I feel good about, that I feel strong about," he said of "Ransom 2," the follow-up to "Ransom," his 2014 mixtape. "Ever since I started doing mixtapes, it's always been a dream for me to release an album. Like how Timbaland had everybody on his album."
And like Timbaland, Mike WiLL has a goal of producing for more A-list acts, including Adele. He said he spoke with the British singer's manager about working on her "25" comeback album, but it never panned out.
"I feel like we can come together and do a song that's never been heard of," he said.
Follow Jonathan Landrum Jr. on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MrLandrum31. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jonathan-landrum
Jonathan Landrum Jr., The Associated Press