Lee Mcintosh
Lee Mcintosh
20 May 2020

Photo Credit: Sem Robert

Music creation is not something that is often handled alone. By now, we are all aware of the many elements needed in order for a song to come to fruition. We have the many words and flows provided by the songwriter, the amazing mixes and mastering provided by the engineers, and we have the meat and potatoes of the song, the beats-provided by the producers. There has always been an ongoing debate over which role holds the most weight, and which role is more important than the other. A fair amount of those believe that all roles are equally as important, which is very true to a certain point. However, many believe that the overall feel and vibe of the song is carried from the production. Yes, lyrics are strong enough to speak volumes–but production is powerful to move mountains. One producer in mind that has made a strong footprint in the industry, and blown many speakers in the process, would be none other than the legendary TM88.

Regardless if you have heard his voice, or even seen what he looks like–chances are, your favorite rapper has made a record to one of his beats. With a production discography that spans over almost a decade, TM88 has produced for literally almost every rapper in the game. Some of those being, Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame, Lil Uzi Vert, Wiz Khalifa, and Future–that list surely doesn’t stop there. Being the co-founder of the super producer group 808 Mafia alongside Southside, TM88 helped usher in an entirely new sound and fresh vibrations to the music scene, and has been killing the game ever since. Whether you are an aspiring producer, fan of the production, or just a consumer in Hip Hop, it can be hard to mention the major influencers in the game without mentioning the likes of TM88 and 808 Mafia.

Lots of people are familiar with his sound, but rarely do we get to hear from the man behind the boards. In my curiosity and desire to learn more about his journey, I spoke with TM88 to discuss an array of topics all revolving around him and his expedition to where he is now. Some of those topics being the early beginnings of 808 Mafia, those who influence him, his pathway to becoming a producer turned artist, and many more.

Read our conversation in full below!

 

The 808 Mafia brand as a whole has birthed into something that has had an everlasting impact over the culture. While we may know who’s all affiliated, we don’t know the origin story. Tell me a bit about how 808 Mafia came about with you and Southside?

TM: Basically, Southside and I have been knowing each other for a very long time. We both had friends that knew each other, so we was always locked in. We always would see each other so we always would cook beats on the side whenever we would link up. One day, we were just like “man, we need to come up with a production group”—a group to try and come in the game on some different type shit. A whole new level type shit. Southside was already on his shit. He had shit with Meek Mill poppin’ off, Rick Ross, he produced on Watch the Throne with Jay-Z and Kanye. He was already goin’ crazy, so I was just like “hell yeah bro, let’s do it”. Our main goal was to shine light on an entire group, rather than come in the game as individuals. We came in the game, we dropped the beat mixtape (808 Mafia) on LiveMixtapes, and the rest was history. We just been pushing the boundaries. We just want to make sure that the people that follow after us will have it easier than we did coming up.

When 808 Mafia first started, did you imagine that it would become this big of a thing and have this great of an impact?

TM: It’s really a blessing that it came this far. You know, we was making beats in like garages and little apartment rooms. When we started off, we always told ourselves that we want to take over the world. Now we finally getting that opportunity and we not looking back. It’s amazing.

People look at 808 Mafia as one of the early innovators in the current rap scene, and a staple in the culture. Seeing as many people are influenced by you and your teams production, who were some of the producers you looked up to and who helped you develop your sound?

TM: Shit, Drumma Boy, Three 6 Mafia, Shawty Redd. I even looked up to producers who weren’t trap, but I used certain elements from them to add to my trap sound, like Timbaland. He would always just use different sounds in a beat. Like if the beat had a good bounce to it already, he would add some of the most different and unusual sounds and made it make sense. Others like Polo Da Don, The Neptunes, even listening to Outkast. I been listening to music for a really long time. I always loved music before I got into making music. I look to a lot of producers and artists for my inspiration.

What was that first moment that you realized this would be something special for you?

TM: The very first moment was when we dropped the beat mixtape, and I remember LiveMixapes called us and told us we crashed the site and we were like like “man, this shit going crazy!”. We never seen no shit like this before, especially coming from producers. The project literally had no vocals, it was just beats. That was the first moment. The next moment was when we did FBG: The Movie with Future—me and Southside. We were already working with big artists, you know. Gucci had already been out for a while, as well as Waka Flocka. But Future was the one from the new generation. Future had the whole world turnt up at that time, so that was one of those major moments for me. That is what really made the whole industry want more of 808 Mafia.

Not sure if you peeped it yet, but Swizz Beatz came out and said that he thinks the newer generation of rap should pay a tax to the originators and the older influences of rap. Putting it in the perspective of producers, do you think the producers get the proper credit for the amount of influence they have over the industry?

TM: Credit wise, not really. I feel like Swizz, Timbo, Polo, Dr. Dre, Pharrell—a lot of these guys, they laid the groundwork, even people before them. I got an opportunity to see all of their careers from the beginning. I didn’t know who they were at first, until I started seeing them in the music videos. I do feel like people don’t pay homage enough for what these people have done for all of us. I feel like even engineers, there are legendary engineers that mixed so many songs—like the hit songs, the major hit songs. Like it wouldn’t even sound so good if it wasn’t for the engineer. The younger generation, they kind of don’t understand yet, or some of them just don’t really care. I be having conversation with my little nephews , and some of the stuff I hear them talk about I be like “man, y’all really be thinkin like that”. It’s crazy but you know, it’s just a different time. I’m gonna always pay my respect when I can. I feel like lately with the Verzuz battles on Instagram Live is a step in the right direction. People really been having the time to actually sit down and go though a persons full catalogue. Especially theirs, like they got a lot of the biggest hits. Like, we grew up dancing to their songs in the car with our moms and shit. The battles really gave people that chance to hear more of them, rather than just seeing them on Instagram

Looking at your production credits, we could sit here all day naming all the artists you’ve worked with in your career. I feel like all producers have that one artist that they really enjoy working with. Who is one artist that you feel like you have the most chemistry with and you really click with when you lock in at the studio?

TM: Future for sure. I aint’t gon lie. Future and Gucci. When I work with them, I can just go in there and do my thing. Even Lil Uzi Vert, Young Thug, and Travis Scott, too. But my top one would have to be Future. I say him because man, Future can adapt to any beat. Literally anything. Like, he makes the producer feel like you powering up or some shit. Like when I work with him, I could give him a 15 to 20 pack of beats, and he will record on every single one. From the bottom of the pack, to the top. He will make a song to all of em. I be sittin there like “damn, if Future feelin’ these, then I know the whole industry gon’ feel em too”. He gives you that shit you really want to hear at the time too. He can take any situation that’s going on in the world, and it don’t even necessarily have to be something going on with him personally. He can take any situation and make you feel like you going through the same damn thing.

Has the quarantine massively impacted anything that you may have had going on right now?

 TM: I feel like the quarantine is better for producers right now, especially if you have the relationships with a lot of the artists and you not really going through the A&R’s. I have personal relationships with a lot of artists. It ay not be super close, but in some kind of way. Really, I just send beats out ad a lot of these artitsts are at home or in the studio. Nobody going out, nobody doing shows right now. So if you sending some fire shit through, they dropping that shit ASAP. I sent Roddy Ricch some shit, and this was my first time working with him. So I mean, I would say the quarantine is helping me out. It does get boring at times, but you just gotta find things to you know, keep your mental right and adapt with it.

You mentioned working with Lil Uzi Vert, and you produced probably the biggest record of his career “XO TOUR Llif3”. You guys collaborated again on Eternal Atake with “P2” as the sequel. Who’s idea was it to go back and recreate that feeling that you guys created on the original?

TM: It was actually his idea. After a while, it started to become a joint idea though. He wanted to give the fans something big. He was ready to talk again. A lot of his songs are anthems and turn up songs, you know. He doesn’t really get the chance to speak his true emotions a lot. We kind of wanted to give the fans a continuation of the first one just so he can end the story the right way. He wanted the same drum pattern and he wanted me to switch the melodies up a bit. So I kept the same drums and added extra shit to, you know, make the fans feel it. Make the fans cry, make them dance, whatever they feel like doing, and make it an anthem at the same time.

At this point in your career, you’ve built yourself up to be such a major producer in the game and your track record is amazing. I feel like even as long as many of artists have been around, we still hear the same stories about bad contracts and deals with labels and all that. With all that you’ve been through in your career, have you ever thought about teaching the youth or the new generation of rappers about the music business ad how to maneuver in it?

TM: The thing I wanted to do was eventually get with FL Studio and teach something with them, but I never really thought about teaching the actual music business. I want to get with them to teach people how to actually use the full program and teach them how to make beats at the same time. I thought about it but haven’t really brought it to life just yet exactly.

On top of 808 Mafia, you started your own production team “Crash Dummy”—how is everything going with that?

TM: It’s going crazy right now, man. We are three-times Grammy nominated, mutli-platinum and multi-gold as well. We got a bunch of new shit coming out. This year alone, we went gold three times and about to go platinum again. It’s going well, it’s going really well. Of course I’m still 808 Mafia at the end of the day. Southside supports everything I do too, so you know, he’s a part of Crash Dummy too. We gon’ continue to take over and keep giving the fans new music and push those new levels.

I really want to talk about your transition from a producer to an actual artist. I have been starting to see producers get more credits as a feature rather than just a producer credit. You’ve already dropped “Tokyo Nights” with MadeInTYO, and you just dropped “Blue Jean Bandit” with Moneybagg Yo, Future and Young Thug. Tell me more about your journey into becoming an artist?

TM: It’s starting to become wavy, man. It’s getting to the point to where the producers can call their own shots. We having a lot of real leverage right now. The way things are streaming now, our money is different. The only thing that affected us was not being able to release music when we wanted to. That’s where the artist platform comes into play. When you sign to a major, you get a little bit more power to go in and negotiate different deals to release music. Transitioning to an artist has been kind of an up and down thing. I’m still trying to get used to it, but it’s been easy but not as easy as I thought it would be. We been putting out songs already, like “Danny Glover” by Young Thug. Just being around Sonny Digital, Mike Will Made-It and Metro Boomin’, we got to see how things went. Then we helped Metro with his first mixtape [19 and Boomin’], after that is when we put out our first tape and then “Danny Glover” came. We been putting out songs, but we just couldn’t capitalize off of it because we didn’t have the deal. We couldn’t really get through all the clearances and that part of the game.

Me being an artist definitely allows me to be more hands on with the final product of a song. When we’re in the studio with an artist and we finish a song, me and the engineer gotta sit down with each other. We gotta collaborate and make sure the mixing and the level are done right. I don’t care if it takes a month or a month and a half to get the song mixed right. Whatever it takes to get the song done right, that’s what I do. Sometimes we move verses around, go back into the beat and change a few things around or add a few things. I get more control over the project rather than when I just the producer. When you’re the artist AND producer, you get more leverage.

What can we look forward to from this next chapter of TM88?

 TM: I’m definitely putting together an album right now. Southside and I are putting together a project, an 808 Mafia project with the rest of the gang and whoever we got songs with. Like 21 Savage, Offset, Quavo, Future, Thug, Travis. We got songs with everybody. We gon’ try and put it all together and just deliver the best project we can give them.