Beat Break: !llmind Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs

We picked !llmind's brain about producing songs for Kanye, Drake, J. Cole and more.
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From mainstream to underground, soulful to gritty, hip-hop to K-Pop, !llmind’s sound is almost impossible to pin down. “That’s why you’re seeing these different sides of !llmind, because I don’t just consider myself a specific type of hip-hop producer,” he says over the phone from his Brooklyn studio. “I studied Quincy Jones as much as I studied Dilla.”

Not that hip-hop production isn't !llmind's forte. After spending years making a name for himself in the underground circuit and as a part of G-Unit Records, the New Jersey native scored his breakout placement on G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer compilation (“The Morning”) in 2012. Since then, !llmind has picked up GRAMMY nominations and Platinum plaques for his work with Drake, J. Cole and Future while lending his talents to Disney’s Moana soundtrack and the chart-topping Hamilton Mixtape. You really can’t put this dude in a box.

!llmind doesn’t just make A-list rappers sound good, though; he’s keen to help up-and-coming producers, too. In recent years, !ll has released his drum kits and sample loops through his !llmind Blap Kit series and even taught various music classes in NYC, mentoring young producers like A$AP Ty and Thelonious Martin. “I’m not afraid to share that knowledge with other people because it’s like, ‘why not?’” he explains. “The more information that music producers have, the better quality of life they’ll live and the better the music.”

Even with the résumé, respect, and experience that he’s acquired over the last 10-plus years, !llmind is only getting started. “I wish I could disclose information on what’s coming, but in terms of the placements that’s about to happen and some of these deals that are on the table, just know that 2017 is going to be my biggest year,” he says with conviction.

Here are the stories behind five of !llmind’s biggest songs.

50 Cent — “All His Love” (2012)

Sample: Bob James “Take Me to the Mardi Gras”

"He’s 50 Cent so obviously he’s mega, mega intimidating, right? But when you get in the studio with him and the mentality in there is to get a song done and get creative, he’s an amazing guy."

“That might have been the second or third song that I did with 50. I remember that clearly. At the time, I was sending a lot of beats to my man D Prosper, who was an A&R at G-Unit Records, and Sha Money XL, who was the president of G-Unit at the time and also my acting manager. Most of the beats that I was making I was feeding to G-Unit and 50.

“That was also around the same time that Dre was working on the infamous Detox album that everyone was saying they were working on [laughs]. So when I made that ‘All His Love’ beat, I actually made it with Dr. Dre in mind. I did the beat on my ASR-10 sampling keyboard, this grimy keyboard that I’d been using for the previous five years.

“So I sent the beat to D Prosper and Sha Money and an A&R I knew over at Interscope and Aftermath—people I knew could get it into the hands of someone like Dr. Dre. Then one day I got the call—it might have been Sha Money or an A&R over at G-Unit—and they said, ‘yo, 50 recorded a song over this beat and it’s called ‘All His Love.’’ I was like, ‘okay cool, bet.’

“We got the business handled and the song ended up coming out, he shot a video for it and that was dope. I’m really glad he chose that beat because the way he did it justice was perfect. And the beat was hard, man. I was really anxious to see who would get on that beat and I’m glad it was 50. That was a good one.

“[We weren’t in the studio] for that song, but obviously after that we were able to get in the studio and really vibe out together. He’s 50 Cent so obviously he’s mega, mega intimidating, right? But when you get in the studio with him and the mentality in there is to get a song done and get creative, he’s an amazing guy. He’s got an incredible ear for beats.

“I remember last time I was in there with him—this was actually a few years ago—he was playing me songs that he recorded over my beats and he was rapping them in front of me, doing his little signature 50 dance. If there’s anything I can say about 50, he really, really cares about the music."

Kanye West — “The Morning” ft. Raekwon, Pusha T, Common, 2 Chainz, CyHi The Prynce, Kid Cudi & D’banj (2012)

Co-produced by Kanye West, Jeff Bhasker & Travis Scott

"[Rhymefest] texted me out of nowhere and he’s like, ‘yo, I’m in Hawaii, I’m in the studio with Kanye. Pusha T laid down a verse on one of your beats.'"

“Basically, in 2010, I did an album with Skyzoo called Live From the Tape Deck and we had a feature on there from Rhymefest. He’s from Chicago and also just happens to be one of Kanye’s good friends and a collaborative writer. So in 2010, I got to really know Rhymefest and form a relationship with him. He’s such a great guy.

“In between 2010 and 2011, he was working on some solo stuff, so I would send him beats. One of the beats I sent him was the one which ended up being ‘The Morning.’ I remember it was 2012, August, around the time of my birthday [on August 28th]. He texted me out of nowhere and he’s like, ‘yo, I’m in Hawaii, I’m in the studio with Kanye and Pusha T, all these people. Pusha T laid down a verse on one of your beats. I need the stems.’ I was like, ‘oh shit, I got a song with Pusha T!’ So I bounced the audio files and sent them to Rhymefest.

“A couple hours later I get another text from him like, ‘yo, I think Kanye wants to use this for the G.O.O.D. Music compilation. We got Raekwon on it.’ And then I get another text, ‘yo, Kanye just spit his verse.’ I’m getting all these texts and the song is turning into a posse cut. Obviously, I’m mega excited, just blown away. Then I get a text from my man Che Pope—he’s part of G.O.O.D. Music as well—like, ‘yo, I think Kanye wants to use your track.’ It became more real for me that it was actually happening.

“A couple days later, I get an email from this woman over at Def Jam, I think, and she was like, ‘hey, nice to meet you, blah blah blah. I need your publishing information and your attorney and management information because Kanye wants to use one of your beats for the G.O.O.D. Music compilation.’ So at that point, I’m like, ‘this is really happening.’

“Literally, the album came out a couple weeks after that. It was one of those situations where I made the cut super duper last minute. The track ended up being co-produced by Travis Scott and [Jeff Bhasker]. It ended up on the album and the rest is history. Big shout to Rhymefest for making that happen.

“There were a few back-and-forths [with Kanye]. If you hear the original beat, it’s pretty different. I had like a dirty, old school drum break in the intro and during the hook, and they cut that part. We really worked some of the drums. The beat was definitely transformed. It was Kanye-fied [laughs].

“That was around the time I was coming off of the G-Unit stuff and started getting myself into other business ventures—putting out drum kits, shopping more beats and getting the team together—so when that placement happened, you know, the usual stuff: more phone calls, people coming out the woodworks wanting to work with me, which is fine. It was just another stepping stone, another milestone. I knew that when that happened, I had to take advantage, keep moving and work even harder.”

On the !llmind Beats For Kanye West EP: “Those were tracks that I made with him in mind, around the time that the G.O.O.D. Music stuff was happening and I was feeding tracks to Rhymefest. Knowing that Kanye was working, I was in Kanye mode, making stuff as if I was in the same room as him. I made full songs with hooks and string sections, I wanted to make it very musical.

“When [Cruel Summer] came out and I was sitting on these tracks that he never used, one day I just had this idea like, ‘yo, I have a SoundCloud account, lemme put together this compilation of all this music that I worked on with Kanye in mind—’cause they’re some of my favorite beats that I’ve ever made—and just share it with the world.’ I called it !llmind Beats For Kanye West ’cause that’s exactly what it is [laughs].

“I called my man Naturel, one of my really good friends and also an amazing graphic designer and artist, and he came up with the triangle-themed Kanye face for the artwork. He killed it. It became a real thing, this package. So I put the tracklist together, formatted everything and uploaded it to SoundCloud, blasted it out on my little email blast and a couple blogs picked it up. And it became this little moment. I’m super proud of it.

“At some point in the future, if I end up in the studio with Ye, I’m definitely playing those tracks [laughs].”

J. Cole — “Love Yourz” (2014)

Co-produced by Cardiak & CritiCal

Samples: Mountain “Long Red” + Art of Noise “Close (To the Edit)”

"It was almost like that beat was one hundred percent perfect for that song.”

“When I’m in the studio making beats, I’m not really thinking too much about the music that I’m trying to make; I’m creating from this, like, subconscious place—this place of freedom and expression. For that track, I need to shout out my homies Cardiak and CritiCal for co-producing that with me. My man CritiCal sent me some piano loops that he did, and when I went to that folder and heard that one, that chord progression touched me so deeply. I know that sounds corny, but as soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to do something with it.

“I took it and started to build around it, started messing with a couple drums ideas. I didn’t necessarily have J. Cole in mind, I was just creating from the heart. I laid the drums down, did some bass, did some strings, put it together and that was it. Another day at the office. That day I probably made like three or four other beats.

“A couple weeks later, I get a phone call from my man Matt, who goes by MoneyMakinMatt, he’s part of the Dreamville squad. He’s like, ‘yo, got any beats? Cole’s working, this person’s working.’ So I sent him like 10 or 15 beats and ‘Love Yourz’ was one of them. 

“A couple months later, he hit me back like, ‘hey, Cole fucks with that beat you sent. He’s writing to it. Keep that on hold.’ A couple weeks after that, I hit Matt up like, ‘yo, I’m flying out to LA, maybe we can link.’ He’s like, ‘absolutely.’ I went to Cole’s crib—he was working on Forest Hills Drive and he rented this huge secluded house in LA on top of a mountain and it had its own recording studio—so I met Cole for the first time and he was like, ‘yo, that track is crazy! I feel like this track is like the theme song for the album, it’s gonna set the tempo.’

“He played me a rough version of the track and I was blown away. The vocals weren’t even compressed yet. It felt like he laid those vocals down a couple minutes before I got there. I ended up kicking it for a couple hours, he was showing me other stuff, I was playing him some stuff. We finished that track and it ended up being one of the fan favorites, so I was just proud to be a part of it.

“[Cole]’s a producer himself. I was already assuming that he would want to do something with the beat, whether it would be to switch the drums or add his own flavor to it. But he literally kept the beat exactly the same, down to the sequence. It was almost like that beat was one hundred percent perfect for that song.”

“That was a big turning point for me because it was the first actual GRAMMY nomination that I received. That’s the highest honor that you can get as a musician, so it was very, very, very humbling. For it to be for that particular song on that particular album was a very special moment for me.”

Drake — “You & The 6” (2015)

Co-produced by Boi-1da & Noah “40” Shebib

“At the time, Drake was actually working on Views, so I was under the impression that the track was going to be on the Views album."

“I’ll start from the beginning: Boi-1da. Boi-1da is the key [laughs]. He’s not only an amazing producer but an amazing person. I think it might have been 2011, maybe 2012, I was on Twitter and I started following Boi-1da. He followed me back so I DM'd him like, ‘yo, you’re an animal on those beats!’ Then he hit me back like, ‘yo man, I’m a big fan, that means a lot coming from you.’ Very humble.

“So from there we just got to know each other. Every so often we would hit each other up like, ‘yo, when are you in Toronto?’ That eventually turned into us collaborating on stuff. I would feed Boi-1da different templates and sample loops and piano loops. It might have been late 2013, he hits me up like, ‘yo, here’s some beats I made from some of those templates you sent me.’ And one of the beats was ‘You & The 6.’

“I did the keyboards, the bass, and the synths. I sent that over to Boi-1da and he did the drums and some of the 808 work. Boi-1da is a master at finding a good drum pocket. He’s worked with Drake for so long, he knows what kind of drums Drake would want to rap over.

“Fast forward a couple months, [Boi-1da] hits me up like, ‘Drake’s recorded a song to that beat. It’s an amazing song, it’s one of Drake’s favorites, he’s talking about his mom, his pops.’ He told me that 40 had tweaked the hook and so it was a collaboration with me, him and 40, so it was a very special song.

“At the time Drake was actually working on Views, so I was under the impression that the track was going to be on the Views album. But then he decided to put Views out later. Anyway, fast forward to December 2014, January 2015, I get a text from Vinylz like, ‘yo, I need to link you with my man Mr. Morgan, he wants to talk to you about a few things.’ So I link up with Morgan and he’s like, ‘yo, the track you did with Boi-1da, I wanna figure out the business. Drake wants to use it.’ He didn’t tell me what album it was going to be on.

“In my head, I’m like, ‘cool, this is going to go on some kind of Drake project, who knows what or when.’ Then all of a sudden, I wake up and my Twitter feed is like, ‘If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late!’ Then I see the production credits and see ‘You & The 6,’ Boi-1da, !llmind, 40. I put two and two together and was like, ‘that’s the one!’ I was just happy to be a part of that project.

“I told my girlfriend at the time [laughs], but for the most part, I keep things on the hush ’cause you never know. When you’re a music producer and you’re recording for an album, you want to keep things under wraps. You can go so far as making a song and really hard on it and all of sudden, the artist or the label decides to not use it. You never want to speak too early, you don’t want to jinx yourself. You just want to keep it moving, onto the next one.”

Future — “Zoom” (2017)

Co-produced by Southside & Fuse

"[Southside] told me that Future was planning on releasing more than one album, so I knew a storm was coming [laughs]."

“Earlier this year, maybe late last year, my manager hooked me up with Fuse from 808 Mafia. Amazing, amazing producer. I’ve always been a big fan of 808 Mafia, Southside, and TM88—those guys are masters at the 808, they know how to manipulate that thing. So I linked up with Fuse and he came to my studio here in Brooklyn and we got to vibe out. Kinda similar to Boi-1da, we just started collaborating on beats.

“I left Fuse with a folder of templates with no drums on them. The intention was for them to program drums over my melodies. Fast forward to earlier this year, I get a phone call from Fuse and he says, ‘yo, I left some of your samples with Southside. He flipped one of your samples and wanted to reach out to you.’ So I linked up with Southside and he’s like, ‘yo, we got this track with Future, let’s get the business handled.’ He told me that Future was planning on releasing more than one album, so I knew a storm was coming [laughs].

“So I looped in my manager and attorney, we got the business handled, and then the album comes out: FUTURE, self-titled. Just like clockwork. And ‘Zoom’ ended up being on the album. It ended up being a super hard track [laughs]. You know, some people are biased towards Future and don’t like him. Obviously, fans of mine that aren’t fans of Future didn’t really care much for the song most likely, but I love Future. I think he’s a beast at what he does. I’m super proud of it.”

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