Check Your Resources: A Conversation With Mike WiLL’s Secret Weapon
Names are innocuous for the most part. Like pizza, you only notice them if they’re terrible. Occasionally, though, a name can be the perfect representation of what it signifies. I’m not sure how much thought Braylin Bowman put into the name Resource, but it’s a damn good description of the role he plays. His approach to music production is the same way you mine for precious minerals. He taps into different musical veins to extract their essence and then uses them to create something novel. In his case, it’s genre-blurring music. Don’t worry, it’s all sustainable; he recognizes the value of his sources. And more people are starting to acknowledge his own value in music production. He’s been rocking with super producer Mike WiLL Made-It’s Ear Drummers collective for a few years now, helped craft his fair share of hits, and has continued to expand his reach.
I first noticed his name in the credits for SremmLife 2 (he co-produced both “By Chance” and “Do Yoga”), but when I was doing research for another story, his name kept popping up on other nasty tracks: “F Cancer” and “Special,” from Young Thug’s I’m Up, and “With Them,” my favorite selection from Slime Season 3. These instrumentals all have that unmistakable Mike WiLL Made-It bounce, but each song is injected with a different flavor that plays out through the song’s elements. “F Cancer” has an urgency from beginning to end, whereas “Do Yoga” is what you play when it’s time to get high at night.
On a recent trip to Atlanta, I met up with the LA-based producer at a studio just outside the city. He greeted me with a warm handshake and introduced me to the rest of the evening’s crew, which included management, fellow producers, and SremmLife crew member Bobo Swae. As the conversation flowed from their recent time at SXSW to some of the shittiest Uber experiences we’ve had, I got a sense of his personality and the Ear Drummer dynamic. He’s intelligent but isn’t fond of parading it, and remarkably humble for someone whose song made its world premiere during the YEEZY Season 3 fashion show. He and his fellow Ear Drummers have the same relationship a group of neighborhood friends would, despite some of them not meeting until later in life.
“Music’s like a mafia nowadays,” Resource explained, adding, “You can’t just submit a demo anymore and get people to contact you. You have to build relationships with people and then, once you reach a certain status, branch out to people who recognize your talent”.
It stuck with me that he said ‘mafia,’ a word which has both positive and negative connotations (unless we’re talking about the 808 Mafia siren, which is always positive). A mafia loves its own and is ruthless to those seen as a threat. His tone suggested he’d experienced that firsthand. In light of his growing catalog, which features “Gucci On My,” “W Y O (What You On)” and “On the Come Up” from Ransom 2, it makes sense that the “music establishment” would be afraid of his potential.
After watching him cook up beats for Bobo Swae, listening to song concepts ranging from New Jack Swing sounds to rock ballads with Swae Lee vocals, and succinctly establishing the superiority of Backwoods, we dove deeper into his background.
Who or what was your introduction to music?
I’ve always been really drawn to music. I grew up in church and was mesmerized watching the band while they were playing. When I was in the third grade I asked my mom to put me in guitar lessons so she bought me one and I enrolled. I stopped playing it when I was younger but I picked it up again a few years ago to add different sounds to my beats.
When did playing live instruments transition into producing music with software?
For me, I was making beats even before I started playing live instruments. At that point, I was just using a MIDI keyboard and Fruity Loops. I’m still using FL and now that I’ve adopted live instruments as a production tool again, I just play live into FL and track it all there. Mostly guitar, bass, and keys. I have a lot of musician friends in LA where I’m from who inspire me to work on my live skills.
How did you break into the industry as a producer?
I actually got some early placements with Soulja Boy in like 2010–2011 and from there I was trying to find my way. After I finished school for recording and engineering, I did an internship with this studio in Inglewood for a band called 1500 or Nothin’. They play for lots of artists and have plenty of GRAMMYs to show for it. When I was over there, I met some of the highest skilled musicians, people who can pick up practically anything and lay down some dope samples. It was a huge learning process. They gave me respect for what I do, but musicianship is what really earns respect. I got to learn and understand what it is to really make music. I thought I was doing something big by working with Soulja Boy. Of course, the whole world knows who he is, but those people walk through the door and it’s another level.
Tell me about those early days with 1500 or Nothin’?
I was recording for people like Brandy, Chaka Khan and James Fauntleroy, a songwriter for people like Rihanna and Justin Timberlake. So, I’m surrounded by people like them, plus all the producers coming through. It put some pressure on me, to be honest. I’d get asked if I could play the keys and I’d say “a little bit,” and they’d encourage me to learn a song and then check on me like a week later to make sure I did (laughs) I was also still doing rap shit. I had some stuff with Juicy J back in like 2011 and was actually on that reality show they did for VH1 where they tried to win a restaurant or some shit. I think it was called Famous Food. I was chilling in that episode drinking champagne at a table with Heidi Montague and Danielle Staub.
You seem humbled by your those experiences.
Definitely man, it’s a completely different world if you’re just used to DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations). I learned a lot and grew as a producer in ways that can translate to making hits now. I helped them organize their sample packs for producers too so I have access to so many different sounds. Crazy orchestra shit, strings, horns everything. You know Louis Farrakhan? He plays all kinds of instruments, a real cold musician. I’ve got samples of him playing the violin and stuff like that.
I was also humbled early on working with Mike & Keys, whose studio was right behind my recording school. I would show up even if I didn’t have a reason to be there just so I could learn. Working with them is actually how I connected with a lot of producers in LA too because I made a drum pack for them that I tuned and mixed all myself. I would be in sessions in other studios and producers would hear my name ‘Resource’ and say, “Resource? Are these your 808s?” [Laughs.]
How did you get linked up with Mike WiLL Made-It?
Through his A&R, my boy Aubrey and his brother Monty. They sent out a tweet asking for beats and so I sent a pack to their email. They hit me up that night and said, “Damn bro, you got a different sound. We haven’t hit anyone back in a while, send us some more shit.” They wanted more pop and R&B stuff cause most of what I sent them was hard rap shit. It still had melodic R&B-like chords in it, which is what I think made them hit me up. This is like the end of 2012.
They started asking me to send beats for these two writers they wanted Mike to check out. Naturally, I was interested and they said these guys were called Rae Sremmurd. I guess this was before Mike really locked in with them. Aubrey thought it would be a good way for me to get on Mike’s radar, too. He must have liked some of the stuff they did on my shit because when he came out to LA to work on [Miley Cyrus’] Bangerz he invited me to the studio. During that session, I remember hearing him work on [Jay Z’s] “Beach is Better” track and my sister and I were just turning up to it in the studio. I obviously didn’t know it would become that, but that happens when you’re around people like that.
What was his initial impression of your work?
He kept it real with me. I played him some shit and he thought it was hard, but he didn’t have a situation for me. He told me to keep working and stay in touch with his people. So I kept up with Aubrey and I flew myself to Atlanta towards the end of 2014 when they were working on SremmLife. I just wanted to be in the mix with them, to be honest. I went to the studio and was vibing with them while Mike was working on some Beyoncé stuff. He asked me if I had anything so I added some chords and a bass line to show what I could do. It didn’t end up making it on a Beyoncé track obviously but that was my first time cooking with Mike for an extended time. After that, he and I locked in. Even before I got the SremmLife placements, I worked on some Miley Cyrus stuff with him. He hit me up like two days after that and said she was using it for her album.
After that, he set me up with the Ear Drummers and helped me get my situation right. It’s been like that since then.
How would you describe your creative relationship?
It works well. Nothing’s really off limits, which is how you can make different shit. Our work is mostly collaborative, but I’ll obviously defer to him if there’s a difference of opinion because of the respect I have for him as a producer. He doesn’t really play live instruments, drum machines are his shit, but he’s a REAL producer in every aspect of the word. Even if it’s not a sound he produced, he knows exactly where it needs to be and how it should be mixed. Being around someone so meticulous and visionary is a constant inspiration. I look at him the same way I do someone like Jermaine Dupri: an Atlanta-based artist who changed the shape of music. To me, his drums are the most crunk right now and have the best bounce to them. About ninety percent of the time we’re in the studio together with the artist, since Mike’s in LA frequently. It’s easy to feed off other people’s energy then.
What are some memorable studio moments that led to your placements?
All the [Young] Thug stuff I’ve had in the last year came from one session, so it’s crazy to still see the fruit of one day’s work. We did “With Them,” “F Cancer,” “Special” and the “W Y O (What You On)” track from Ransom 2. And even more shit that hasn’t been released. I’m always ready for artists so it wasn’t a strain on me, but it’s definitely unique experience to see that.
I bet, especially since “With Them” had that crazy world premiere at Kanye’s fashion show.
You know what’s crazy about that? I was at Sremm’s house playing videogames in the living room and Cam Kirk was there messing on his laptop in the kitchen. I’d had the song at that point and been playing it for a while. I heard it come from Cam’s laptop and I thought he was editing the video for it or something, cause I’d spoke with Thug about it in the studio a week prior. I asked him and he said, “Naw I’m watching the Kanye West fashion show.” So I went and looked and Cam said Ye gave Thug the aux cord and told him to play some new shit. And that’s what he chose. It was surreal because of how many millions of people saw that.
I recently had a friend battle cancer at age 23, and “F Cancer” was my anthem for a minute. While you’re making music, do you ever think about how your work can impact like that?
I’ve always tried to be aware of the power music has on other people, because it’s influenced me so heavily. When I was younger listening to music, it would let me live in the moment and escape all the shit of the world. So much so that I racked up a bunch of speeding tickets zoning out and being wild driving to music. One time I didn’t even hear or see the cops behind me, blue lights and everything [laughs]. Fun times though.
And now you’re making tracks like “F Cancer” that sound like you’re speeding away from something.
Yeah, I remember when we were making that one. Mike just got this new drum machine and he laid down a pattern. We tracked that into my Fruity Loops and just had it looping and then I played the chords on top of it. It sounds simple without the vocals on it, to be honest. That “whoo” sound wasn’t originally on the track either, but I realized I had the perfect sound to polish the beat and it worked.
Which contemporary producers are inspiring you?
I’m constantly inspired by and vibing with the music of my peers, but mostly it comes from the Ear Drummer family. All these guys give me a goal to strive toward. Just look at all the Platinum plaques they’ve gotten between Mike, J-Bo, Pluss (A+), P-Nasty. I’m trying to be the next one. Mike took me and made me a part of his family. For a while, I wasn’t able to reach some of the artists I wanted to, but now my situation’s a little different.
When Miguelito interviews a producer, he has them participate in a segment called The Vault, which challenges the producer to sample a random record and turn it into an instrumental. For volume 0.1, Resource took elements from Feist’s “The Bad in Each Other” to create a moody, relaxed track that keeps the spirit of the original song. Listen to it here:
Originally published at djbooth.net on April 11, 2017.